Public-Private Partnerships Should be a Two-Way Relationship

Public-private partnerships are not a new concept to emergency management.  There are municipalities, regional areas, and states that have formed committees and strategized how the private sector can provide support during a disaster.  Certainly we have seen a lot of support, on both a large scale and locally, from the ‘big box’ stores, such as Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Home Depot.  Tide’s Loads of Hope program, something so simple but extraordinarily impactful, provides a means for disaster victims to have clean clothing.  Insurance companies have established a response capability to expedite their assessments and services to their clients.  Private sector partners know that these things are not just good public relations, but that they have a means of supporting communities that government and relief organizations may not.

There is another aspect to public-private partnerships that doesn’t seem to be widely addressed, and that’s the community business.  How can they help the community in a disaster?  First, business continuity is essential, since they may also be impacted by the disaster.  Small businesses don’t have the level of capability to leverage that large companies do.  Yes, the SBA can help them with long-term recovery, but the ability of some small businesses to get back to operations quickly can directly help a community recover.  I work with a lot of small communities, many of them serviced by small shops and independent grocers.  There are no big box stores for many, many miles.  For grocers, power outages result in spoiled food.  Road closures result in crippling supply chain problems.  While we’d like all businesses to have mitigation measures and preparedness for disasters, many small businesses simply don’t have the capitol to invest in things like generators and they obviously can’t control road closures.

What’s to be done?  Local municipalities absolutely need to bring these small business owners to the table, establish relationships, identify their needs, and consider identifying them as part of the community’s critical infrastructure.  The resilience of small grocers, lumber companies, and other purveyors is essential to the resilience and recovery of so many small towns.  The impacts are easy to see… if a store can keep running, they are not only providing essential goods and services to the community, they are also supporting the economy by keeping their employees working. What do they need?  Things like power and access, obviously, but tangential things like the availability of child care is huge.  Following disasters schools usually close and often become community shelters. Many parents work when their kids are in school.  If school is closed, they need access to child care.

How far can government go in supporting the private sector?  Many governments tend to avoid supporting the private sector as if it were some kind of disease.  It took many months to convince FEMA in the aftermath of Sandy to make dredging of private marinas eligible for disaster cost recovery.  These marinas (mostly small businesses themselves) support capabilities of fire and police watercraft, recreation (which has economic impact), and a significant fishing and crabbing industry, which is the livelihood of many off and on shore.  Obviously, FEMA needs to maintain accountability of funds and ensure they are being spent appropriately, but a big part of this was resistance to the idea of government providing direct support to the private sector.

While I agree that there are many nuances to this situation, it seems that in many cases the impact of small, local businesses in short-term recovery are disregarded, especially by state and federal governments, and that there exists a one-way door for business participation, where in this ‘partnership’ they are asked to provide goods and services, but how is government contributing to that partnership?  With the big box stores and other large companies, local governments certainly help with some permit expediting and perhaps physical space to set up and access to utilities, there is typically not much support required beyond that.  Small businesses may need more direct support to recover.  They may need help clearing their private access road or parking lot.  They may need the public road they are located on to be cleared for traffic sooner.  They may need a generator that can power their building.  They may need quantities of potable water brought on-site.  Their employees may need child care or public transportation.  These are things they either can’t immediately afford or simply don’t have access to. Local government may have better access to these resources, though, and with the justification of these small businesses providing essential goods and services to the community, the choice is easy.

Does this open government to potential criticism?  Absolutely.  Some business owners may claim discriminatory practices of government supporting some businesses and not others.  Some tax payers may even complain about the use of tax dollars in such a fashion.  While people may always complain, legal consequences and public relations problems should certainly be mitigated.  The road to addressing this is preparedness.  Engage your local attorney and the legal council for the state’s emergency management agency.  Municipal laws and state laws regarding authorities that can be enacted during a state of emergency need to be explored to not only make sure that local government has the legal ability to provide this support, but the conditions and procedures required for doing so.  The legal sources and procedures and standards for providing this support should be documented and made part of the local emergency plan. The municipality should have a criteria for determining what types of businesses could be included in such direct support (what is regarded as the municipality’s privately owned critical infrastructure?), and even outline requirements for those businesses, such as having a business continuity plan, implementing certain resiliency measures, or participating in coordination activities prior to a disaster.  Memoranda of understanding may be required, or other legal tools to identify the terms and conditions of support.

While this type of support from government to the private sector isn’t common, there are some municipalities who do it well.  I’m certainly interested in hearing what you’ve implemented and what best practices you’ve identified.

