My company is currently finishing a contract which involved almost two dozen site visits to local government entities (cities and towns) to meet with local officials (emergency management, police, fire, EMS, schools, elected officials, public works/highway, etc.) to discuss certain emergency management and homeland security needs they may have. The topics we needed to address were set in conjunction with our client and the meeting times were capped at 4 hours. Based on the discussion generated by those we met with, discussions took anywhere between an hour and a half to all four hours. At the end of most of these meetings, many people who we met with thanked us for bringing them the opportunity to discuss emergency management with such depth.
At first I was a bit puzzled about this gratitude… the meeting was intended for us to gather information from them, so it was us who thanked them for their time and input. Why would they thank us? They could talk about this stuff any time they wanted to, right? In theory, yes. In practice, NO.
Looking back at the project in retrospect we saw the value in the opportunity we provided these local stakeholders. Absent a recent disaster or a specific issue of concern, it’s a rare occasion that local leadership takes the time to convene and discuss emergency management and homeland security matters. We, rather serendipitously, provided them with an opportunity to do talk about many facets of EM/HS, to share thoughts and ideas, and to identify needs.
In many local government meetings (town/village/city council, selectboard, etc.) the topic of emergency management (or anything related to it) is generally not on the agenda. Some may have a formal briefing by department heads, which would include the fire department or police department (if they have one), but these are usually fairly general statements. Because of the depth of discussion that can take place, I don’t even think that these monthly governance meetings are the right venue for most discussion. I would suggest that jurisdictions have a separate meeting, at least quarterly, to discuss emergency management in depth, with all department heads, elected officials, and others present and participating. Preparedness should be discussed across the spectrum of all mission areas.
Many of the jurisdictions we met with had seen tropical storm impacts within the last few years – and that was the last time, for many of them, that the impacts and lessons learned were discussed. What of their corrective actions? Aside from a few largely individual efforts, little progress had been made. Stakeholders self identified this gap, some commenting directly about the necessity to meet more often. Many brought up gaps that were identified after the tropical storm, or even more recently, which were never addressed.
Along with the success of our intended project, we hope that at least some of those jurisdictions were able to get energized and organized to revisit some of those past concerns and move forward to make some progress with preparedness and mitigation efforts.
What do you do in your jurisdiction to prompt more discussion about EM/HS?
© 2015 – Timothy Riecker
Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC