The Role Of Local Civil Defense In Disaster Planning

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Disaster Research Center
Intensive field studies involving over 300 in-depth interviews in 12 American cities were conducted in an effort to ascertain the conditions or factors associated with variations in the tasks, saliency and legitimacy of local civil defense organizations around the United States. All of the cities were objectively subject to at least two major natural disaster threats and half had undergone a major disaster in the last decade. Data were obtained from key community and emergency organization officials by way of a disaster probability rating scale, two intensive interview guides, and a general documentary checklist. Among the findings were the following. While overall disaster planning by civil defense has tended to be differentiated, segmented, isolated, cyclical and spasmodic , in recent years planning has broadened to include a wide range of disaster ,agents, a lesser focus on nuclear attack, more concern with local community viability and increasing involvement of a greater number of organizations in community disaster plans. Currently in almost all communities there are multiple layers of planning with little consensus on disaster tasks, on organizational responsibility and on the scope of disaster plannlng,is well as confusion concerning the role of civil defence in such planning. Local civil defence directors not only differ in following a professional or a political career path, but also manifest a variety of behavioral styles in carrying out their roles. Local civil defense agencies tend to be ambiguously viewed as to their interests, structures and functions by the general public, community influentials and organizational officials. Civil defense agencies have also evolved in two different ways -- some following a traditional path with an emphasis on nuclear hazards and others concerned with a number of different hazards. High saliency seems to be related to extensive horizontal relationships, broad scope of tasks and multiple hazard concerns. A number of factors undercut the legitimacy of civil defense organizations. These include changes in organizational purpose, preceived need for services, decline in resources, poor performance and changing saliency of the military model. Local offices which have legitimacy tend to be in localities where there are persistent threats, where civil defense is within the local governmental structure, where extensive relationships are maintained with other organizations, and where the output or product of the civil defense organization is seen as useful to other community groups. Conditions which are most likely to be productive of successful local civil defense involvement in disaster planning are that the loca1 organization develops experience in handling a variety of community emergencies, that municipal government provides a structure which accepts and legitimizes the civil defense function, that the local civil defense director has the ability to generate significant pre-disaster relationships among those organizations which do become involved in emergency activities, and that emergency-relevant resources, such as EOCs, be provided and that the knowledge of their availability is widespread throughout the community.
Local Civil Defense, Disaster Planning, Vunerability