Disaster Management, Process and Leadership

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Numerous natural disasters occur in the United States every year. It appears to be essential to identify what actors are responsible for the direction and control of disaster operations. Moreover, management processes, including communication methods, criteria for determining the lead position during an emergency, and other vital details should be determined and discussed. The focus will be placed on natural disasters and health emergencies typical for Philadelphia, including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and flash floods in the current paper.

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Controlling Disaster Response

Each particular disaster is addressed by the country’s officials based on its scale. The response is provided on the federal, state, and local levels, with each level managed by its own organizations and representatives. On the federal level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates the preparation, prevention, and effect mitigation activities performed in response to both natural and man-made disasters.

Its resources are organized into the 12 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) that bring together the capabilities of federal departments, agencies, and other national-level assets (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). Specific ESFs are involved depending on the type and scale of the disaster. The federal response is coordinated and supported by the interagency Emergency Support Team (EST), which involves FEMA Headquarters staff and the representatives of each ESF and selected federal and local support agencies (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). It operates from the FEMA Headquarters, coordinates local teams and emergency operations centers, and serves as the primary source of strategic information.

On the regional level, the Regional Operation Center is responsible for disaster management. It involves representatives from the ESFs and different agencies and serves as a point of contact for the affected state’s governments, the national EST, and federal agencies (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). On the regional level, the Emergency Response Team (ERT) is also formed that includes FEMA employees and the representatives of selected ESFs.

The ERT initiates field operations, determines the impact of the event, identifies specific state requirements for the federal response, and works at the disaster site (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). The ERT has an advance element, which establishes communications and sets up operations, and the national element that works on site.

Lead Positions in Disaster Response

On each level, a number of actors are responsible for response and recovery during disasters. They include Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR), State Coordinating Officer (SCO), Disaster Recovery Manager (DRM), and Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). Each of the positions implies specific duties and activities during emergencies. The GAR represents the Governor of a State and acts on his or her behalf. Their responsibilities include organizing communications with the Federal DRM, carrying out the State’s Emergency Plan, coordinating the state’s activities and the Governor’s decisions, and creating strategic and recovery plans (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.).

The SCO “provides operational oversight and direction of the disaster on behalf of the GAR, converting the GAR’s strategic guidance into tactical plans, executing them on behalf of the State, and responding to the Governor’s requests” (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d., p. 18). The GAR and the SCO may be appointed permanently or at the time of the emergency. They may be the same person or different people, and require assistant personnel to ensure 24/7 operations.

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On the federal level, the lead position in disaster response is the FCO appointed by the President. They manage the federal response for the disaster, coordinate program delivery, and establish the relationships among federal, state, and local personnel, the Governor, and federal agencies (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). The FCO is the ERT team leader, presiding over other critical functions within the team: DRM, Mitigation Officer, Operations Section Chief, Information and Planning Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, and Administration Section Chief.

The DRM is appointed by a Regional Director to act as their representative for a particular disaster operation. They are responsible for communicating with the FCO, determining funding requirements, controlling Stafford Act Programs and the FEMA State Agreement, and issuing mission assignments (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). The Mitigation Officer and the chiefs of the Operations, Information and Planning, Logistics, and Administration Sections are each responsible for their own line of work during a disaster operation.

Communications in Disaster Response

In disaster response, effective communication is important at all levels. It is particularly relevant when addressing natural disasters common to Philadelphia: tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and flash floods. Within the ERT, the Information and Planning Department is responsible for the communication strategy and information support (Disaster management roles and responsibilities, n.d.). It collects and processes information, prepares and distributes reports and updates, consolidates information for action planning, and provides technical support.

To maintain control during an emergency, both traditional and modern communication methods need to be implemented. The recent developments in disaster management practices include an extensive use of social media. It has significantly changed the landscape of public communication and is now a key tool in disaster response. Efficient, rapid, and accurate information flow during disasters can save thousands of lives, and it is one of the primary concerns of the ERT (Bowen, n.d.).

Therefore, the focus of the Information and Planning Department should not only be on providing news to public information officers in state and local government agencies but also on disaster coverage on social media. It should include both gathering and analyzing information published by independent sources and witnesses and distributing reports and updates on the situation to the general public.

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Making Independent Decisions in the Field

On each level of disaster response, decisions are made that influence the response and recovery efforts. At the federal level, a situation assessment is conducted by the FEMA, the FCO and the EST are appointed, a Disaster Field Office is established, and the necessary ESFs are identified (Disaster sequence of events, n.d.). The federal government becomes involved in the situation if it is too severe for local and state governments to handle.

At the state level, the situation is monitored, local efforts are evaluated, and the need for federal assistance is identified. The state government proclaims a state of emergency, and the Governor is entitled to activate the State Disaster Preparedness Plan, allocate state resources, and apply for federal assistance (Disaster sequence of events, n.d.). The state government becomes involved in the situation if the local authorities do not have sufficient resources to handle the crisis.

The local government acts as the primary provider of emergency response services. It activates the Emergency Operations Center and implements the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, coordinates the work of various state and private organizations and agencies, and is entitled to request state and/or federal assistance (Disaster sequence of events, n.d.). It can also proclaim a local state of emergency to authorize the use of local resources and the expenditure of local funds. The local government “maintains control of all assets used in the response and recovery efforts, regardless of the source of those assets” (Disaster sequence of events, n.d.). It is responsible for the organization of the Crisis Action Teams (CATs) that are responsible for individual crisis management operations in the field.

Decision-making in emergency situations requires a flexible approach. In the case of natural disasters that affect large areas, some decisions are made on the federal and regional level, and some are left for the local governments. According to Kapucu and Garayev (2011), the collaborative decision-making model proves itself to be more effective in both natural and human-made disaster management compared to the traditional centralized hierarchy-based model. This approach allows for input into the disaster management process during the emergency to achieve faster results and prevent losses. Collaborative practices across different departments, agencies, and programs provide better results for citizens and improve communication between different spheres, which facilitates the disaster management process.


Disaster response is provided on the federal, state, and local levels based on the scale of the event. Each level has its own scope of responsibility and is coordinated by leaders appointed by different authorities depending on the situation. In case of natural disasters most common to Philadelphia, they are initially addressed on the local level. If the local government does not have sufficient resources, state assistance is requested, and if the state cannot handle the situation, the federal government becomes involved. With each particular lead position within the hierarchy playing its own crucial role, collaborative decision-making is recommended to most effectively organize the disaster management process.


Bowen, S. (n.d.). Good communication is a key part of disaster response. The Conversation. Web.

Disaster management roles and responsibilities [PDF document]. (n.d.). Web.

Disaster sequence of events [PDF document]. (n.d.). Web.

Kapucu, N., & Garayev, V. (2011). Collaborative decision-making in emergency and disaster management. International Journal of Public Administration, 34(6), 366–375. Web.

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