Familiarizing Elected Officials with their Emergency Management Programs

Back in October of 2013, in an article in Emergency Management Magazine, David Silverberg discussed the issue of elected officials rarely being educated about emergencies.  Just last month, David Maack published an article in Emergency Management Magazine about how elected officials can prepare for and respond to emergencies.  Silverberg’s article not only identified the issue, but also pointed out strategies used in some places around the country to help orient elected officials to the world of emergency management. 

The premise of both articles is that this familiarization is obviously lacking, and it’s quite imperative that elected officials are familiar with the concepts of emergency management; the hazards, capabilities, and plans of their jurisdiction; gaps and needed improvements; how to support their emergency manager; and state laws governing emergency management where they are.  I’m a firm believer that elected officials do, in fact, need to support their emergency management programs and their emergency manager.  Not only on a day to day basis, but certainly during a disaster.  The emergency manager is a subject matter expert, and while they take direction from the elected official, the elected official needs to take cues from the emergency manager.  The emergency manager needs to be very clear with their boss about what expectations they have, as well.  Maack’s article includes a great list of steps that emergency managers should reference when giving an orientation to their elected officials.  Obviously it all needs to be put in the proper context for each jurisdiction.

Here in New York State, the regional office of the State’s Office of Emergency Management works with the county/local emergency manager to conduct a Public Officials’ Conference.  These sessions, usually conducted in an evening, are intended to not only familiarize elected and appointed officials of a jurisdiction, but to also communicate what is expected of them and to strengthen the role of the emergency manager as a coordinator and subject matter expert.  While there are some usual content areas in these briefings, such as NIMS, a briefing on the local emergency plan, etc., it is flexible based on the needs identified by the emergency manager.  These sessions, through the years of conducting them, are generally very well received.  One of the most important messages is the flow of emergency management.  People need to know how the system works and who is responsible for what. 

Several years back, when teaching an ICS Basic (I-200) course, one of my participants introduced himself as “the town supervisor – you know, the one who would be the incident commander during an incident”.  I made certain, during the course, to point out that elected officials are generally not the incident commander, rather they are the incident commander’s boss.  I then spent some time pointing out what the roles and responsibilities were of this ‘agency administrator’. 

What thoughts do you have on familiarizing elected officials with emergency management?

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