the contributions of management theory and practice to emergency management john c. pine is the director of the disaster science and manage
The Contributions of Management Theory and Practice to Emergency
John C. Pine is the Director of the Disaster Science and Management,
Professor-Research with the Department of Environmental Studies and
Interim Chair of the Department of Geography and Anthropology at
Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. (225) 578-1075
Email: [email protected] httt://www.risk.lsu.edu
This chapter takes a look at the impact that management theory and how
the basic functions and practice of management as well as the role of
the manager and approaches to management have contributed to the
practice of emergency management. Current views of management theory
stress the changing nature of the external environment and the need to
understand and address these external forces for change. The
contribution and role of systems theory and contingency theory to the
emergency management process is stressed. Although some might view
that we do not manage disasters, there is an overlap between the
contribution of management theory and emergency management. Management
theory stresses the need for effective planning to ensure that
organizational goals are obtained. Emergency and crisis management
emphasize that effective emergency response and recovery is based on
good planning. Building sustainable organizations and communities is a
common goal of both management and emergency management. Management
and disaster-related issues and concerns along with strategies to
improve emergency management practice from the field of management are
provided. Finally, recommendations are provided for including
emergency and crisis management in management curriculums.
Emergency today is a complex function involving public safety and
security, business affairs, public and information affairs,
information systems administration, communication technologies,
mapping sciences and hazard modeling, legal affairs, and coordination
with numerous other organizations. This diverse set of functions and
activities requires emergency managers to be effective managers of
programs and operational managers of many direct disaster activities.
The effective management of both program and operational activities
requires an understanding of management principles. This chapter
examines the development of management theory and some of the major
contributions that management theory has made to the field of
emergency management. It discusses some of the major management
concepts including the role of the manager, strategic planning,
systems theory and contingency theory, which are critical to the
practice of emergency management. The overlap between management
theory and disasters may be seen in concepts associated with crisis
management and the importance of values, diversity, and legal issues
to both management theory and emergency management. A solid foundation
in concepts of management will form the basis for any emergency
The Development of Management Theory and Practice
The field of management grew in its formalization during the latter
part of the Nineteenth Century and throughout the Twentieth Century
along with the rise of the industrial revolution. The growth of
management concepts was needed to guide the growth of industrial
manufacturing in the United States and Europe. A similar growth in
emergency management theory also evolved in response to the need for
theory, concepts and proven practices in response to the devastating
impacts of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and chemical spills. Our
current focus on homeland security is also driving the development of
even more concepts in this area.
Management theory provides a sound basis for supporting the emergence
of emergency management theory utilizing the management process from
planning, organizing, leading and controlling (Fayol 1916, Mintzbert
1973, Katz 1974, Koontz 1984). Taylor (1911) considered management a
process and one that “if approached scientifically” would lead to
success. His principles of scientific management initiated a
revolution in how we viewed both the process and position of the
manager. Many of the early writers in management contended that there
was a right way of organizing work and accomplishing tasks (Gilbreth
1911). Others built on the engineering approaches to acknowledge the
impacts of bureaucracies (Weber 1947). Mintzbert explained the role of
the “manager” in directing the organization to achieving goals in a
rational manner (1971). The interpersonal, informational, and
decisional roles he characterized are mutually applicable to the
emergency manager in the public, private and non-profit organizational
The theory of management has grown over the past one-hundred years
evolving from the time and motion studies of engineers to
contributions from social scientists, the Hawthorne studies and a
behavioral approach to more quantitative approaches that look for the
“best” or optimum functioning of an organization or “total quality
management (TQM)” (Gabor 1990). Emergency management has been
influenced by the same developments in management theory in utilizing
engineering to design the most efficient emergency operations center
or emergency response routing for emergency services. The selection of
emergency medical and law-enforcement units in response to 911
communication calls and the most recent traffic hurricane evacuation
planning suggest that scientific management is applicable to problems
today. The ongoing assessment of disaster response programs using
quantitative measurement criteria demonstrates that TQM can be used in
The behavior scientists have also been involved suggesting the
necessity of involving community organizations in planning and
mitigation strategies. Finally, emergency management has been
influenced by those who stress the need for quality management and the
efficient use of resources, even in a disaster.
