Note: politics in emergency response

–“In my experience, I’ve seen plenty of high-ranking officials who were so concerned about the political backlash or the budget that they couldn’t take a decision,” said a senior state emergency management official to us recently.

The clarity, logic and urgency of immediate response after a major disaster are seen as “tough political trade-offs” by some, e.g., when bigger cities get more immediate attention. A major city’s road transportation system was “underprepared for a longer-duration” weather event, which led to gridlock across the city and to the department being under “political duress” at the time, said a water construction and maintenance manager. It isn’t only the logic, clarity and urgency of immediate response and initial service restoration that lead to on-the-spot improvisations; political pressures can impose their own forms of guidance to improvisational behavior.

–Also, notwithstanding the logic, clarity and urgency of emergency response immediately after the disaster (i.e. prioritizing search and rescue), “it’s almost impossible” to reconstruct after-the-fact the welter of timelines and organizational scrambling during immediate response, underscored an experienced wastewater coordinator and planner. In fact, it’s by no means clear how some response actually happened. “How did that work? Great question,” said a state emergency preparedness official to us before trying to explain.

It must be as well recognized how unlikely it will be in the US setting that senior government politicians and officials–committed as they are to immediate restoration of services–will stay out of the way of infrastructure operators and emergency managers doing the needful, including on-the-ground damage assessments.

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