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Coordination only partly solves split responsibility challenges in public sector preparedness to natural hazards

A fragmented road sector might limit abilities to sustain welfare and business conditions when weather conditions cause highway outages

Communities around the world are vulnerable to sudden lifeline cut-offs caused by natural hazards. Such problems are becoming increasingly serious, given climate change and advance of the 24/7 society expecting and requiring unrestricted road access. Public authorities grapple with how to sustain or improve the quality of life, health, welfare and livelihoods following highway cut-offs. In a fragmented road sector, different mandates of responsible public authorities sometimes clash in adaptation and preparedness to natural hazards and extreme weather events.

A Norwegian case study of silos as potential barriers to public sector climate adaptation and preparedness indicates that such clashes limit abilities to sustain welfare and business conditions when avalanches and blizzards cause highway outages.

In the literature on weather vulnerabilities and climate adaptation, coordination is often highlighted as a solution to problems related to preparedness and adaptation to unfavourable climates and weather conditions. Hence, exploring governance possibilities may contribute to ways of improving lifeline conditions.

The study shows that governance might only partly improve public sector peril response measures, as there is rarely enough flexibility to consider specific interests or preferences, for example, to keep a highway open until a school bus or a freight delivery has passed. Doing so is risky as the weather is difficult to forecast and may change quickly.

While agreement lacks about how to act and how other responsible authorities should act under circumstances of highway cut-offs, different public departments and emergency services were content to have certain decisions made by other agencies without their input, arguing that not having to consider all kinds of considerations (e.g., economy and health) may help to prevent disastrous road accidents.

This study was funded by the Research Council of Norway / ACHILLES project and you can read more here:

Merethe Dotterud Leiren & Jens Kr. Steen Jacobsen. Silos as barriers to public sector climate adaptation and preparedness: insights from road closures in Norway. Local Government Studies 44:492–511.

Photo: Ole-André Helgaas, Norwegian Public Roads Administration


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