RAPID: Collaborative Research: Local Government Response to COVID-19: Juneau Alaska, a case study in adaptive governance, risk management, communication, and decision-making
In anticipating the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska, local communities are assessing their response capacity in terms of emergency medical facilities, policymaking, and preventative cultural practices. Subarctic and Arctic local governments are overwhelmed with the need to provide information about the risks presented by the virus to a broad area. This project focuses on the coastal community of Juneau, Alaska (pop. 32,061) as a use case for examining formal and informal institutional responses and adaptive capacity in facing an unprecedented viral outbreak in isolated areas with limited resources. The project team examines how decisionmakers interact with various social groups, including Indigenous communities, and how they made use of local knowledge in a variety of communication strategies. This research tracks responses in real time and identifies areas where they were effective and where bottlenecks occurred that prevented effective coordination. The results identify lessons learned during the pandemic and provide guidance on how official and societal groups can better collaborate in future crises. This study makes several fundamental scientific contributions with broad impacts for disaster response in small communities. First, the project delivers a case study of a disaster response in a remote, isolated Alaskan community with limited infrastructure and capacity. Second, this study tests, in real time, current knowledge on crisis responses, helping us identify weaknesses in existing theories of adaptive governance, resilience, local self-organization, and disaster communication. Finally, drawing on the findings of the study make it possible to provide a model of effective crisis response for similarly situated isolated communities. The results have implications for other northern communities as well as other isolated, remote areas of the country.