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Coronavirus and a Stressed Emergency Management System

Coronavirus and a Stressed Emergency Management System

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Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on EDM Digest.

By Allison G. S. Knox, faculty member at American Military University 

When major emergencies happen, the lessons learned become focal points as scholars and practitioners work to understand the myriad facets of what went wrong during a disaster.  These lessons are important, because they help us to improve future emergency management efforts.

Rarely, however, do we hear about the positive attributes of disasters for how they positively test the emergency management system. This concept was further developed by Donald Kettl in his book, System Under Stress: The Challenge to 21st Century Governance.

The coronavirus pandemic is definitely stressing American emergency response and rapidly changing the daily lives of Americans. But at the same time, it also highlights how well American emergency management is functioning.

[Related: The Many Challenges of Tracking an Infectious Disease]

In his book, Kettl observes that events such as September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis caused considerable stress to the U.S. emergency management system. Kettl further notes that “when problems happen, they want a government that can respond, quickly and efficiently.” He essentially argues that major emergencies give us insights into understanding what the government can and can’t do well where policies, administration, and infrastructure is concerned.

The Impact of Federalism on Emergency Management

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we have learned just how well our emergency management system is designed. We also better understand where further tightening is needed.

[Related: 4 Questions to Evaluate the Accuracy of COVID-19 Predictive Models]

Federalism refers to the way a country is structured, including local, state and federal levels of government. Emergency management is well versed in federalism, because so much of emergency management is governed by various policies from local, state and federal levels of American government.

Many political scientists argue that federalism and the various issues with collaboration between the local, state and federal levels of government during Hurricane Katrina created ample problems in managing this disaster. Article after article has highlighted how these issues helped to create the chaos that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.

Since then, the restructuring of emergency management curbed many of the communication, leadership and collaboration problems. More collaboration between levels of government and government agencies has taken place, ultimately helping the American government to manage emergencies much better. William Waugh and Gregory Streib also famously argued that “collaboration and leadership are [needed] for effective emergency management.”

Federalism and the Coronavirus Response

In the wake of the current pandemic, the federal government has declared a state of emergency. Also, several states, towns, cities and counties have declared a state of emergency.

On a fundamental level, the coronavirus pandemic has tested the American system of government and shown how well collaboration has worked between government agencies and the local, state and federal levels of government. Over the next few weeks and months, we will understand more about the overall management of this pandemic and the various policies that have impacted it.

About the Author: Allison G. S. Knox is an emergency medical technician and a political scientist, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, and International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and also serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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