This article focuses on the emerging role of the public sector in dealing with catastrophic disasters. An empirical analysis of the 9/11 response operations provides a detailed case study with an eye to its implications for not only emergency management practice but public policy as well. The “horde of hurricanes” inundating Florida in 2004 provides a brief example of a “routine” disaster for comparative purposes. The argument is made that the response to the extreme event of 9/11 provides clear evidence of (a) the different standards expected of the public sector in the 21st century and (b) the fundamental difference in kind between routine disasters and catastrophic disasters. The article states that the public increasingly expects better public sector leadership before, during, and after catastrophic disasters than has been seen in the past. High standards of responsiveness and the ubiquitous media compel public leaders to coordinate resources effectively.
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