Fires in Russia — classic failure of public management of emergencies

In the Russian wildfires, will Putin get burned? Wash. Post, August 15.

This response has been so appalling in its ineptitude that it invites comparisons to past disasters. Is this like the 1986 Chernobyl disaster? Or is it more like Hurricane Katrina in 2005? Politically speaking, it should be even worse than Katrina. For one thing, a good part of Russia’s catastrophe has unfolded in the nation’s capital, not in a far-off region such as the Gulf Coast. And these fires are burning with Russia’s 2012 presidential elections on the horizon….

The current crisis should expose and discredit the Russian government at its most incompetent and should permanently taint those in charge. Of course, this doesn’t mean it will: Russia’s government is not a government of the people, but of the well-connected. Its citizens haven’t expected much of their leaders, even before the fires. * * * But if the events of the past month haven’t started a political conflagration, they do seem to be fanning a long-smoldering public distrust of the government. And fires can be unpredictable.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bears direct responsibility for the dysfunctional system that set the stage for disaster: Legislation that came into effect in 2007, when he was president, turned forest management over to poorly equipped local authorities and to companies that manufacture paper and related products. Oligarchs close to the Kremlin allegedly lobbied for the law, which decimated the forest ranger corps and left Russia ill-prepared for today’s calamity.

The poor response to the fires will further widen the chasm separating the nation’s authorities from society.

Basic tenets of public administration apply, whatever the country.  Rules of thumb regarding governance also apply, two of which are pre-disaster trends usually continue post-disaster and weak public management prior to a disaster typically deteriorates post-disaster.

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