Disaster Exercises and the Shape of Organisations

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Joe DEVILLE , Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Michael GUGGENHEIM , Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Zuzana HRDLICKOVA , Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
What is the relationship between disasters and organisations? Does it matter, whether a disaster preparedness organisations prepares for floods or for earthquakes? Does the organisation itself conceive itself in the light of particular disasters? Or did so-called all hazards approaches solve the problem of organisational diversity matched to particular disasters?

The problem we have to confront here is two-sided: From the viewpoint of disaster studies, the question is simply which organisations are best suited to tackle disasters. Yet from an organisational perspective, it is clear that from a comparative and historical viewpoint, disaster organisations evolve according to their own logic, tied as much to particular (local) organisational models. Moreover, particular organisations may have evolved for one type of disaster and may now deal with others.

A particular problem here, which distinguishes disaster organisations from other organisations, is that most disaster organisations need to operate usually in the absence of their main object, i.e. actual disasters. Most of the operations take place with stand ins for this object, as in exercises. The problem then becomes how enactments and representations of disasters in exercises shape organisations.

In our presentation we compare disaster preparedness organisations in the UK, Switzerland and India and analyze how their organisational structures reflect varying disasters through hthe lens of exercises. We report from ethnographical studies among state disaster organizations in these countries. We pay particular emphasis on how exercises are adapted to particular disasters and how these disasters structure organisational routines, but also how disasters are viewed through the lens of the feasibility of exercises.