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Thinking the Unthinkable: The Limits of Traditional Crisis Management and the Necessity for New Approaches Arjen Boin, Ph.D. School of Governance, Utrecht.

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Presentation on theme: "Thinking the Unthinkable: The Limits of Traditional Crisis Management and the Necessity for New Approaches Arjen Boin, Ph.D. School of Governance, Utrecht."— Presentation transcript:

1 Thinking the Unthinkable: The Limits of Traditional Crisis Management and the Necessity for New Approaches Arjen Boin, Ph.D. School of Governance, Utrecht University Public Administration Institute, Louisiana State University

2 Outline Introduction Future Shocks and Transboundary Crises The Challenges of Transboundary Crisis Management Implications for Institutional Design

3 The New World of Crisis Chernobyl, Kobe, Mad Cows, Canadian Ice Storms, Buenos Aires blackout, 9/11, SARS, Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, China Earthquake (2008); H1N1 flu epidemic; Financial crisis, BP oil spill, Icelandic Ash, Fukushima; EHEC

4 Defining Transboundary Crises We speak of a transboundary crisis when the functioning of multiple, life-sustaining systems or critical infrastructures is acutely threatened and the causes of failure remain unclear.

5 Characteristics of TC Transboundary crises Pose an urgent threat to core values, critical infrastructures Bring deep uncertainty: Causes are not clear, unpredictable trajectory Cross geographic and functional boundaries Challenge governmental structures: No ownership Generate periods of intense politicization Play up tensions between public and private

6 Increased Frequency: Driving Trends 1) Changing threat agents 2) Increased societal vulnerability

7 Increased societal vulnerability Growing complexities and interdependencies Heightened mobility Changing societal and political climate Urbanization Concentration of assets

8 Changing Threat Agents (Bio) Technology jumps New forms of terrorism Climate change Global power shifts

9 Paradoxes While public leaders can do less to prevent crises, they are increasingly held responsible. But they often do not know what to do (or what the public expects of them). Trends increase vulnerability of modern societies, while increasing crisis management capacity (more can be done than ever before).

10 In Summary: Prevention is hard if not impossible New forms of adversity are likely Failure is not an option (politically, socially and economically) Government is not geared towards dealing with transboundary crises What does that mean for crisis management?

11 Key analytical distinctions Operational v. Strategic Routine Emergencies v. Unimaginable Crises Localized v. Transboundary Threats

12 Critical constraints The symbolic need for a command & control myth The institutional vulnerability of modern mega-cities The culture of the risk society The politics of crisis management

13 Challenges for Strategic Crisis Management Preparing in the face of indifference Making sense of crisis developments Managing large response networks Meaning making: Whats the story? Accountability: Restoring trust after crisis

14 Task 1: Preparing for Crisis The costs of permanent preparedness Planning vs flexibility The politics of preparedness

15 Task 2: Sense-making The crucial question: How to recognize a crisis? Answer: Its surprisingly hard.

16 Why sense-making is hard We lack the knowledge and tools to understand, map, and track TBCs Information has to be shared across organizational, sectoral, and geographical boundaries Psychological factors limit individual and group capacity to recognize and grasp Black Swans

17 Task 3: Managing large response networks Working with limited information Making critical decisions in authority vacuum Communicating to a confused and distrustful public Coordinating across borders

18 Task 4: Meaning-making Whats the story? Reducing public and political uncertainty Bush after 9/11 v. Bush after Katrina Core claim: its not about the true story, its about the best communicated story It is hard to explain a TBC without undermining the legitimacy of complex, interdependent systems

19 Task 5: Crisis termination Crisis: It aint over till its over (Katrina) Operational termination v. political closure Key lesson: political closure depends on accountability dynamics How to organize accountability across boundaries?

20 A Challenge of Design? Rise of transboundary crises Impossible crisis management challenges Bounded bureaucracies: not designed to deal with crises, certainly not for the crises of the 21 st century What needs to be done?

21 Institutional Design Options Building resilient societies Building transboundary crisis management capacity: Supranational Inter-agency

22 The Promise of Resilience Resilience: the magical solution Modernization undermines and facilitates resilience Primary condition: trust (social capital)

23 Resilience: The Feasible Option Rapid recombination of available resources by: Citizens First-line responders Operational leaders Requires reconceptualization of crisis leadership

24 Leadership for Resilience Support and facilitate emerging resilience Organize outside forces Explain what is happening Initiate long-term reconstruction Bottom line: Immediate relief is not an option

25 Engineering resilience: A leadership responsibility Basic response mechanisms in place* Training potential responders (how to think for themselves) Continuous exercising Planning as process Create mobile units media-style Prepare for long-term aftermath Create (international) expert network

26 Creating Dynamic Capacity Shared cognition Surge capacity Networked coordination Formal boundary-spanning structures

27 1. Shared cognition Detection/surveillance systems Analytical capacity Real-time communication Decision support systems

28 2. Transboundary Surge Capacity Professional first responders (who can operate across boundaries) Supply chain management Fast-track procedures Integrated command center

29 3. Networked coordination Shared language Known partners, mutual knowledge A culture of collaboration Mutual trust

30 National Incident Management System (NIMS) Builds on successes of ICS (developed for and by the fire-fighting community) Offers a shared structure, professional language, way of working Built around defined authority relations, functional organization, modular approach Rapidly institutionalized across the US (Katrina v. Gustav)

31 NIMS: Fit for TBCs? Designed for local events, dealt with by local/regional response organizations ICS has not been systematically evaluated (effectiveness remains unproven) Military/uniformed character Unclear how ICS can be used during TBCs such as epidemics, terrorist attacks or financial crises

32 4. Formal boundary-spanning structures Defining authority Rules for collaboration, sharing resources Rules and mechanisms for up and down-scaling Rules for initiation and termination

33 U.S. National Response Framework (2008) Defines responsibilities, structures and procedures for large-scale disasters All hazards approach Strategic perspective

34 US Response: Structures and Principles All disasters are local The state is the primary actor Feds can help, but only if the states want it NRF prescribes procedures for requesting help and scaling up Embrace of NIMS

35 NRF: Pros and Cons Concerted effort to define responsibilities Formally sound Sound policy for training and practice But… - All difficult problems are placed at the state level - Not always clear who is in charge - No attention for international dimension of TBC

36 What does the EU have available? An unnoticed success story A wide variety of capacities (mechanisms, venues, agencies) Recent developments: The Solidarity Clause, Reorganization of Commission DGs (Internal Security, EEAS, strengthening of ECHO); Erasing of Internal-external divide

37 EU Advantages… Wide range of competences Strong on civilian capacities Skilled at cooperation and coordination Trusted venues Single contact point Set to grow

38 EU Disadvantages… Incomplete, fragmented competences Unclear political commitment; politics will affect CM Leadership is a hot potato Communication is difficult; multiculturalism

39 In summary: Future design challenges More TBCs are likely Contemporary government structures are ill suited Needed: TBCM capacity & enhanced resilience Required: (Re)design of institutions

40 Thank you!

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