In late March, FEMA released the ‘Local Elected and Appointed Officials Guide’ for national engagement review and feedback. My first thought before even looking at the document is that there are already so many of these in existence. Not necessarily from FEMA (though they have released some, such as a NIMS guide for elected officials), but the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) has one (actually two), and most state emergency management offices have developed and published their own guides suitable for local emergency managers.
Each guide out there has pros and cons. The draft FEMA guide is very… FEMA. It has the same look and feel of every other FEMA publication out there, which is both good and bad. While it offers a lot of references, external links, and has placeholders for case studies, it’s in smaller print and still comes in at 62 pages including the cover. While it has good information, I feel this is way too long for most elected and appointed officials to spend time on – plus it’s still incomplete in many ways because these officials need to learn about their own state systems, standards, and laws.
The NEMA elected official’s guide is much shorter, at 6 pages cover to cover. While this is a good marketing piece championing emergency management, it doesn’t provide any resources or state-specific information. I do appreciate the marketing aspect of it, though, as in many cases what we often need most is for elected and appointed officials to know what emergency management is and does, along with who their emergency manager is (or encouraging them to hire one).
NEMA also publishes a State Director Handbook. This comes in at 129 pages, but has a very specific target audience. Despite its length (and smaller print), it is well organized and has solid information for State Directors, including plenty of references. Their document (as of this post) is dated 2019, which while not very old, does need some updates in this dynamic environment.
As mentioned, many states produce their own documents. New York State has regularly published and updated a guide for elected officials. The current version comes in at 32 pages with larger print and all the relevant state-specific information needed, included contact information for regional emergency management personnel. Nebraska publishes a guide with 15 pages, though I find it missing some important information, such as contact information. Maryland publishes a guide that is 28 pages long and seems to have a lot of the right info.
While quantity doesn’t necessarily reflect quality, I think the goal is to have a shorter guide that gives the right information. FEMA’s draft guide has great information, but goes on with far too many paragraphs of information. I think the best value for elected and appointed officials (who are mostly at the local government level) is a guidebook coming from their state emergency management office. I think FEMA’s best approach is to provide tools and information for state emergency management offices to use, by way of a library of graphics and succinctly formatted prose, for the development and maintenance of their own guides.
As with all engagement efforts, FEMA is seeking feedback and is hosting a series of webinars to discuss the draft. Information can be found here.
As with all forms of communication, we need to find the right tools for the audiences we are trying to reach. Content, length, formatting, resources, and even things like font size and graphics all need to be considered. Someone may be great at document development, but poor at marketing – and in some situations we may need the perspective of both talents. We also need to consider if we are the right people to be providing certain information or if it’s best coming from another source, perhaps with our input.
© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP