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Indiana University

SPEA policy brief: Networks, collaboration are keys to effective emergency response

January 12, 2011
Bloomington, Indiana --

Governments and agencies must embrace the "principle of horizontality" in order to respond more effectively to future catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina, an Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor says in the latest issue of SPEA Insights.

Michael McGuireIn other words, Michael McGuire writes, a response will be more effective if "action in the administrative system relies less on command and control and more on functions and activities that are distributed across multiple actors through networks."

SPEA Insights is a series of policy briefs, written by faculty experts and published by the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. McGuire's brief can be seen online.

He writes that the idea of horizontality is not new; it was supported by numerous studies and included in the government's 1996 Emergency Management Assistance Compact. Yet when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, agencies were unable to protect New Orleans and were blamed for botching the recovery from the disaster. If another Katrina strikes in, say, 2020, will they be ready?

McGuire says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken recent steps to adopt a more horizontal, collaborative approach.

The 2008 National Response Framework says that local, state, federal and private agencies "should each understand their respective roles and responsibilities, and complement each other in achieving shared goals." It works hand-in-hand with the National Incident Management System, also updated in 2008, which provides a template for managing incidents. And FEMA's draft of the National Disaster Recovery Framework recognizes the role of the federal government as a partner, coordinator and facilitator with local entities, not as the command center.

Managers are also finding that networks and collaboration can be facilitated through innovative use of information technology, including relational databases, geographic information system (GIS) tools and Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, McGuire writes.

But while attempts to build capacity are under way, they generally have not been tested. "Horizontal management allows for improvisation, creativity and flexibility," McGuire writes. "It requires a new kind of leadership that is distributed across organizations, rather than vested in one person."

Previous issues of SPEA Insights can be seen at http://www.indiana.edu/~spea/about_spea/additional_insights.shtml.


Web Version:
http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/16903.html?emailID=16903