Disaster Gipsies: The Role of Informal Relationships in Administering Disaster Assistance

March 1986 (VOL. 4, NO. 1)

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The importance of interpersonal relationships for affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency management practices is examined in this paper. A case study of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reservists, part time FEMA employees called to help administer federal disaster assistance programs, illustrates the significance of an informal organization in augmenting formal bureaucratic procedures. Interview and survey data come from a pilot study conducted in the aftermath of tornadoes which swept through North and South Carolina in 1984. Nicknamed \\"disaster gypsies,\\" FEMA reservists develop a strong sense of community or camaraderie among themselves as a result of their intense disaster involvement. This sense of community or informal organization is an unintended consequence of four factors: organizational demands, physical setting, sense of mission and a post-disaster altruistic community. The informal organization has implications for emergency management practices. It facilitates needed organizational flexibility and improvisation, helps train and integrate new personnel, provides an additional channel of communication and lessens job related stress. Future research should systematically examine the role informal relationship have on affecting delivery of emergency services. Such research would complement and provide a missing dimension to present efforts to conceptualize group and organizational emergence.