Book Review: The Politics of Crisis Management

The Politics of Crisis Management” by Arjen Boin, Paul ‘t Hart, Eric Stern, and Bengt Sundelius. 2017 (2nd edition); Cambridge University Press.

Reviewed by Greg Jones.

This is the second edition of this book, produced by a multinational scholarly team.  The authors note openly in their introduction that a lot has occurred since the first (2006) edition was released.  They are unabashedly trying to keep up and they succeed admirably.

Their “model” (the scholarly go-to mechanism to explain and understand a complex environment) is straightforward, useful, and remarkably jargon – free.  Delineated into five “critical strategic leadership tasks”, the book’s model structure is well – suited for stimulating thoughtful reflection in segments.  Busy emergency management professionals can readily take these ideas aboard in the half – hour – per – evening time gaps that are all their duties may allow.

The authors describe the pressure with which governing leaders and councils must contend in a crisis.  Their efforts are the essence of “politics”.  (“Politics”, for our purposes here, is the building of consensus and resources to enact policy and achieve objectives.)  In the moments – to – weeks after the crisis event, management, leadership, confidence, communications and compassion are at a vital premium.  The display or absence of these qualities is the running public evaluation of emergency management competence.

Community trust hinges and fluctuates upon that evaluation.  The more catastrophic the event, the narrower the margin for the political leadership to earn and, at least temporarily, maintain that trust.  Boin and his team describe clearly how political councils can all too rapidly squander their margin for effective decision making and quickly find themselves beset by another crisis: the necessity to re-establish public confidence.  This in addition to trying to manage the original, actual event response.

The authors are performing an important service with their writing.  They are both expanding and elevating the thought space for the emergency and disaster management community.

The “expanding” occurs when they push outward from specific event types.  The subject being explored here is “all hazards” and “all origins”.  They assert that common features exist and drive how today’s societies react to any serious, large – scale emergency.

The “elevating” in their writing is not only about government jurisdictions.  They suggest that all events have political dimensions above the incident site and that those developments matter.  Long – term consequences (hopefully improvements) emerge from the post – event, intensely political conversations.

Whatever your emergency management discipline, and whether your political leader is a mayor, governor, or president, you’ll recognize the dynamics described in this book, and it’s insights will help you, help them manage bad events better.

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Gregg Jones is CEO of the global crisis management consultancy Strategic Applications, LLC, and lectures on crisis and emergency management at Georgetown University. He is currently researching the impact of volunteers in humanitarian emergencies. More of his writing is at http://theagilestrategist.blogspot.com

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