Integrating Gendered Perspectives in EM Practise

Any comprehensive understanding of disaster risk reduction (DRR) must address the lived experiences and perspectives of the populations who bear disproportionate challenges in disaster contexts. Here I’m speaking of Indigenous peoples, people of colour, people with disabilities, women and non-binary populations, including the LGBTQ2S community.

While there has been a growing amount of research that addresses the mainstreaming of gender into the recovery aspects of emergency mgmt practise, there exists a significant research gap in the integration of women and non-binary populations into response environments. 

First a couple parameters: when I speak of a gendered lens, I am talking about how a gender bias can sometimes lead to unequal treatment of individuals (increased risk) based on their gender which may deny them rights, opportunities and resources. It affects men and women negatively. This unequal treatment may further be complicated by a persons’ gender identity, or the personal sense of one’s gender, separate from sexual orientation. For many, this may correlate with the gender one is assigned at birth, or it may be different.

In order to integrate gendered perspectives into the response environment, I think we need to examine our conceptions of risk. As any emergency manager will tell you, current mitigation strategies have tended to be reactive, addressing infrastructure and other issues as they fail. In a proactive risk management model, a careful analysis of situations or and carefully analyzing a situation or assessing processes to determine the potential risks, identifying drivers of risks to understand the root cause, assessing probability and impact to prioritize risks and accordingly preparing a contingency plan.

The United Nations commissioned the Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030 as a set of concrete actions to guide member states and mitigate risk. The Sendai Framework takes the concept of proactive risk management further, and integrates local knowledge to build localized communities of resilience. 

The Hyogo Framework was developed that promotes inclusivity and participator DRR processes: 

  • Leadership of local governments, including prioritizing the capacity of decision makers to understand and develop a holistic approach to DRR. 
  • Involvement of other local stakeholders, ensuring accountability from decision makers and acting as facilitators during negotiation and consensus-building processes. These stakeholders may include representatives from universities and local NGOs, as well as the private sector and the media.
  • Ensuring participatory mechanisms are in place to facilitate the involvement of local actors, particularly Indigenous peoples, people of colour, people with disabilities, women and non-binary populations, including the LGBTQ2S community. 

I’d like to focus on these participatory mechanisms from a gendered lens, and make some suggestions on how we can apply this lens to the command/control paradigm.

The scholarship is clear that inclusive and participatory processes in the development of DRR frameworks “can minimize risk, set the right priorities and shape recovery in ways that strengthen local livelihoods and well-being.” (UNDRR, 2017)

In a landmark study on vulnerability authored by M.B. Anderson, she explores the differential risk and questions that can be used to identify why a certain group may be more exposed to particular hazards. In order to address these exposures, I suggest that the voices of these groups be systematically integrated into the EOC environment.

By integrating the voices of women and non-binary individuals into leadership roles in a response environment, it has been found to have a demonstrable impact on the management of the response, and the restoration to viability of the community.

Note: a version of this blog post was delivered at the Canadian Risk and Hazard Network (CRHNet) Symposium on November 19, 2020.

Are you ISO 22301 compliant? 8 Steps to Building a Robust Business Continuity Plan

Vendors, legislators and customers expect your organization to have a business continuity plan. Are you prepared?

Contingency planning is a critical aspect of doing business, particularly in mitigating the effects of disasters and emergencies. In response to the international need to protect businesses from disruption, the International Standards Organization (ISO) developed a management systems standard for business continuity management (BCM). ISO 22301 is a management systems standard that can be used by any organization to mitigate the effects of disasters and emergencies. 

Vendors, legislators, regulators and customers increasingly expect compliance and adherence to a BCM framework. Following these eight steps, as recommended by the Government of Canada can help to assure your organization is prepared for disruption:

  1. Appointing a Disaster Preparedness Team

An emergency and disaster preparedness team should comprise a stand-alone committee. The committee will be responsible for planning and implementation of the business continuity plan (BCP), related policies and procedures, and the communication of the BCP to management and staff. The committee should have sponsorship and support by a senior member of the management team. 

  1. Identification of essential services or functions

In the event of a disaster or emergency, what are the essential services provided by your organization? It may be helpful to think about the essential services as those, when not delivered, could have a negative impact on health and safety of individuals, or on the viability of the business itself. Prioritize and rank these essential services in preparation for the next step in the BCM framework.

  1. Determine required skill sets and staff

Based on the prioritization and ranking exercise done in step 2, consider what skill sets are required to deliver essential services. Can single staff members take on, or be cross-trained to fill more than one role?

  1. Complete a comprehensive risk assessment

As the literature indicates, businesses and organizations were not prepared for a global pandemic. The economic impact will be felt for some time to come, and studies have shown the most resilient organizations have had pre-existing and robust BCP measures. This step includes conducting a risk assessment of identified threats, action plans for each threat and identification of designated individuals for each essential service or function.

  1. Prepare a series of strategies and action plans for each essential service or function

An action plan for each essential service or function (as identified in step 2) should include key contacts, customers, suppliers/subcontractors, business partners and other support providers. 

  1. Review Action Plans 

Once step 5 action plans and strategies have been determined, a checklist should be reviewed to ensure all issues have been addressed, as well as to identify any areas needing additional documentation. Areas to be covered should include impacts on the organization, employees and stakeholders/customers, policies to be implemented, resources to be allocated, communications and coordination with external authorities. 

  1. Senior Management Review

The senior management sponsor should be given an opportunity to respond and comment on the draft BCP before it is adopted by the executive. Ensure the BCP is consistent with organizational objectives and addresses the critical elements identified. 

  1. Revise, test, update, repeat

The BCP is a living document, and may require revision and updating as organizational priorities change. It is critical to ensure the BCP is ‘tested’ on a semi-annual basis to identify areas of improvement. 