The development of principles and concepts of management encouraged
the formalization of schools of business during the Twentieth Century.
We currently see the establishment of academic programs in emergency
management from concentrations, minors, certificates, and even majors
from the associate to the advanced doctoral degree programs. The
school of hard knocks is quickly evolving into formal academic
programs in emergency management and homeland security. One wonders if
the future has academic departments or schools of emergency management
and homeland security. The key is that the development of
professionals in emergency management requires a formal educational
process and an intentional exposure to emergency management theory and
concepts. Today over one hundred colleges and universities offer some
program in emergency management. The standardization of these
curriculums will evolve just as similar initiatives grew in response
to a need for quality instructional programs.
The contribution of organizational culture theory and the impact of
environmental constraints is an important part of the growth of
management theory over the past fifty years (Kotter 1992, Schien
1985). The impact of changes in organizational culture is so well
illustrated in the Federal arena during the tenure of James Lee Witt.
He led a charge to change FEMA’s culture to one of responsive service
delivery and proactive emergency response. The changing environment
and the impact of the external environment on organizations is
business as well as government operations and so important in
preparedness and mitigation of hazards / disaster (Tapscott 1998).
Finally, management has stressed the need to be aware of managing in a
global environment (Adler 1996). Today, we see emergency management
emerging from a local approach to one that examines on a regional
basis and with the notion of national and international linkages. The
need to monitor the external environment not only locally but on an
international scale is becoming a more critical element of the
emergency management literature.
Contributions of Management to Emergency Management Theory
Strategic Planning and the Changing Nature of the Organizational
Environment: A major contribution of the strategic planning process to
management and to emergency management is the need to monitor the
nature and changing character of external forces and how they impact
the operations of an organization. Environmental scanning clarifies
how technology, the law, the press, elected officials, citizens, and
the natural environment impact internal operations. Hurricane Andrew
provides an excellent illustration of how the external environment
changed emergency management theory and practice.
The catastrophic impacts of Andrew in Florida and Louisiana resulted
in many changes in FEMA from an increased focus on mitigation and
disaster reduction to broader operational planning. Disasters reveal
not only the structural strengths and limitations of the physical
environment of a community but also how local, state and national
response organizations function effectively and ineffectively.
Hurricane Andrew also reminded emergency managers that organizational
change is often the result of external forces for change. Other
external forces for change such as new technologies, laws and
regulations as well as community and business needs were major factors
pushing for changes in emergency management response and recovery
programs, planning tools and approaches to mitigation.
The Role of the Manager: The view of the organization as a system
suggests a very special role for managers in the emergency management
system. For many years, management theory has suggested a rational or
economic technical basis for organizational performance. This is a
closed system view and appropriate for the technical level but not for
the organizational or institutional level. The view of the open system
creates a more difficult role for management. It must deal with
uncertainties and ambiguities and must be concerned with adapting the
organization to new and changing requirements. Management is a
process, which spans and links the various sub-systems.
The basic function of management is to align not only people, but also
the institution itself including technology, processes, and structure.
It attempts to reduce uncertainty at the same time searching for
Management faces situations, which are dynamic, inherently uncertain,
and frequently ambiguous. Management is placed in a network of
mutually dependent relationships. Management endeavors to introduce
regularity in a world that will never allow that to happen. Only
managers who can deal with uncertainty, with ambiguity, and with
battles that are never won but only fought well can hope to succeed.
Management Systems Theory and Emergency Management: Systems theory
evolved from the basic sciences but is utilized in the social sciences
including management theory. A system composed of interrelated and
interdependent parts arranged in a manner that produces a unified
whole is critical in understanding all parts of the emergency
management process. Viewing societies as complex open systems which
interact with their environment provides such a critical view of the
emergency management system (Barnard, 1938).
