Civil-Military Relations in Emergency Management: Federal, State, and Local Emergency Management Programs Are Now Part of the Nation's Defense and Security

By Sylves, Richard T. | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Civil-Military Relations in Emergency Management: Federal, State, and Local Emergency Management Programs Are Now Part of the Nation's Defense and Security


Sylves, Richard T., The Public Manager


Both U.S. civil defense of the past and homeland security of the present demonstrate that disaster policy has always had a degree of national security and military penetration. However, few appreciate how dramatic the latest penetration of military and national security matters has been in American emergency and public management. There are both positives and negatives associated with ramping up militarization and national security presence in emergency management specifically, and public management more generally.

Since 1950, each president's national security policy has involved civil defense or homeland security in some manner. In times when civil defense against nuclear attack (1950-1991) was the federal emergency management priority, much of disaster policy was imposed from the "top-down" in the federal system. Remember, emergency management in the United States is supposed to be from the "bottom-up," with local governments seeking supplemental help from their state government and the federal government. The Clinton administration (1993-2001) made possible a temporary respite from civil defense worries when the Cold War ended, although foreign terrorism against the U.S. homeland was not yet recognized outside of national security circles as a major threat.

9/11

Following the 9/11/2001 terror attacks, U.S. disaster policy became a top-down, president- and federal-dominated system. State and municipal governments today carry a considerable portfolio of national security-related duties--many implemented through homeland security grant programs. Conditions specified in the law and grant rules of federal homeland security programs have significant effects on the substance and process of federal, state, and local emergency management specifically, and public management more generally.

Homeland security has militarized the disaster policy and emergency management, but sociological research has demonstrated that the military culture and the civilian culture are highly incompatible. Homeland security has come to Main Street, and federal emergency management is the chief vehicle transporting it.

In some respects, modern homeland security policy builds on those areas where there is a positive overlap and compatibility of domestic emergency management and terrorism consequence management. Anti-terror emergency management and conventional disaster management may actually complement each other better today than during the Cold War of 1946-1990 because of the range of weapons and instruments potentially available to modern terrorists and the damage these might cause. Admittedly, this claim is subject to dispute.

Military Involvement in Emergency Management

James Miskel, a student of military and national security studies and an expert on emergency management, points to many examples of U.S. military involvement in response to domestic disasters (Miskel, 2006: 39). Here are a few examples of positive overlap of military and civilian emergency:

* Preparation for hazardous materials incidents overlaps much of the preparation for chemical weapons and bioterrorism preparedness.

* Preparedness and response planning for a major urban earthquake parallels some elements of preparedness and response planning for the detonation of a low-yield nuclear weapon in a large metropolitan area.

* Hurricane evacuation planning dovetails civil evacuation planning for dirty bomb incidents.

Certainly there are many other examples. Miskel (2006: 41) posits that "one of the underlying and enduring assumptions of the U.S civil defense program was that much of the investment in civil defense would improve the nation's capacity for responding to natural disasters." An interesting question today is whether the same can be said for U.S. homeland security programs.

The military has heft and diversification. Active duty military personnel and National Guard soldiers represent an immensely large workforce. …

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