Nonprofits respond as intergovernmental organizations post katrina

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Nonprofits respond as intergovernmental organizations post katrina

  1. 1. Nonprofits Respond as Intergovernmental Organizations Post Katrina Introduction A basic principle of government is to provide services for its citizens following major disasters. The nature of disasters requires an intergovernmental approach to disaster management. Furthermore, local nongovernmental organizations, including nonprofits, churches, and citizen organizations, offer critical services in the aftermath of a disaster. The first half of this paper begins by outlining the role of intergovernmental agencies in disaster response and includes a discussion of how nonprofits fit into disaster response. Next it discusses three major public administration theories that are applicable to public administrators overseeing disaster response. The rest of the paper discusses the role of intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, it focuses on the relationship among the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and local nonprofits involved in relief efforts of Katrina. Disaster Management is Intergovernmental Management Disasters require an intergovernmental approach for three major reasons: they cross state, local, and municipal government boarders; they require a response by multiple government agencies; and they require a collaborative response among the government and nonprofit sectors. First, natural and human disasters are often large and impact multiple cities, counties, and states. For example, hurricanes do not choose to 1
  2. 2. damage a single municipality, county, or state; they threaten multiple governments. Such events require a response by intergovernmental agencies. Secondly, disasters require a response by multiple government agencies because they effect citizens, businesses, and organizations that require distinct government services. Since the New Deal, the United States has designed its agencies to be functionally specialized. 1 In a disaster, a business, homeowner, and homeless person may all require a specialized government response, and often a single player requires a response from multiple agencies. For example, a business owner might get rescued by the Coast Guard, seek relief in a shelter setup by FEMA, and receive a special disaster loan from the Small Business Administration for recovery. Lastly, disasters require a response from the government and the nonprofit sector. The past generation has seen government become more privatized and decentralized. 2 Today nonprofits provide public services through government contracts. During a disaster these services are often in higher need and require additional response from the nonprofit sector. For example, following a natural disaster such as a tornado people loose their homes and may require services from a shelter operated by a local nonprofit. Furthermore, local nonprofits often expand their services immediately after a disaster. Religious organizations often open their doors to provide shelter in their communities even if they did not offer them in the first place. Nonprofits are uniquely capable of offering community access during a disaster response. Nonprofits usually work in local communities to solve local social problems 1 Kettl, Donald. The Transformation of Governance: Globalization, Devolution, and the Role of Government. Public Administration Review, Vol. 60, No. 6, pp. 488-497. 2000. 2 Feiock, Richard and Hee Soun Jang. Nonprofits as Local Government Service Contractors. Public Administration Review, Vol. __, No. __, pp 668-680. 2009. 2
  3. 3. that the government does not adequately solve. 3 In order to address local problems they naturally build local relationships by gaining community access. After a disaster nonprofits use their community access to distribute and gain knowledge, assess damages, and create partnerships to solve problems. For example, if a pandemic hits a vulnerable community, a local nonprofit could have access to valuable information such as the needs of the senior citizens and the nonprofit could have relationships with senior citizen centers that need vaccines or support. Indeed, nonprofits are uniquely capable of understanding the needs of a community that can go overlooked by government agencies. Ultimately disasters are complex in their nature and cross government agencies as well as nonprofits organizations. They require a collaborative response among many government agencies and partnerships with local nonprofits are beneficial. Applications for Public Administration Theory Public administration theory offers several strategies for disaster management among intergovernmental agencies and nonprofit organizations. This section covers three applicable approaches for public managers to follow during disaster management. First, adaptive theory offers insight for public managers to allocate resources in disaster management. 4 Managing a disaster requires public administrators to adopt new strategies for changing environments. Adaptive theory is based on the idea that public actors initiate new organizational behavior to adapt to a changing environment. Administrators from all levels and agencies of government go through rapid changes in their 3 Desai, Uday and Keith Snavely. Mapping Local Government-Nongovernmental Organization Interactions: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of Public Adminstration Research and Theory. Vol. 11, No. 2, pp 245-263. 2001. 4 Comfort, Louise. Managing Intergovernmental Response to Terrorism and Other Extreme Events. Publius, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp 29-49. 2002. 3
  4. 4. environment during a disaster and must be able to adapt new approaches that solve dynamic problems. Second, disasters offer uncertainty times for key players in governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations, and decision making theory offers valuable management skills during uncertainty. Decision making theory suggests that during uncertain events public managers should look outward to their environments for information to base plans, decisions, and courses of action. 5 During disasters, quick decisions have to be made, and rational-decisions based on alternative strategies are time consuming. Rather managers should observe the environment and make decisions based on their experience and training for more effective management. Furthermore, decisions based on environmental reactions of experience and training is more likely to produce collaborative results among different agencies. Finally, public managers should apply contextual theories for access to information and communication systems. 6 Managers should integrate technology, humans, and local organizations into their management approach. In some events technology may allow for easy access to information. For example, in New York City on 9/11 communication was not completely destroyed so managers could use technological means of communication. After major storms, technology may become useless and managers should seek out their context, including humans and local organizations, for information. It has been argues that disasters by definition are a time with no previous management plans or standard operating procedures. This, however, is not the case; 5 ibid 6 ibid 4
