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4 Evidence from the German Laender: Five Achilles's heels and the role of the private sector

Our empirical research focused on the involvement of hospitals in emergency planning, electrical power network management (including reactions to blackout, thus being a recovery issue as well as a potential source of disaster in other areas), recent changes at firefigthers' co-ordination centers, and, as a cross-cutting issue, the role of information technology. With this choice of disaster management subfields, we try to capture a wide array of possible governance problems at the intersection of public and private engagement: Both the 'red' (fire) and the 'white' (medical) service sectors and old as well as new network technologies are covered.

In the course of our empirical research on the aforementioned topics, we identified 5 Achilles's heels where German disaster management governance could be substantially improved in terms of problem-solving capacity, accountability, and efficiency. These are bund-laender and land-land co-ordination, medical Bevoelkerungsschutz in times of Diagnosis-Related-Groups-financed11 hospitals, vertical and horizontal segmentation in local disaster management, emergency drills and learning from them, and citizen preparedness. Regarding each of them, we shall now characterize vulnerabilities, assess their causes and the role (mostly informal) networks play in overcoming them.

Achilles's heel 1: Land-land and Bund-Laender co-ordination

When mitigation fails, the primary goal of disaster management within the response phase is to minimize or contain damages. The ability to respond to an erupted disaster mainly depends on (a) enough resources and (b) a functioning decision-making and control system to mobilize and co-ordinate theses resources. Since spontaneous co-ordination often leads to suboptimal results, both need to be established in advance. Disasters are by definition scaling events, which exceed existing local disaster management capabilities (Quarantelli 1995). Therefore, when a disaster occurs, public and private actors on different levels have to collaborate in an effective and efficient way, which is “one of the least understood problems in public management” (Comfort 2002, p. 31). One of the most important challenges in this regard is land-land-co-ordination on the operational-tactical and political-administrational level as part of horizontal governance network. The latter is partially and informally institutionalized within the Conference of Ministers of the Interior12, precisely in its Working Group V. Within this negotiating network, the laender reason (mostly accompanied and observed by a representative of the Bund) about fire and rescue service affairs, disaster management, and civic protection in regular intervals, often (yet in some eyes not often enough) reaching decisions on parallel activities or coordinative measures. One of the undoubtedly positive outputs this governance network produced is the review and update of a binding standardized joint manual on operation leadership during an emergency13 (IMK 2002). Yet although these common operational mstandards have now been proclaimed, resource and capability descriptions on the ground are still by no means equal—even when the same technical label is used. As an expert with longstanding leadership experience critically remarks, “the advantage of a consistent language is still undervalued”. In case of an emergency, a communication problem between and about units from different laender still exists, with potentially fatal consequences when the support that arrives is not of the type that was requested.14

Another problem, closely linked to the sematic level, is the absence of a common operationalization of disaster thresholds, which is not just an academic discussion but also creates real co-ordination problems, especially once several laender are involved. As Musil and Kirchner (2006, pp. 384–385) point out, the absence of a formal disaster alarm in some laender laws may lead to legal (and often financial) uncertainty for affected and acting persons and institutions.

Further co-ordination problems also involve the federal level, which is formally responsible for civil protection and disaster assistance but also provides informal support for the laender and their disaster management. One expert from a Ministry of the Interior at land level mentioned a quite silent but nevertheless tangible dispute among the laender about Bund competence for risk analysis, which is linked to financial funds.15 We expect, and an expert confirmed, that the nationwide risk analysis, commissioned by the revisioned civil protection and disaster assistance act in 2009, cannot be completed very quickly due to a rather rigid legal governance setting and lacking willingness of some laender, cities or kreise16 to deliver all information necessary on an informal basis. Gathering this information on risk objects in order to integrate them into a nationwide risk map also involves intense collaboration with private companies. As an expert at the Federal Ministry of the Interior told us, the latter are often very cautious for fear of sensitive business information getting into the hands of competitors, thus rendering risk maps incomplete.

We now proceed to selected vertical co-ordination processes between the federal level and the laender, highlighting problems as well as informal processes that enable dynamic adjustments to new protection needs in the two-track system.

Since co-ordination during the response phase requires a sophisticated communications structure which enables an efficient and effective help, the first example refers to Information Technology co-ordination covering all state levels. Information technology can contribute to a shortening of response time by providing a quick image of the situation on the ground and enhancing options for resource co-ordination, physically located in a crisis center. After the Innenministerkonferenz's report of 2002 (IMK 2002), which asked the federal level to provide suggestions for a stringent command system, IT solutions gained prominence in respective discussions. The first far-reaching action that followed was the creation of the German Joint Information and Situation Centre (Gemeinsames Lagezentrum, GMLZ), managed by the Federal Office of Civic Protection and Disaster Assistance. As a service facility, it provides a 24/7 situation picture, a single point of contact for information management between the horizontally and vertically fragmented state actors, but also for international requests (Unger 2009, p. 59). As our expert at the Federal Ministry of the Interior notes, this collaboration among federal actors, laender, and (public and private) first responder representatives works very well, not only because all staff and financial efforts are sponsored by the Federal Ministry of the Interior. Nevertheless, laender have been rather reluctant to call upon far reaching co-ordination activities (i.e. leadership) of the GMLZ (which only gets in charge upon laender request).

