MACOMB, IL — Faculty members in Western Illinois University's emergency management program consider the breakdown of order in Ferguson (MO) as a teachable moment for those in the emergency management field and beyond.
In response to the week of civil disorder following the shooting of Mike Brown, on Monday, Aug. 18, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon issued an executive order directing National Guard resources to Ferguson.
"Although the scope of last week's tragic events touch many parts of society, the field of emergency management is also involved in the management of the crisis," WIU Emergency Management (EM) Assistant Professor Jack Rozdilsky explained. "With one person killed, numerous injuries, curfews in place, damage to public and private property, the delay of school openings and business interruption, it is clear that Ferguson has been impacted by a disaster."
From a big-picture perspective, the events in Ferguson are considered to be a "social disaster," Rozdilsky noted.
"The hazard originates from some type of purposeful human action taking place on an individual or collective level based on real and/or perceived grievances," he said.
In courses like Rozdilsky's "Dimension of Disaster" (EM 305), the social origins of disasters are explored to help future EM professionals better understand how to respond to, and recover from, instances of civil disorder. An area of social science research called the "disaster myths" suggest that during a community crisis, despite the media images of looting and rioting, residents of the impacted area will generally help each other and engage in pro-social behaviors, Rozdilsky said.
"On the ground level, management of social disasters is very complicated, perhaps even more complicated than the management of natural disasters like tornadoes or floods," he added.
According to EM Assistant Professor Heriberto Urby, government agencies have many tools available to manage disasters.
"These tools range from establishing unified command in the field, enacting intergovernmental cooperation and the deployment of additional state resources like the National Guard," he noted.
In Urby's "Legal Aspects of Emergency Management" (EM 324) course, issues such as the governmental powers to implement curfews and executive orders are explored.
"In relation to Ferguson, with powers vested in him by the Missouri Constitution and state law, Governor Nixon has set a process in place where the state's organized militia can be put into active service to aid in protecting life and property," Urby said.
To learn more about WIU's emergency management bachelor's degree program — the only one of its type in the state —www.wiu.edu/coehs/health_sciences/undergraduate_programs/em/index.php.