Systems theory is based on the idea that everything is part of a
larger, interdependent arrangement. It is centered on clarifying the
whole, its parts, and the relations between them (von Bertalanffy
1972). Some critical concepts that are applicable to emergency
management include some of the following: open system, subsystems,
synergy, interface, holism, strategic constituencies, boundaries,
functionalism, interface, strategic constituencies, feedback and a
moving equilibrium. Emergency management is composed of many parts
including: local, state and national public, private and non-profit
units. These units interact in many independent ways and each has
their own constituencies, boundaries, function, and sub-units. The
units may interrelate in emergency management activities in an open
environment with few organizational barriers or collaborative and
cooperative efforts limited by specific organizational policies, rules
and procedures. Emergency managers acknowledge that effective
emergency response and recovery efforts require the cooperation of the
entire community; emergency managers do not operate in isolation but
as a part of a large open system.
Effective emergency response and recovery is dependent on cooperation
between local public agencies, business enterprises, and community
groups. Shelters are often sponsored by public and private schools and
operated by the American Red Cross. Evacuation efforts are often
supported by community transportation agencies and school systems.
Special needs shelters are often staffed by local medical facilities,
volunteers, and community organizations. Traffic control and security
is a collaborative effort between numerous local law enforcement
jurisdictions. Coordination is critical in linking multiple
organizational efforts in a seamless response and recovery effort.
An open system involves the dynamic interaction of the system with its
environment. This theory is fundamental to understanding hazards and
emergency management for it maintains that everything is related to
everything else. Emergency management has a dynamic relationship with
the environment and receives various inputs, transforms these inputs
in some way, and exports outputs. These systems are open not only in
relation to their environment but also in relation to themselves; the
interactions between components affect the system as a whole. The open
system adapts to its environment by changing the structure and
processes of the internal components.
Systems are composed of sub-systems. That is, the parts that form the
system may themselves be a system. The emergency management system
includes police, fire, and emergency medical agencies; each agency
with their own system (sub-system of the emergency services system).
The emergence of homeland security makes this concept even more
important in understanding how the parts relate and that each part has
sub-parts that impact the functioning of the whole.
The combined and coordinated actions of the parts of the system
achieve more than all of the parts acting independently. This concept
known as “synergy” is critical to the field of management and equally
to emergency management. The performance of an enterprise is a product
of the interaction rather than sum of its parts, but it is entirely
possible for the action of two or more parts to achieve an effect of
which either is individually incapable. Synergy is characterized by
the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It explains why the
performance of a system as a whole depends more on how its parts
relate than on how well each part operates. Indeed, the
inter-dependence of the parts is such that even if each part
independently performs as efficiently as possible, the system as a
whole may not. Synergy is an important concept for emergency managers
in that it emphasizes the need for individuals, as well as departments
to work together in a cooperative fashion (Bedeian, 1989). An
emergency response is not just a single unit but many different parts
that, when effective, understand how they work together to protect
public safety and property.
Emergency management, as with the field of management is dependent on
conceptual frameworks or models. As an example, management theory
suggests that social organizations are contrived and constantly
evolving and not static mechanical systems. They have structure, but
the structure of events rather than physical components, cannot be
separated from the processes of the system. The fact that social
organizations are composed of humans suggests that they can be
established for an infinite variety of objectives and do not follow
the same life-cycle pattern of birth, maturity, and death as
biological systems. Social systems are made of imperfect systems. The
cement which holds them together is essentially psychological rather
than biological. They are anchored in the attitudes, perceptions,
beliefs, motivations, habits, and expectations of humans.
Management systems theory notes that organizations are not natural as
with mechanical or biological systems; they are contrived. They have
structure or boundaries, but the structure of events rather than
physical components. The human and organizational boundaries cannot be
separated from the processes of the system. The fact that social
organizations are contrived by human beings suggests that they can be
established for an infinite variety of objectives and do not follow
the same life-cycle pattern of birth, maturity, and death as
biological systems. Social systems are made of imperfect systems. The
cement which holds them together is essentially psychological rather
than biological. They are anchored in the attitudes, perceptions,
beliefs, motivations, habits, and expectations of human beings.
A systems approach does not provide a means for solving all problems.
It is however, useful for viewing the relationships between
interdependent parts in terms of how these relationships affect the
performance of the overall system (Kast 1985; Freemont 1985). Systems
theory provides emergency managers with a critical perspective to view
and understand how to prepare for and respond to hazards and mitigate
their adverse impacts.