As an accredited Business Continuity Professional, I am well-versed in the establishment of comprehensive BCPs for a variety of organizations. To learn more, feel free to reach out to me here.

Implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

Any comprehensive understanding of disaster risk reduction (DRR) must address the lived experiences and perspectives of the populations who bear disproportionate challenges in disaster contexts. Indeed, the existing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples, people of colour, people with disabilities, women and non-binary populations are more likely to be exacerbated as the effects of climate change become more pronounced.

The United Nations commissioned the Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030 as a set of concrete actions to guide member states and mitigate risk. The Sendai Framework recognizes that, while states have the primary responsibility to reduce disaster risk, other stakeholders and communities share in the goal of reducing losses to lives, livelihoods, health and assets of persons, businesses and countries.

The Sendai Framework guiding principles indicate, in part that: 

[DRR] requires an all-of-society engagement and partnership. It also requires empowerment and inclusive, accessible and non discriminatory participation, paying special attention to people disproportionately affected by disasters, especially the poorest. A gender, age, disability and cultural perspective should be integrated in all policies and practices, and women and youth leadership should be promoted. In this context, special attention should be paid to the improvement of organized voluntary work of citizens.

United Nations, 2015

Using this, and the remaining principles as a guide, we can evaluate the existing scholarship and determine best practises to inform future policy. In an important article by Alice Fothergill published in 1996, she formulated a paradigm that creates a more comprehensive and holistic consideration of how societal inequities contribute to the disproportionate effect of disasters. While Fothergill’s article contains a gender focus, the inequities can be broadly applied to at-risk populations identified above. 

At-risk populations, particularly those experiencing poverty are more exposed to risk. In lower-income communities in particular, structural inequalities, disproportionately higher responsibility for caregiving, a lack of mobility and limited access to resources are factors in both the effects and perception of risk. 

In the response stage, women and men are likely to conform to socialized gender norms, and women are less likely to hold leadership roles in formalized response organizations. The role of women in formal recovery organizations will be examined in depth in a future article, but is beyond the scope of this post. 

In considering the implementation of the Sendai Framework, including the development of national resilience action plans, a ‘Words into Action’ set of guidelines were developed. Based on these guidelines, a series of ‘enabling factors’ were developed that will assist in the development of a resilience action plan in an inclusive and participatory process: 

  1. Leadership of local governments, including prioritizing the capacity of decision makers to understand and develop a holistic approach to DRR. 
  2. Involvement of other local stakeholders, ensuring accountability from decision makers and acting as facilitators during negotiation and consensus-building processes. These stakeholders may include representatives from universities and local NGOs, as well as the private sector and the media.
  3. Ensuring participatory mechanisms are in place to facilitate the involvement of local actors, particularly Indigenous peoples, people of colour, people with disabilities, women and non-binary populations. 

The scholarship is clear that inclusive and participatory processes in the development of DRR frameworks “can minimize risk, set the right priorities and shape recovery in ways that strengthen local livelihoods and well-being.” (UNDRR, 2017)

Using Principles of Influence to Enhance Emergency Preparedness

In a previous post, I touched on the science of persuasion and the concept of social proofing as a way in which people and groups respond to uncertainty. Robert Cialdini pioneered the study of influence in his books Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Influence: Science and Practise

Recent studies have shown that fewer than half of U.S. and Canadian households have emergency preparedness plans in place, despite their proven effect in assisting both the speed and quality of recovery. Using Cialdini’s study of influence may provide additional understanding and insight into how organizations and governments (particularly EM agencies) can increase household participation in emergency preparedness plans.

The six principles of influence are reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. These principles have been studied extensively and are backed up by empirical studies in the fields of psychology, marketing, economics, anthropology and social sciences. Each of these principles must be employed with the strongest ethical standards as a fundamental guiding philosophy. 

The first three principles are examined below in the context of emergency preparedness, with part 2 to be posted next week:

Reciprocation. As a general rule, people feel obligated to return favours offered to them. As with all the principles of influence, this trait is common across all human cultures. An example of this is when a small gift is provided by a salesperson to a potential customer. Even if the gift is unwanted, it will influence the receiver to reciprocate in some way. 

How could the principle of reciprocation be used to convince individuals and households to prepare for emergencies? A small gift, like a detailed ‘personal preparedness plan’ booklet, customized to the specific hazards of the geographic location may encourage participation. Recipients of the booklet could ‘reciprocate’ by posting about their plans as part of an integrated campaign. 

Commitment and Consistency. Appearing to be consistent in behaviour and action is a strongly held desire, as is the desire to stand by commitments made. This is why some retail outlets may offer an attractive, or “low ball” offer to consumers, in order to get them into the store, then using these techniques to upsell, or make the initial (lower) offer appear less favourable to the customer.

This principle used in the context of emergency preparedness can also help the organization assess the effectiveness of an initiative. Using the example of the booklet above, commitment to ‘practising the plan’ could be sought and obtained through methodical followup, targeted social and traditional media campaigns.

Social Proof. The principle of social proof holds that people will look to those similar to themselves when making decisions, particularly in times of uncertainty. Unfortunately, this principle of persuasion is sometimes used to exploit often vulnerable populations, through deliberate disinformation campaigns or ‘infomercials’ claiming to provide proof of a biased claim.

Used ethically, social proof can be a powerful technique to persuade people in a homogenous group to adopt a set of behaviours. In an emergency preparedness context, a small sign prominently displayed in a front window, may encourage others to follow suit. 

As always, it is important to remember these techniques must be employed to the highest ethical standards.

Stay tuned for part two of this series. Should you or your organization wish to learn more, please feel free to contact me directly.