The Role of Public Administration in Crisis Management Planning

Disaster and crisis planning rank high on the agendas for political bodies and public agencies around the world. Many of the complex issues involved with crisis management planning relate to core issues in public administration, including the need to create realistic plans that allow a crisis response that bridges the gap between theory and practical application.

The challenges of crisis management planning often have answers in areas public administrators deal with daily. They include designing and supporting effective institutions, creating coordinated responses that also enable and empower citizens, bringing together the public and private sectors, and striking a balance in planning between long-term risk and short-term needs.

All these issues played out during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. To students preparing for leadership by pursuing a graduate degree in public administration, the situation offered a clear look at the importance and complications of public administration.

Integrating Public Administration Into Crisis Management

Planning for a crisis involves drawing from different areas of expertise. Physical sciences are important to understand the nature of the crisis. Sociology provides insight into how citizens may react during a crisis, such as what people will do when officials issue evacuation orders during a hurricane.

However, public administration has been a missing piece in past crisis management planning. As noted in a report published in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, many agencies “continue to struggle with the management of disasters and the administration of governmental emergency management programs.” Experts in public administration can effectively handle the preparation, mitigation, response and recovery to a crisis.

The Elements of Crisis Management

Public administrators typically work in support of a functioning of a well-ordered society. During a crisis, their job involves holding together a society undergoing great stress. The following are key elements of managing crisis situations.

Clear communication. Public administrators must plan to use the best channels for communicating vital information to the public, as well as choosing the proper person to do the communicating. No matter what type of crisis occurs, people will look to public agencies for information. They also will want regular and consistent updates “even if there’s nothing new.” according to Tucker Hall, a crisis management company based in Florida. It is important that the information given is dependable, accurate, and trustworthy.

Cooperation is key. Every crisis management plan must set pre-planned actions that consider a variety of scenarios and the response required to each from different departments. This set of crisis scenarios can serve as a planning guide for crisis management. Response planning also needs to be flexible – it should be possible to pull from a combination of response scenarios should events call for it.

Clear chain of command. The decentralized organizational structures typical of many public and private organizations can prove inadequate during a crisis. Good crisis management planning calls for the creation of a clear line of command that helps organizations shift into “war-fighting mode” quickly.

Roadblocks to Good Crisis Management Planning

Many obstacles stand in the way of good crisis management. According to the report in the Homeland Security Journal, they include the following:

  • Lack of risk awareness
  • Failure to react to legitimate warnings of a looming crisis
  • Delivering delayed warnings to the public
  • Analysis paralysis, or waiting too long for “‘all the information”
  • Complacency, as illustrated by the attitude of “it can’t happen here”

Those who pay attention during a crisis have seen some form of these issues. Public administrators can expect to see them all.

Another unfortunate but common development during a crisis involves “turf wars” between different public agencies, typically those at different levels of government (municipal, county, state and federal). Savvy public administrators plan for this all-but-certain development by having pre-planned actions in place that clearly delineate responsibilities.

A Career in Public Administration

A graduate degree program in public administration typically attracts those who already have years of experience working either for government or in the nonprofit sector. The Master of Public Administration program from Touro University Worldwide offers them the chance to develop the skills needed to excel in leading government and nonprofit agencies.

Students learn a combination of public administration theory and methods for applying those theories to real-world situations, including crisis management planning. Graduates also leave the program with knowledge in organizational governance, policy analysis, public finance, and administration.

TUW offers the Master of Arts in Public Administration 100% online. Full-time students can complete the program in one year.

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