The systems perspective to emergency management integrates the diverse
interdependent (or interconnectedness of the system) factors including
individuals, groups, formal or informal organizations, attitudes,
motives, interactions, goals, status, authority. The job of an
emergency manager is to ensure that all parts of the organization are
coordinated internally and with external organization that are
involved in emergency management activities. The emergency management
thus is leading and directing many activities so as to achieve
established organizational and community goals. A systems view of
management suggests that all parts of the organization are
interdependent. For example, if a service unit functions well, but the
personnel section does not replace retired staff in a timely manner,
the system malfunctions.
The open systems approach recognizes that organizations are not
self-contained. They rely on their environment (including the social,
political, technological, and economic forces) for life sustaining
inputs and as sources to absorb their outputs. No organization can
survive for long if it ignores government regulations, the courts,
outside interest groups, private service providers, or elected
officials. An organization should be judged on its ability to acquire
inputs, process these inputs, channel the outputs, and maintain
stability and balance. Outputs are the ends, where acquisition of
inputs and processing efficiencies are means. If an organization is to
survive over the long term, it must remain adaptive. System concepts
such as subsystems or units within units; synergy or that the group
has greater outputs than each single unit, boundaries, holism or
viewing the larger context rather than a narrow view, interface, and
adaptive organizational mechanisms to change are crucial in marshaling
community resources so critical in emergency management. The
importance of leadership and adaptive behavior are stressed by many
writers (Lewin 2000; Toffler 1985; Garvin 1993; and Sugarman 2001) who
stated that today’s leaders including emergency managers must discover
ways of creating order in a chaotic world.
Finally, chaos theory suggests that even in general management systems
theory, organizations must adapt to complex change and
institutionalize institutional learning through feedback systems.
Chaos theory states that just a small change in the initial conditions
may have significant change in the long-term behavior of the system.
The classic example quoted by many to illustrate the concept is known
as the butterfly effect.
The flapping of a single butterfly’s wing today produces a tiny change
in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the
atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in
a month’s time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian
coast doesn’t happen. Or maybe one that wasn’t going to happen, does
Individual response and rescue efforts in evacuating buildings in 911,
illustrate that single acts can have dramatic impacts for a city, a
country and the world. On a small local the disaster of 911 required
public, private and non-profit organizations to adapt and form new
relationships to recover from the terrorist attack. New recovery
organizations evolved from local resources as illustrated by the St.
Paul Episcopal Church support effort for workers in the World Trade
Center pit. The St. Paul response effort evolved from local resources,
but was supported by public, private and other non-profit groups
throughout the United States. Many studies from the 911 disaster
provided lessons learned; each study noted that successful strategies
were based on flexible ongoing adaptations to changing events (Kendra
2003, Rubin 2001, Sutton 2002, and Weber 2002). Chaos theory thus
provides the emergency manager with a broad perspective for
appreciating how other agencies and external organizations are
interdependent with and impact emergency management operations.
Contingency Theory and Approach: Contingency theory suggests that
management principles and practices are dependent on situational
appropriateness. Luthans (1976) notes that “The traditional approaches
to management were not necessarily wrong, but today they are no longer
adequate. The needed breakthrough for management theory and practice
can be found in a contingency approach.” Different situations are
unique and require a managerial response that is based on specific
considerations and variables. The appropriate use of a management
concept or theory is thus contingent or dependent on a set of
variables that allow the user to fit the theory to the situation and
particular problems. It also allows for management theory to be
applied to an intercultural context where customs and culture must be
taken into consideration (Shetty 1974). Adapting theory to the context
is extremely important to a new homeland security international
For management and emergency management alike, the successful
application of any theory or concept is greatly influenced by the
situation. For example, a functional organization structure with many
layers of management functions best in stable environmental conditions
and routine operations. For emergency management, the operating
environment is ever changing and must be flexible to accommodate the
many different hazards that a community or business faces. Emergency
managers must build an organizational culture and structure that
improvises and acknowledges that each disaster is unique. As a result,
a more dynamic organizational structure could be structured based on
the nature of the problem (hazard) and who needs to be involved and
the actions taken (Kreps 1991). Utilizing an organizational design
that is rigidly structured regardless of the situation might not
provide the appropriate basis for quick and comprehensive decision
making in a crisis or disaster.
