Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 22, 2012

Self-Organizing Actualization

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on August 22, 2012

Last week I discussed the relationship between patience and certain aspects of resilience. In that post, I suggested, among other things, that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides a useful framework for assessing how people demonstrate resilience without particular respect to time.

As I noted, preparedness facilitates the kinds of adaptation that meet the most basic needs outlined by Maslow: physiological, safety and belonging. But I also noted that the unprepared benefit from these efforts and achieve resilience as well through the phenomena of emergent leadership and self-organizing systems. The formation of ad hoc communities facilitates adaptive response.

The same phenomena can also inhibit the transition from response to recovery and slow or even prevent recovery. As Bill Cumming expressed in response to the post, resilience raises interesting questions about the role and influence of top-down versus bottom-up leadership.

Top-down leaders rarely display patience out of fear they will be perceived as weak or ineffective leaders in a community’s time of need. By the same token, their eagerness to do something, anything, even if it might be wrong, leaves them extremely vulnerable to turning a disaster into a crisis. (The distinction here is one of moving from a situation that results in damage or disruption to one that also undermines confidence in public institutions or cultural norms.)

If leadership is an essential ingredient to creating resilient communities, then why would it matter whether that leadership comes with formal authority exercised top-down or emerges from unlikely places within the community from the bottom-up? For starters, no one can control the emergence of ad hoc communities. As a social species, it seems the spontaneous emergence of collaborative coping is hardwired into humans. As such, its inevitable emergence creates opportunities for conflict between competing conceptions of the good and the right course of action to achieve it.

A common problem encountered in homeland security and emergency management practice illustrates this. Those charged with formal authority to control the impacts of emergencies on the community must often decide whether to order the evacuation of exposed populations they consider vulnerable. I have personally experienced the antipathy of residents committed to protecting their property or livestock under imminent threat from wildfire. Now more than ever, I have to question whether my desire as a public official to protect citizens and firefighters trumps an individual’s desire to stay in the fire area, even in peril, to protect his own livestock and property.

These questions are hard enough. But the zeal to be seen as effective if not essential to a community’s response and recovery clearly encourages many emergency managers and elected officials to reject or suppress spontaneous assistance. This has devastating effects on efforts to progress from response to recovery if only because it undermines the sense of self-esteem that accompanies successful efforts by individuals and communities to meet more basic needs.

It may be easy for public officials to resign themselves to the fact they cannot make everyone happy, but those citizens whose efforts we reject experience the rebuff as an unreasonable and unwarranted personal affront. Nothing undermines the democratic much less professional legitimacy of public servants faster than their rejection of community involvement in matters of the public good.

Even if public officials can course-correct and overcome these decisions, their efforts to inhibit or marginalize emergent leadership can have one of two effects on the self-actualization of self-organizing communities and their leaders. One potential outcome is that the sense of marginalization will take root as a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Our help is not needed or valued, so we must not be valued or needed.” The second possibility, which can often be even more disruptive to the community as a whole, emerges from efforts of marginalized groups to advance their agendas in spite of opposition. “We’ll show them, nothing will stop our community from getting what we need to prosper.”

At best, such conflicts pit the interests and vision of the few against the many. At worst, it fragments the community into competing interest groups that never coalesce around a coherent much less comprehensive vision of a shared future than benefits all.

Clearly, bottom-up leadership has its place in disaster response and recovery. Leaders at the top of emergency management organizations harm their own efforts to restore normal functioning within the community when they inhibit self-organizing collaborative responses among citizens. Aligning interests by acknowledging and addressing the concerns of emergent leaders is an essential element of adaptive response and ultimately recovery itself.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 22, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

Interesting post and with respect to the SMSA’s would of interest to know the exact number of transportation dependent in each one. The percentage grows daily IMO! As it grows it increasingly compromises the PAR of EVACUATION!

And it does nothing for RESILENCE again IMO to have WH public affairs officials pretending that they are running the nation’s EOC and can issue PAR’s and other critical EMERGENCY PUBLIC INFORMATION!

OKAY EACH WEEK A POP QUIZ FOR THE WH! Of the 30 atomospheric modeling systems utilized by federal departments and agencies what model was used by the NRC to recommend a 50 mile evacuation zone for all American civilians and military in Japan post FUKISHIMA? That recommendation was adopted by the US Ambassador to Japan by the way!

Answer will be posted in comments tomorrow!

Comment by The WH: Clueless!

August 23, 2012 @ 7:17 am

The WH: Clueless! Direct any questions and relate them to the adversary and they would probably dig up some answer, however as far as issues and policies, We have seen just how poor thet portray themselves just be looking not at thwir party designation or those across the aisle, but by the State of the Union and the disregard for We the People here on “Main Street USA’ who were foolhearty and gullible to place our “entrusted” vote in the hands of an orator with empty political promises and rhetoric!

Of the 30 atmospheric modeling systems…are you kidding William Cumming….these guys are sitting in the WH spinning and spinning on their heads and could give a damn about any resolution of any isue other than to talk ’bout Romney’s returns and any other, but the issues, unemployment and so much more which is pulling at the Judeo-Christian calues and Constitution and they are at the end of the chord pulling at every thread to unravel this country..to the extent that I beieve that this President should have been recalled and ruthfully held for treason!

This nation, our beloved Republic is in real peril which we will see shortly as food prices, transportation costs increase and more homes come on to the foreclosure market…the whispers in the Middle east are no longer whispers…secuirty ever so tightened within the Middle East and Evacuation and Rsilience, we have no where to go as We left King George III and his taxes and fees long ago and imposing government and resilience, little remains as We have little food remaining and we have now become gamblers, tossing a coin each day and seeing whether we will buy our meds or buy food instead and even that’s becoming a challenge here on “Main Street USA” unless you of course are one of the Palestinians who the WH invited over or an illegal who can get tuition breaks that our kids cannot benefit…

Resilience and Evacuation – when is this election day coming for We will soon wait at the polling station w/license and American passport in hand and vote both sides of thes eself-serving idiots out of office and begin a determined effort to impose citizenry against government placing term limits and recall initiatives from local, to state and federal… Let me tell you, while the federal deficit has gone exponential far beyond any atmposphereic modeling…you will see as independent voters, We the People showing just how little Resilience these self-serving “beltway thieves: have when we boot them out of office…

30 atmosphereic modeling systems? I cannot wait to see the WH reply…It will be intersting to see if they can pull themselves away from such focus on Romney’s tax returns and turning away from requests for Barry Obama’s college records and passport as it apepars that anything goes as long as this poor WH administration’s record is kept under wraps….

We are at great peril! God Bless America. No, God save America!

Comment by Fiscal Hawk

September 7, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

As of 1999, the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology listed 64 Atmospheric Transport Models:


Also see wikipedia’s “list of atmospheric dispersion models”


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