Panel 6 – Adapting to climate risk, developing citizen preparedness structures

Conveners: Laurits Rauer Nielsen (Emergency and Risk Management, University College Copenhagen), Kerstin Eriksson (RISE Research Institutes of Sweden), and Marco Krüger (International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities, University of Tübingen)

Abstract: This panel aims to discuss the emerging and extending volunteerism and its potential for emergency management in extreme weather events and other incidents. Presentations about emerging and extending volunteerism and its interaction or lack of interaction with formal emergency management are welcome, as well as presentations looking at the potential and challenges of citizen involvement in emergency management and the question of whether this development implies a societal shift in responsibility from government to individual citizens.

Today there is an argued need for developing emerging preparedness structures as a way of coping with “climate related incidents” as extreme weather events are becoming known in popular terminology. Whether these events are in fact induced by climate change or by changes in human settlement and society or simply by a contemporary attention to hitherto unregistered events and thereby following surprisingly short return periods for extreme weather, citizen activity in preparation or response to them have been reported in many countries.

The citizen activities among others include structural mitigation initiatives such as dyking and drainage as well as collective preparedness, response and recovery activities. These activities are often connected with the contemporary concern for climate change induced increases in extreme weather events. The activities can be understood as a way of reducing the population’s vulnerability to the stressful extremes of its environment.

However, the involvement of citizens in emergency management work, particularly in the impact-related activities such as preparation and response is a controversial issue, raising concerns regarding operational priorities, command and control, situational awareness, safety and insurance etc. which are issues that need to be addressed by professionals and citizens alike. Furthermore, it is relevant to discuss whether these developing citizen preparedness structures are part of building a resilient society or a sign of a shift of responsibility for emergency preparedness from being a government responsibility as a common good to an individual responsibility maintained by civil society actors.

Long Abstract:This panel aims to discuss this emerging and extending volunteerism and its potential for emergency management in extreme weather events and other incidents. Presentations about emerging and extending volunteerism and its interaction or lack of interaction with formal and official emergency management are welcome, as well as presentations looking at the potential and challenges of citizen involvement in emergency management and the question of whether this development implies a societal shift in responsibility from government to individual citizens.

Today emerging preparedness structures are developing as a way of coping with “climate related incidents” as extreme weather events are becoming known in popular terminology. In Sweden for example, the large forest fires from this summer have affected a discussion around those issues, as is the case for storm surges and flooding in Denmark and Germany. Whether these events are in fact induced by climate change or by changes in human settlement and society or simply by a contemporary attention to hitherto unregistered events and thereby following surprisingly short return periods for extreme weather, citizen activity in preparation or response to them have been reported in many countries. These activities among others include structural mitigation initiatives such as dyking and drainage as well as collective preparedness, response and recovery activities (Carlton & Mills, 2017; Nicklas Guldåker, Kerstin Eriksson, & Tuija Nieminen Kristofersson, 2015).

These activities are often connected with the contemporary concern for climate change induced increases in extreme weather events. The activities can be understood as a way of reducing the population’s vulnerability to the stressful extremes of its environment. However, the involvement of citizens in emergency management work, particularly in the impact-related activities such as preparation and response is a debated and controversial issue which raises concerns regarding operational priorities, command and control, boundary practices, situational awareness, safety and insurance etc. (Alexander, D., 2010; Harris, Shaw, Scully, Smith, & Hieke, 2017; Johansson, Danielsson, Kvarnlöf, Eriksson, & Karlsson, 2018). At the same time research have shown that citizens gather at the scene of the incident (Fritz & Mathewson, 1957).

These are all relevant issues and considerations that need to be addressed by professionals and citizens alike, and of course also by the intermediary organisations such as NGO’s that exist, emerge or extend their activities in order to facilitate the integration and empowerment of citizens in relation to disaster preparedness and response (Whittaker, McLennan, & Handmer, 2015).

Furthermore, it is relevant to discuss whether these developing citizen preparedness structures are part of building a resilient society or a sign of a shift of responsibility for emergency preparedness from being a government responsibility as a common good to an individual responsibility maintained by civil society actors.