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The ups and downs of transboundary crisis management

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When entire nations, from the powerful to the modest ones, admit that they cannot stand alone in front of the 21st century crisis events, then what chance do organizations have to overcome the consequences of these upcoming destructive forces? The need to communicate and help one another has allowed for a new offspring of crisis management to rise to power: the transboundary crisis management.

Basically, what transboundary management translates into is that real-life competitors must make exceptions and communicate, beforehand, to establish a strategic crisis response plan. Just as member countries in the EU support one another in times of need, so do companies need to cooperate first to prevent and then to overcome upcoming crises.

As exaggerated as this might seem, recent past events have already proven that dealing single-handedly with such situations is far from being a suitable strategy. In Iceland, 2010, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano freezed air traffic across western and northern Europe from April to May, continuing up until October. The current crisis in Ukraine is impeding communications with the civil war-stricken East. EU-imposed sanctions have also taken a toll on many companies. And these events are limited to Europe. Each continent, though, is facing its own specific crises.

Clearly enough, the situation is not only unstable, but also increasingly tense. Without a sense of prediction and prevention, companies will become the first causalities of the 21st century disasters and will collapse as a result. Thus, the time has come for competitors to overcome their self-centered management strategies and, as far as crisis management goes, to collaborate for the sake of their own future in the economic stage of today.

One precocious organization in terms of transboundary crisis management is the European Union which, following the 9/11 tragedy, recognized the necessity for a specialized central committee to handle present and future high-risk situations. More than a decade later, the EU has not only one defense and response system, but 84 such mechanisms, as authors Arjen Boin and Mark Rhinard and Magnus Ekengren mention in their Managing Transboundary Crises: The Emergence of European Union capacity article.

The ideal the EU strives for is to create a transboundary crisis management network that is both scalable and adaptable, a necessary feature when dealing with extensive risks. Moreover, this network needs to integrate all units, organizations, sectors, professions and political jurisdictions from across borders.

Still, the fear of vulnerability in the face of danger is often a perpetual state. So, to what extent are we protected in the face of disaster? Luckily, the EU has shared lessons it learned both from failed crisis responses and from successful crisis management. Of outmost importance for providing a quick, coordinated response is the capacity to rapidly share information, to establish a quick joint decision making and to speak as one entity.

The world post 9/11 was in need of a subsequent type of crisis management: consequence management. Based on this concept, the EU created 2 initial cells: the Argus and the Crisis Coordination Arrangements. The former is a rapid alert system, a sort of network of networks for information sharing which links “all specialized systems for emergencies”. The latter, now integrated into the larger Migration and Home Affairs Division, is in charge of defining “rules for interactions between EU institutions and affected EU States during a crisis, while the integrated EU arrangements for crisis management with cross-border effects (EU-ICMA) facilitate practical cooperation between EU States. These provide a generic arrangement for all types of crises, such as natural and man-made disasters”, as explained on the EU website.

Another initiative was to organize a meeting in which all major future threats are outlined, together with preventive measures that need to be deployed in order to suffocate the dangers. Thus, the Stockholm Programme established that, for the 2010-2014 timeframe, the major threats for the EU were:

  • International crime networks;
  • Cyber threats;
  • Border security;
  • Crises and disasters.

Each threat was accompanied by its own specific measures, all detailed further on within the Internal Security Strategy in Action. From a structural point of view, this program focuses on future development, common risk analysis, coherent risk management and, lastly, awareness strategies.

Further on, there is an increased need to develop tools that, according to Boin, Ekengren and Rhinard, “collect, analyse, share information on the causes, dynamics and effects of transboundary threats.” As mentioned above, the EU has developed not several such systems, but 84 different systems, all focusing on a different kind of threat, from the mad cow disease to cybercrimes and terrorism.

However, the system that the EU is trying to build and enforce is not without fault. Some of the problems the EU is currently facing are detailed below:

  • Suggestions for further initiatives and cooperation are repeatedly met with reluctance and even hostility by some member nations. This forces decision processes and crisis management to remain pinned down at national level;
  • There is a visible lack of accountability as there is no specific department for transboundary crisis management;
  • The EU seems to be working mostly with abstract notions regarding this specific crisis management field and there is a vague, indefinite and underdeveloped understanding of even what a crisis actually means to the EU.

Nonetheless, despite all these ups and downs, the European Union is relentless in creating and developing new capabilities to respond and react to potential crises. Ultimately, this transforms into a slow but steady progress in a field that did not exist several years ago. Companies are not individual entities with no connection and no responsibility in this case. They are part of a global network that today hangs on an unstable balance, more fragile than it appears.

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