Risk management from a legal and governance perspective

Michael Eburn, Stephen Dovers


Risk management is seen as the key to living with potentially catastrophic hazards, but the language of disaster risk management carries with it the implication that all risks can in fact be managed. This implies that if there is an adverse outcome, even accepting an inherent residual risk, there must have been a failure by those responsible. The concept of risk management raises the further risk of being blamed for failing to meet community expectations and that risk, too, needs to be managed. Power says:
… experts who are being made increasingly accountable for what they do are now becoming more preoccupied with managing their own risks. Specifically, secondary risks to their reputation are becoming as significant as the primary risks for which experts have knowledge and training. (Power, M., The Risk Management of Everything (Demos, London 2004) 14).
The ultimate expression of the secondary risk came with the conviction of six Italian scientists for manslaughter, over their failure to issue appropriate warnings regarding the risk of the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake.
This paper looks at the question of risk management from a legal and governance perspective. Drawing on developments in law and policy from Australia and around the world, this paper will explore whether disaster risk management is moving from reducing the risk to communities to reducing the risk to governments and emergency managers. Legal and policy reforms that may help to refocus disaster risk management to those vulnerable to hazards, rather than vulnerable to blame, will be identified.


risk management; law; governance

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