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5 Conclusion

As the preceding analyses demonstrated, over the last 2 decades “formal structures”, “informal interactions” as well as “commonly accepted styles of interaction” and “structures of dominance” in German Bevölkerungsschutz have been “in lux”, as WindhoffHéritier (1996, pp. 86–88; authors' translation) describes typical processes of change in states' tasks. From this development, a new policy has emerged that can no longer be characterized as government, but is clearly an embodiment of governance, involving numerous networks between public and private actors on all levels of the German multilevel system. These formal and informal networks compensate for existing problemsolving gaps primarily caused by the specific federal structure. This policy field has by now manifested itself “as a delimitable place of reproduction for knowledge supply and interpretational conlicts […] [and taken on] an identity and stability of its own, which concretize in basic designing rules (policy principles) and typical discourse scenarios” (Janning 2011, p. 52; authors' translation).32 Unlike in the field of consumer protection that Janning analyzed, however, the latter is only the case for specialist audiences, not the general public.

On all levels and in all sectors of German multi-level disaster management governance, we were impressed by the skill and dedication of the public and private actors we came across during the research process leading up to this paper. Various informal governance networks contribute very constructively to the improvement of overall preparedness and response capabilities by accelerating adaptations to new challenges and structures, by spreading and increasing knowledge and by providing a lexible framework for future crises.

Unfortunately, though, the level of Bevoelkerungsschutz resulting from these efforts seems suboptimal in several respects. Not all parts of the system gear into one another as they could, and at some crucial nodes, simply too few resources are being invested. Even the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Office of Civic Protection and Disaster Assistance (2010, D6; authors' translation) call the current co-ordination mode in federal crisis management “de facto regularly […] decentral-diffuse”, and especially at laender level, as of today, general disaster management based in Ministries of the Interior is too often not systematically linked with medical Bevoelkerungsschutz, mostly based in Ministries of Health and/or Social Affairs. Moreover, while the nature of the underlying challenges (as well as the German type of federalism) implies a high number of interfaces, the current division of labor multiplies them excessively. Where private contributions are mobilized, their regulation is often not ideal. Thus on the one hand, there are instances of public-private co-operation not being used to its full potential, and on the other hand areas can be identified where an over-reliance on private provision endangers the quality of disaster management. Especially in the medical sector, marketization as such is of more salience than the divide between the public and the private sector. Citizens themselves are less than well prepared for emergencies and rather unaware of the degree of self-help that would actually be required.33

In terms of the theoretical lenses on disaster management in the German laender, no partisan differences whatsoever could be identified. Apparently, the “current prominence of threat, risk, and crisis in political discourse and public policy making” (Boin et al. 2008, p. 313) does not apply to the issues we dealt with, but is quite narrowly limited to nuclear energy, food security and the like. That partisan differences are scarce within the dead angle of the risk society that disaster management governance represents can still startle in this light, but no longer surprise. Effects of interest group representation are also scarce, except for voluntary fire brigades' extraordinary standing at the local level. At its core, the field is driven by the impact of new challenges on a fragmented institutional structure with limited learning speed. If the governance theory framework is about what public and private actors make of this constellation, it is indeed quite useful a side-rail for studies like the present one. Yet it needs to be complemented by more old-fashioned gear, including sensitivity for the quality of democratic processes. For a certain ambivalence is inherent to the informal governance processes we analyzed—as we already highlighted, they can contribute to compensatory problem-solving, albeit they also have the potential to exacerbate dysfunctionalities. Opaque and nontransparent as disaster management governance is, however, as little interest in such matters is revealed by the demos. So probably, in order for the system to become more accountable, citizens would have to hold it to account more thoroughly.

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