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About this book

This book explores the role of elected leaders in disaster management. Filling a significant gap in disaster literature, the authors take a pragmatic approach to the relationships between the public under threat, the operational response, and the interests and actions of elected officials. Key tactics are explored, from the ways operational managers strategically deal with unreasonable political demands to what disaster officials argue is the responsibility of elected officials at all levels of government – that is, to ensure vital life-saving information reaches the people who need it most. The book draws on case studies such as the mismanagement of public perceptions by President George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina in the United States and the widely acclaimed, heartfelt messages delivered by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh during the 2010–11 South-East Queensland floods in Australia. Drawing on a series of interviews with senior disaster managers in ten countries, this book is highly relevant for students, scholars and practitioners interested in disaster communication.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
This chapter introduces the book as well as the multi-country research project that provided the basis for the research, data and analysis undertaken. It establishes the relevance and critical nature of the focus of our research project, which is effective political leadership in disasters and crises. It explains the approach that we have taken to this topic and presents a roadmap for readers regarding what to expect. Here, we briefly outline the contents of each chapter. Our book presents a challenge to researchers to reconceptualize and transform their approach to research about the involvement of politicians in disasters and crises by looking for examples of what constitutes best practice.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 2. Extraordinary Politics in Catastrophic Times

Abstract
Unpredictable violent acts of nature—earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, droughts, fires—need some form of connection to humans before they become a ‘disaster’. An earthquake in a remote area with no impact on humans is not a disaster; it only becomes a disaster when humans are affected—indirectly, such as through crop losses, or directly, such as through flooded homes. Throughout history, disasters have had political dimensions—from the ancient world to current global mega-disasters. In this chapter, we examine the political dimensions of disaster, chiefly from the standpoint of the response and recovery phases. We argue that all disasters have political implications in some form, either directly through leadership or indirectly through manipulation behind the scenes. Either way, politics and disasters will always remain intertwined. Yet when life and property are in danger, it is not the time to play politics.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 3. Sampling Disaster Concepts

Abstract
Our interviewees agreed that gaining the interest of elected officials in disasters in the mitigation and preparation phases can be difficult due to the high level of competition to gain a slot in politicians’ diaries. This chapter therefore sets out to provide a greater understanding of basic disaster concepts, ranging from early research to the cascading effects of disasters, the role of social capital and the bureaucracies that govern response and recovery. We focus here on the words ‘society’ and ‘citizens’, because they are linked as constituents to the political actor. We also examine disaster governance—that is, how the whole of society deals with disasters. In addition, the chapter covers a selection of disaster terms and phases, which will help to ensure that those involved in managing responses to and providing leadership during disasters are ‘singing off the same song sheet’. Although we scan definitions, it is not our intention to enter into a debate over semantics. This book takes a pragmatic approach to the issue of political communication in disasters and crises, and we argue that the contribution of our interviewees across ten countries provides valuable insights into the relationships between elected officials, emergency managers and those affected by disasters. As our book is more practically than theoretically oriented, we leave the debate around the definition of terminology to other scholars for more considered discussion and in-depth exploration.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 4. Political Leadership in Calamity

Abstract
This chapter turns to the role of political actors in disasters and crises, and the expectations of survivors and others regarding leadership, support and sense-making. The pressure involved in these types of complex and rapidly evolving environments imposes further leadership challenges, including a lack of time, resources and factual information. Coupled with poor situational awareness, political leaders are in uncharted territory where chaos replaces well-orchestrated day-to-day routines. Through the life experiences of our interviewees, we find that the transformational leadership style should be adopted by political actors in a catastrophe. In other words, they need to be there for their community as a shoulder to cry on, to offer support and to champion the return to normalcy—however long it takes.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 5. Frontline Realities

Abstract
This chapter lifts the curtain that sits behind the frontline to explore the realities of efforts to save life and property when media interest is intense and political actors head for the first photo opportunity. This chapter examines how emergency managers attract the attention of political elites in peacetime between disasters and deal with the spotlight on political leadership—good and bad. What is expected of political leaders is often not what is delivered. Emergency managers are acutely aware, however, that perceptions matter and that the power of the elected official needs to be handled with refined diplomacy.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 6. Managing Relationships

Abstract
In this chapter, we examine the complex and multi-faceted relationships between politicians and emergency managers with a view to identifying what works most effectively in establishing these relationships. We found that a cooperative approach to relationships, based on mutual respect and understanding of the different roles played by politicians and emergency managers, worked best. This chapter also looks at the elements that can contribute to positive or problematic relationships between these groups. The unwritten rules that guide the way politicians and emergency managers engage with each other in the various phases of disasters are examined. Our analysis provides important insights for these parties, with a series of best practice guidelines provided to assist them.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 7. Voices of Reason

Abstract
We have titled this chapter ‘Voices of Reason’ because those we interviewed said this should be the role of politicians when communicating about disasters. In this chapter, we examine what constitutes effective political leadership in disasters and crises. We reveal the key factors that contribute to effective political leadership and performance across the various phases of disasters. Drawing on interviews with senior emergency managers in ten countries, we examine when politicians should get involved in disasters and crises, and when they should disconnect. We also look at some key examples of politicians’ interactions with the news media, focusing on those that illustrate best practice as well as those that demonstrate poor practice.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 8. Minding the Minders

Abstract
In this chapter, we explore the intricacies of dealing with the power of political press secretaries, also known as media minders or media advisers. We delve behind the scenes by drawing on our interviews and case studies, where we find a common theme: much of the play for publicity is driven by the political actor’s media minder taking advantage of the media spotlight during a disaster or crisis event. It is here, often behind closed doors, that media minders seek opportunities for their political masters to be seen on the front line—sometimes at any cost, including the use of logistical support, such as helicopters, from emergency and disaster agencies. There is an overriding strategy by media minders to show that their political actor is engaged with the crisis, taking some form of leadership and being there for their constituents, or their elected colleagues, such as a minister representing a premier. We discovered that dealing with the visit ‘requests’ of political minders can be problematic for emergency managers. The wrong answer (in the view of the minder or politician) can have negative consequences for career progression. Saying ‘no’ is fraught with danger. Therefore, how do crisis and disaster managers sensitively juggle requests for media exposure on the front line from media minders at all levels of government? Which requests, and from whom, take priority?
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Chapter 9. Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Abstract
The lessons learned in the course of our ten-country study are discussed in this chapter. We present our best practice ‘tandem information model’ (TIM) for the involvement of politicians in disasters. While the TIM was developed specifically for use as disasters and crises unfold, it can also be used by politicians to help guide their responses and activities before and after disasters and crises, to ensure effective political leadership. It can also be used by those managing responses to disasters and crises to ensure politicians fulfill a role that contributes to the response and assists those involved, while also reassuring those seeing a disaster or crisis unfold via news media. We also reflect on the key lessons to emerge from our research.
Hamish McLean, Jacqui Ewart

Backmatter

Additional information