AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Administrative Failures: Their Effect on Disaster Management

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

A number of emergency management scholars like David McEntire and E.L. Quarantelli have noted that all disasters are ultimately manmade. To laymen, this concept can be difficult to comprehend, simply because disasters seem to be created by events like explosions, hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. 

However, scholars like McEntire and Quarantelli note that there is always an administrative component to disasters. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, the local levee and floodwall system was not adequately managed. When Katrina made landfall at New Orleans, Louisiana, disaster management was further complicated by problems with intergovernmental collaboration and communication problems.

Administrative Failures Resulted in Injuries and Death at a Mayfield Candle Factory

A similar administrative failure occurred with the recent Mayfield, Kentucky tornado disaster. The management of Mayfield Consumer Products, a candle factory, made several poor decisions that resulted in serious injuries and death for several employees. Had management handled the situation more effectively, the outcome would have been much different.

According to a NBC News report, employees at the candle factory were working hard during the holiday season to make candles. Managers were told of the concerns several workers had with the storms coming through the area, but they allegedly told employees to stay and continue their shifts.

Some employees left, and others remained at the plant because they needed their jobs and the money. When the tornado struck, some employees were seriously injured and others were killed. 

Leadership Lessons Must Be Learned from Previous Administrative Failures

Society needs to collectively think about disasters as administrative failures. Yes, disasters have catalytic components to them like earthquakes and tornadoes that are natural, but the problems communities experience with them always have administrative components to them.

In Mayfield, Kentucky, one of these administrative components was the management decision at the candle factory. If management truly prevented people from leaving work despite the impending storm, that decision had absolutely disastrous consequences resulting in injuries and loss of life.

Ultimately, the effects of disasters on communities can be greatly mitigated if lessons are learned from previous administrative failures. Understanding this principle, those in leadership positions can make better decisions to save lives and property. 

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds multiple graduate degrees.

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