The Overlap between Management Theory and Disasters
A major goal of emergency management is to minimize the adverse impact
of a disaster on a business, community or large geographic area. The
efforts of many organizations to build a more sustainable community,
business or country are consistent with emergency management goals of
hazard mitigation. Sustainability: In 1987 the United Nations World
Commission on Environment and Development coined the term “sustainable
development”. It defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs
of the present generation without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs”. This means that while we are
harvesting natural resources and developing our land we must do so in
a manner that will allow other generations to have at least the same
opportunities that we currently have.
Sustainable development is more of a compromise between the
traditional standards of conservation and preservation. Conservation
suggests that we should use the earth’s natural resources while at the
same time replacing them for future use. It focuses more on the
renewable resources while for the most part ignoring exhaustible
resources such as oil and natural gas. At the other extreme is
preservation, which suggests that we leave nature alone. These two
viewpoints are at opposite ends of the spectrum, which lends itself to
small numbers of supporters from the general public. Sustainable
development is a kind of middle ground between these two ideologies
that is more likely to be accepted by a larger group of people. It is
based upon a logical viewpoint that people will not want to diminish
their quality of life or standard of living to preserve the
environment. It takes into account that the economy will continue to
grow and develop but also encourages ways to do this that will have as
little negative impact on the environment as possible.
For many years society, the economy, and the environment were all seen
as separate entities. The key to understanding sustainability is
understanding the way in which these three issues link together.
Sustainability deals with quality of life issues as well as achieving
balance between the three. In order to be sustainable we must learn to
manage economy and society in a way that doesn’t harm the environment
while at the same time learning to live within our limits and divide
Sustainability also is a fundamental theoretical contribution to our
understanding hazards, disasters and their impacts (FEMA 2000, Livable
2000, and Burby 1998). Making rational choices concerning land use,
development, and economic development has tremendous implications for
dealing effectively with hazards and disasters.
Management theory has embraced as a part of the planning process the
preparation of contingency plans and crisis management to address
threats and hazards (Pearson 1998). The development of a crisis audit
including “What if” questions and contingency plans when things go
wrong are critical elements of business planning and analysis (Roberts
2001). The management literature reflects an appreciation for the need
for business to grow more aware of the need to provide some level of
protection against an unplanned disaster (Myers1999). Management needs
to know how to structure strategic planning to include plans to
minimize disruptions in operations in times of crisis and disasters.
The Harvard Business Review published a crisis management series on
the best articles relating to disasters and business interruption
(2000). Laye’s assessment of how to keep business going when
catastrophe strikes (2002) is a reflection of the attention that
hazards and disasters have had on the literature since 2001.
Values Diversity and the Legal Environment: A critical element in the
emergency management is the development of an understanding of
potential impacts of a disaster. Vulnerability analysis focuses on
physical, political, economic and social vulnerability (Cutter 2001).
Mileti (1999) states that disasters can do more than impose deaths,
injuries and economic losses, they can redirect the character of
social institutions, alter ecosystems and impact the stability of
political structures. Blaikie et al (1994) note that some groups in
society are much more vulnerable to disaster losses and suffer
differently; variations of impact from disasters evolve from class,
caste, ethnicity, gender (Enarson 1997), religion (Bolin 1986),
disability, or age (Bolin 1983). Vulnerability is the susceptibility
to hazard, disasters, or risk. And, it can also be a measure of
In emergency management, there needs to be a balance in examining
vulnerability and understand the social, economic and environmental
impacts from disasters. Too often we see the damage to structures
rather than the immediate and long term impacts of disaster to our
environment or social systems. Our organizations must be inclusive and
offer balanced perspectives rather than just a single perspective. It
is not enough to just examine the economic impacts of flooding or
earthquakes on local communities but examine other impacts such as
social or environmental. We need to encourage faculty to seek out
alternative views in the forms of books, journals, and research
reports and expose students to these perspectives.