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

An Emergency Management Strategy for the Whole of Canada

In the US, we are used to seeing FEMA taking a step with states, territories, and tribal governments following suit, at least in terms of emergency management policy.  While states tend to handle a great deal of responsibility and authority in the US government structure, that largely pales to the structure of Canada, where the Canadian national government is generally more hands-off, in favor of provincial government autonomy.  Just as in the rest of the world, however, Canada has seen an increase in frequency and severity of disasters, resulting in a need for further nation-wide coordination of efforts.  This has led to the first ever Emergency Management Strategy for Canada.

The document, assembled and agreed upon by Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (FPT) emergency management partners, was guided by the Emergency Management Framework for Canada.  Similar to a best practice here in the US and elsewhere, the Framework and the new Strategy, emphasize the importance of partnerships and a whole community approach to emergency management.  Influenced by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and trends in emergency management, there is a lot of focus on the importance of resilience.

Priorities identified in the document include:

  1. Enhance whole-of-society collaboration and governance to strengthen resilience;
  2. Improve understanding of disaster risks in all sectors of society;
  3. Increase focus on whole-of-society disaster prevention and mitigation activities;
  4. Enhance disaster response capacity and coordination and foster the development of new capabilities; and
  5. Strengthen recovery efforts by building back better to minimize the impacts of future disasters.

As with most strategic documents, each priority identifies several enabling objectives to guide implementation.  The document touches on every aspect of emergency management and identifies a lot of the connective tissue that exists between preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.  On the down side, while I understand that implementation is left to each partner to execute as they see fit, the strategy lacks in identifying measures or benchmarks of success.

The Framework which this Strategy is based upon is even broader in scope and identifies a governance structure referred to as the Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management (SOREM), with working groups for each phase of emergency management reporting to them.  I’m hopeful that with this Strategy document as a solid first step, more detailed guidance, or even requirements, are released to provide a unified, doctrinal, and consistent approach.

Whatever gets implemented is still necessary and important forward progress.  It chips away at problems we all commonly have and identifies a way forward for everyone.  While government structures around the globe vary significantly, I’m positive that we can all eventually get to where we need to be.

As with all of my posts, I welcome comments, thoughts, and feedback, but I’m especially interested in feedback from those who work in emergency management in Canada for your thoughts on this Strategy and the way ahead.

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®℠

FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan: The Good, the Bad, and the Ignored

FEMA recently released their 2018-2022 Strategic Plan.  While organizational strategic plans are generally internal documents, the strategic plans of certain organizations, such as FEMA, have a significant link to a broader array of stakeholders.  The community of emergency management in the United States is so closely linked, that FEMA, through policy, funding, or practice, has a heavy influence on emergency management at the state and local levels.  Here are my impressions of the 38-page document.

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Right from the beginning, this document continues to reinforce the system of emergency management and the involvement of the whole community. I’m glad these concepts have been carried forward from earlier administrations.  Far too often have we seen new administrations trash the concepts of the previous for reasons none other than politics.  Things often take time in emergency management, and it sometimes seems that just as we are getting a grasp on a good concept or program, it’s stripped away in favor of something new which has yet to be proven.

The foreword of the document, as expected, lays out the overall focus of the strategic plan.  What I’m really turned off by here is the mention, not once but twice, of ‘professionalizing’ emergency management.  Use of this phrase is an unfortunate trend and a continued disappointment.  We are our own worst enemy when statements like this are made.  It seems that some in emergency management lack the confidence in our profession.  While I’m certainly critical of certain aspects of it, there is no doubt in my mind that emergency management is a profession.  I wish people, like Administrator Long, would stop doubting that.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard him recently interviewed on an emergency management podcast where he stressed the same point.  It’s getting old and is honestly insulting to those of us who have been engaged in it as a career.

The strategic goals put forward in this plan make sense.

  1. Build a culture of preparedness
  2. Ready the nation for catastrophic disasters
  3. Reduce the complexity of FEMA

These are all attainable goals that belong in this strategic plan.  They stand to benefit FEMA as an organization, emergency management as a whole, and the nation.  The objectives within these goals make sense and address gaps we continue to deal with across the profession.

A quote on page 8 really stands out… The most effective strategies for emergency management are those that are Federally supported, state managed, and locally executed.  With the system of emergency management in the US and the structure of federalism, this statement makes a lot of sense and I like it.

