Authors: Arnold Howitt
September 2010
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

This paper examines the challenges of designing response organizations (and collections of such organizations) in ways that will enhance their ability to cope effectively with extreme situations. The paper identifies lessons and effective practices from management theory in general and from emergency management in particular that may aid in improving future performance on the day that extreme fire conditions -– or other extreme events -– again threaten a state, its communities, and its citizens. Focusing on the 2009 Victorian bushfires as a case in point, it argues that responses to extreme events are likely to be, of necessity, decentralized. Consequently, thinking of the problem as coordinating the efforts of a network of organizations may be a more useful and effective approach than trying to unify diverse response organizations operating across a wide geographic area into a single entity with centralized command and control.

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