Furthermore, we recognized vertical co-operation obstacles with regard to a more technical layer, namely the German Emergency Planning Information System II plus (deNIS II plus), which is a platform initiated for an overarching disaster governance data management. Its approach seeks to gather data on all resources on all levels, such as medical laboratories, mobile pump stations, generators, etc. (Corr 2006, p. 1 ff.). The Bund invested heavily into deNIS II plus, yet these efforts largely were in vain so far due to laender (and local) recalcitrance. A large majority of lander shied away from binding scarce financial and personnel resources (and many did not want the Bund to meddle with plans of their own), and many of them did not have the data at their disposal anyway. Local authorities that had, however, refused to provide their resource data to the platform.17 In the foreseeable future, the federal level has no realistic chance of integrating local data against the will of laender and local authorities without reliable legal adjustment and financial inducements. This is what causes a shift in the federal governance approach now. As part of the current strategy, the Federal Office of Civic Protection and Disaster Assistance dispenses its all-encompassing data collection and embraces a much leaner, capability-oriented approach that focuses on bottleneck resources and is intended to offer much more lexible data interfaces, as two experts on the federal level told us. Despite this recent acknowledgement, deNIS II plus so far represents a failed vertical informal governance process which could impair disaster response in case of a nationwide crisis situation (or at least fail to improve on the status quo ante).

This dispute on data management relects the Bund-laender interplay in a magnifier. A similar pattern can be observed regarding law amendments, in the case of which the laender are careful not to transfer delegation and control powers to the federal level throughout the whole process. This is why, even in the otherwise reasonable 2009 revision of the civil protection and disaster assistance law, § 16 still insists on a request of several laender for a federal disaster management co-ordination, without any automatism that we would consider appropriate. (However, the laender do not form a completely homogenous block against federal ambitions. For instance, Eastern laender for historical reasons exhibit a weaker volunteer base and thus had to rely on a more professionalized disaster management system. A federal competence, federal personnel and federal money are somewhat more tempting in this situation.)

Turning from interaction to substance, all public and private experts we interviewed agree that critical infrastructure is a key in disaster governance in modern societies. The subway attacks in Madrid and London as well as 9/11 have demonstrated the vulnerability of western societies. Because of the “larger trend of privatization” (Singer 2003,

p. 68–69), more and more private actors are involved in ensuring nationwide security network. Therefore, “[t]he state co-operates, on a partnership basis, with other public and private actors in developing analyses and protection concepts” (BMI 2009, p. 3). Within Critical-Infrastructure-related laender disaster management governance, the range of this co-operation varies. Currently, the hottest potato is the power supply system (Deutscher Bundestag 2011), even though the reliability of energy supply is regulated by European law, the federal Energy Industry Act18 and the Federal Network Agency19. Our experts and the Bundestag report just quoted leave no doubt that the withdrawal from the nuclear energy program in Germany in combination with the slow adaptation of the grid to this turnaround (Energiewende) starkly increases the real danger of a major blackout. As of today, Bund and laender point at each other, respectively lamenting insufficient local planning ambition and a lack of encompassing guidance (including higher federal investment).20 As a fine example of informal, bottom-up public-private collaboration that partially fills the gap the creation of the crisis handbook “Blackout” (Innenministerium Baden-Wuerttemberg/BBK 2010) needs to be mentioned, which was edited by the Ministry of Interior Baden-Wuerttemberg and the federal BBK but written jointly by these with staff from the power supply company EnBW (Energie Baden-Württemberg AG) and a department of the KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology). It provides fruitful insights on (and guidance for) inter-organizational processes—vertically and horizontally. We assume, and our experts for professional crisis management from power suppliers and network companies confirmed, that preparing companies to cope with disasters by providing business continuity management systems and concepts can help private engagement to play a more constructive role in fulfilling public security needs. At the same time, this preparation can contribute to a faster re-establishment of supply after a disaster has occurred. The glass is less than half-full, however: The handbook “Blackout” is clearly biased towards the interests and views of the oligopoly of four large electricity providers in Germany, and the process by which it came about mirrors deficits inherent to ad hoc, informal bottom-up governance networking: above all, they are very likely to reinforce informational and other power asymmetries, and they are very unlikely to cover all relevant actors and aspects, which could exacerbate new dysfunctionalities.

Horizontal governance problems appear on the federal level, because of shared competences between them. To align disaster management processes, experts, knowhow and capabilities, the Federal Ministry of the Interior created an inter-ministerial working group, called national co-ordination group (Du Bois 2009, p. 21) as a complementary informal institution based on good-will of different responsible actors, but without a legal accountability framework in case of a co-ordination failure. This inter-ministerial network, among other functions, enables the preparedness in case of a pandemic event in Germany by interlocking the operation center of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the operation center of the Federal Ministry of Health, and assigned organizations like the Robert Koch Institute with its specialized diagnostic methods. Yet as an expert at the Federal Ministry of the Interior suggested, responsibilities and procedures at these federallevel interfaces should be more precisely defined first before forcing the alignment with all vertical interfaces.

Recent years have witnessed a certain “medicalization of security” (Elbe 2012, p. 320). This trend has also inluenced the composition of the group of relevant actors in Bevoelkerungsschutz governance:

 
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