Based on objective 1.2 – closing the insurance gap – FEMA is standing behind the national flood insurance program.  It’s an important program, to be sure, but it needs to be better managed, better promoted, and possibly restructured.  There is a big red flag planted in this program and it needs some serious attention before it collapses.

Here’s the big one… It’s no secret that morale at FEMA has been a big issue for years.  The third strategic goal includes an objective that relates to employee morale, but unfortunately employee morale itself is not an objective.  Here’s where I think the strategic plan misses the mark.  While several objectives directly reference improving systems and processes at FEMA, none really focus on the employees.  Most mentions of employees in the document really reference them as tools, not as people.  Dancing around this issue is not going to get it resolved.  I’m disappointed for my friends and colleagues at FEMA.  While I applaud the strategic plan for realizing the scope of external stakeholders it influences, they seem to have forgotten their most important ones – their employees.  This is pretty dissatisfying and, ultimately, is an indicator of how poorly this strategic plan will perform, since it’s the employees that are counted on to support every one of these initiatives.  You can make all the policy you want, but if you don’t have a motivated and satisfied work force, change will be elusive.

Overall, I’d give this strategic plan a C.  While it addresses some important goals and objectives and recognizes pertinent performance measures, it still seems to lack a lot of substance.  External stakeholders are pandered to when internal stakeholders don’t seem to get a lot of attention.  While, as mentioned earlier, FEMA has a lot of influence across all of emergency management, they need to be functioning well internally if they are to successful externally.  Employee morale is a big issue that’s not going to go away, and it seems to be largely ignored in this document.  I absolutely want FEMA to be successful, but it looks like leadership lacks the proper focus and perspective.

What thoughts do you have on FEMA’s new strategic plan?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM

 

FEMA Seeks Input on Fiscal Year 2018-2022 Strategic Plan

From today’s FEMA Daily Digest Bulletin is an item related to FEMA’s FY 2018-2022 strategic plan.  FEMA Administrator Brock Long is inviting stakeholders to provide input to their upcoming strategic plan update.  They are doing this via IdeaScale, which is the same platform being used by DHS for an information campaign they promoted back in May of this year.  I’ve been monitoring the submissions to the DHS campaign and unfortunately find that the vast majority of ideas submitted are crap.  Many are ill informed (such as one idea of sending passenger baggage on a separate plane solely intended for that purpose) or politically motivated, with few offering any practical solutions to real problems.

Relative to the FEMA campaign, I’m seeing much of the same.  Here’s what FEMA requested input on:

Simplifying Recovery and Reducing Disaster Costs

  • How can FEMA simplify recovery programs and reduce disaster costs while ensuring accountability, customer service, and fiscal stewardship?

Buying Down Risk through Preparedness and Mitigation

  • How should risk be calculated in awarding grants?
  • What type of grants are best suited for effectively reducing risk?
  • How do we incentivize more investment in preparedness/mitigation prior to a disaster (not only federal investment)?
  • How should the nation, including but not limited to FEMA, train and credential a surge disaster workforce ahead of major disasters?
  • What are new ways to think about a true culture of preparedness?

Much of the input they are receiving thus far is less than helpful in the endeavor to drive strategic planning.  Rather, they are receiving ideas of tactical applications both in general as well as specific to disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey.  While some of these ideas aren’t bad (some are), it seems that people are missing the point.

This brings about some thoughts on the concept of whole community engagement, which is obviously what FEMA and DHS as a whole are trying to accomplish through these IdeaScale endeavors.  I’m 100% in favor of whole community engagement, but opening the doors and inviting unstructured commentary is less than productive.  I’m sure it’s frustrating to the people on the receiving end who are having to sift through a lot of largely irrelevant input to find a few gems.  At the community level, these discussions can be moderated in public forums, but through an electronic means, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.  A valiant effort, but I wonder if they are getting the input they really need or if this merely accomplishes them ‘checking a box’ to say they solicited whole community feedback.

While feedback from the public can be valuable, I posit that most of the public simply isn’t aware enough of the mission, organization, and activities of FEMA to provide meaningful ideas toward their strategic plan.  Instead, forums such as the ones they’ve opened up simply provide opportunities for people to vent frustrations, which I suppose has some value but not in this forum.

What I’m hopeful of is that professionals in emergency management and public safety take advantage of the opportunity to provide thoughtful feedback and ideas which can contribute to FEMA’s strategic plan update.  If they are making the effort to obtain feedback, let’s give them what they need.  That’s my challenge to you!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC