Strategic Models and the Response of Government Agencies to Extreme Emergencies

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 12:00 PM
Room: 423
Distributed Paper
Catherine CASLER , Department of Organization (IOA), Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Dean PIERIDES , University of Melbourne, Australia
Government agencies that are tasked with responding to extreme emergencies are constantly battling with the tensions and trade-offs of centralized control versus decentralized decision-making. Many of today’s emergency management organizations are a product of World War II and as such they have a military legacy which continues to structure their day-to-day operations well after their migration to the civil sphere has been effected. Since the post-War years, these organizations have grown in size and adopted models which were developed in business schools for the needs of private industry. Driven by the growth of managerialism, these models attend to very different organizational realities from those of the military and of civil service. This is over and above the reduction of specificity within management and organizational theories that already characterizes them.

In this paper, we focus on strategy and address how military and strategic management models organize the response of government agencies to extreme emergencies whilst also failing to address their core organizational problems. We are interested in the relatively recent creation of centralized organizations like the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as the practical life of strategic organization in front-line emergency management. To address how strategic models lacking specificity take on specificity in a practical domain of organization other than the one for which they were developed, we look at changes made to emergency management in the Australian State of Victoria after the catastrophic 2009 ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires. In the public inquiry into the disaster, centralization became an important antidote for previous shortcomings in ‘command, control and coordination’, eventually leading to the creation of a State Control Centre (SCC). Yet, the specificities of organizing during extreme emergencies continue to demand decentralized decision-making.