Management theory shares this view and encourages diversity and
non-discrimination in employment and contracting. An appreciation of
organizational values and potential conflicts in international
operations must be acknowledged and addressed. In the traditional
sense, equal opportunity in organizational performance can be applied
both internally and externally in business affairs (Thomas 1990 and
Many disciplines have stressed individual privacy in their programs
and activities. State and federal privacy provisions are common in
health care statues to protect the privacy of individuals. Emergency
managers must understand and ensure that staff and volunteers know
what personal identification information may be released to the public
in disaster response and recovery. Public information cannot be
obtained from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that provides any
indication of the health and well-being of individuals in a community.
Much of the data is only released in groups of 100,000 or greater. The
aggregation of data is intended to protect the privacy of individuals.
A fundamental element of the practice of emergency management that is
also present in the field of management is its evolution from many
disciplines from engineering, business, sociology, psychology,
political structures, and urban planning to name only a few.
Management also grew from many disciplines, especially from
engineering (scientific management), psychology, sociology, and
quantitative methods. Emergency management draws from many disciplines
and suggests that emergency management is an interdisciplinary
process. An appreciation of organizational and group dynamics,
individual motivation, leadership, program and organizational
assessment, and planning are all elements of both the emergency
management and the management process.
Management and Disaster-Related Issues and Concerns
The unintended consequences of human action are described by Chiles
(2001). He documents many examples of our failure to adequately manage
technology. He shows that chain reaction catastrophes have occurred as
the world has grown more technologically complex and our machines have
become more difficult to control. He suggests that we may have a false
value of technology and do not adequately place limits on its use.
Emergency management should also share his suggestion that we
acknowledge the potential adverse impacts technology and the need to
ensure human assessment of technology.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 have made the business community
increasingly sensitive to the impacts of disasters and especially
terrorism on domestic and international operations. Risk management is
now a part of any large operation and a dependence on insuring risk is
no longer the only contingency. Businesses are increasingly looking at
avoiding disasters and identifying methods to mitigate disasters.
The insurance industry has adapted to this changing environment by
excluding coverage for terrorism in business policies or calculating
the potential costs associated with insuring this risk in their plans.
Most organizations can no longer afford to insure for this risk.
Insurance companies have also reassessed coverage for many natural
hazards and taken steps to adequately cover their potential
vulnerabilities. The increased costs to public and private
organizations for insuring against hazards has increased to the point
that it may impact business plans and future strategies.
Improving the Management in Emergency Management
The field of management has stressed the need for the development of
positive organizational culture and organizational learning. The
management environment today and in the future will provide new
challenges and organizational responses. The management literature has
been sensitive to this need and been quite responsive. Emergency
management must also acknowledge the need for organizational learning
and the importance of a positive organizational climate to effective
operations. Possibly more executive education would support the
increasing interdependence between the Department of Homeland
Security, the business community, as well as state and local
During the past thirty years, the business community has focused on
the importance of quality control and service. Emergency management
operations must share this emphasis and adopt methods of
organizational assessment and quality control to enhance all elements
of the emergency management process.
The management literature has for many years stressed the importance
of strategic planning (Drucker 2002). A greater awareness of the value
of environmental scanning and the broader impacts of international
affairs on internal operations will be increasingly important to the
emergency management community. Business may call on emergency
management for help in identifying strategies to cope with a
dramatically changing environment.
Recommendations: Emergency Management in Management Curriculums
Few business schools have embraced the contribution that emergency
management theory and practice can make to the success of business
operations. As a result, attention to hazards and disaster impacts are
limited to crisis management and contingency planning. Few if any
schools of business have worked with emergency management curriculums
on their campuses and exposed their students to other disciplines that
are so much a part of disaster research. Interdisciplinary courses
that expose students from throughout the campus to the nature of
hazards and disaster impacts are needed. Including students from
business programs will expose other hazard oriented coursework to the
vulnerability of business operations and impacts well beyond financial
considerations. An integrated approach to college and university
curriculums will prepare students to understanding the changing nature
of hazards and disasters in an increasingly interdependent world.
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