  5. 5. public managers should practice fundamental public administration theory, gather information, and remain flexible in their approaches to disasters. Interorganizational Management of Katrina In the aftermath of Katrina, the federal government’s disaster management agency, FEMA, partnered with more than 400 volunteer organizations during the disaster response to Katrina. 7 During the aftermath, FEMA relied “on the experience and speed of the volunteer agencies to provide immediate shelter and food assistance.” Six weeks after Hurricane Katrina there were more than 26,000 people living in emergency shelters throughout Louisiana. The Red Cross sheltered 14,000 people, 6,000 were sheltered by faith-based organizations, and 6,000 were seeking refuge in local nonprofit organizations, private homes, or local parish governments. 8 Local governments, organizations, and individuals were responsible for providing basic disaster response to half of all of Louisiana’s refuges. FEMA’s response to Katrina included the coordination, or lack thereof, among thousands of federal, state, and local government agencies and many more nongovernmental organizations. According to FEMA’s director at the time, David Paulison, FEMA saw their “capabilities stretched further than at any time in FEMA's 30- 7 FEMA. “Volunteer Agencies Essential to Hurricane Response: Help for Louisiana Communities Came from Across the Nation and World.” <http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=24161> 8 Pipa, Tony. Weathering the Storm: The Role of Nonprofits in the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort. Nonprofit Sector Research Fund Working Paper Series. The Aspen Institute. 2006. 5
  6. 6. year history.” 9 When a Federal Emergency is declared, FEMA becomes the agency responsible for managing the disaster. However, FEMA’s is congressionally bound to exactly what and how it manages. The National Response Plan (NRP) and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) provide the structure for federal and state disaster response, respectively10. Under the NRP’s Emergency Support Function #6 (ESF#6), FEMA designates the Red Cross as the federal government agency to provide “mass care” to citizens during a disaster by giving emergency first aid, shelter, housing, and human services to those in need. 11 In the aftermath of Katrina, ESF#6 became a controversial debate between FEMA and the Red Cross. 12 According to a Homeland Security performance review, FEMA interpreted ESF#6 to mean that the Red Cross was responsible for coordinating “mass care” among the state and local governments and organizations. However, the Red Cross suggested that it meant that the Red Cross was responsible the “mass care” by providing its own services, not by coordinating the services of other organizations. The uncertainty of management between FEMA and the Red Cross created repercussions of uncertainty throughout local governments and organizations. Many of the local organizations that ended up providing a bulk of the relief had never been trained 9 FEMA. Hurricane Katrina, One-Year Later. http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=29108. August 2006. 10/5/2009. 10 U.S. Department of Homeland Security. http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/laws/gc_1214592333605.shtm. 10/5/2009. 11 U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Office of Inspector General. A Preformance Review of FEMA’s Disaster Management Activities in Response to Hurricane Katrina. 2006. 12 ibid 6
  7. 7. in emergency disaster response. Furthermore, they did not know which government agency to go for with information, advice, or needs. Nonprofits Offer Relief Many community nonprofits in the path of Katrina underwent two major changes for the first time in their organization’s history. First they were victims themselves. A survey conducted by the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits estimated that 67% of coastal nonprofits lost staff and 77% of local nonprofits lost buildings or other assets. 13 Second, for the first time in their history many local nonprofits became primary responders to a disaster. Either of these taken alone is likely to wipe out a nonprofit; however, the nonprofits became critical to the emergency response of Katrina. Disaster management agencies follow four distinct phases: rescue, relief, recovery, and rebuilding. Gulf Coast nonprofits have been critical in all four phases, but they were especially active during the relief period. 14 Following the storm they surveyed their local communities and found thousands without basic shelter, food, and water. The Louisiana Department of Social Services reported that before the storm less than fifteen organizations were providing shelter; two weeks after the storm nearly 200 organizations were housing approximately 12,000 evacuees. 15 The disaster response to Hurricane Katrina highlights the role of intergovernmental relations. The disputes between FEMA and the Red Cross highlight 13 Mississippi’s Center for Nonprofits. “Katrina’s Impact on the Service Sector in Mississippi.” www.independentsector.org/relief/index.html. 10/8/2009 14 Pipa, Tony. Weathering the Storm: The Role of Nonprofits in the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort. Nonprofit Sector Research Fund Working Paper Series. The Aspen Institute. 2006. 15 Lampkin, Linda and Jennifer Claire Auer. Open and Operating: An Assessment of Nonprofit Health and Human Services in Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Urban Institute. 2006. http://www.urban.org/publications/900916.html. 10/6/2009. 7
  8. 8. the need for an organized and cohesive role for federal agencies during a disaster response. The role of local nonprofits suggests that community organizations play an active role in the disaster response process. Conclusion Major disasters cross government boarders and require the response of multiple government agencies. These agencies must respond by working together to offer services in collaboration with other agencies and local partners. Nonprofit organizations are recognized partners during the disaster response process that offer community access and information for governmental agencies. Public administration theory offers insight into sound management practices for public organizations that respond to disasters. The response to Hurricane Katrina by federal, state, and local agencies highlights the importance of sound management, partnerships and collaboration among various government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Ultimately, government agencies must account for intergovernmental relations and view nonprofits as partners in disaster response. 8

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