Acting to Coordinate Emergency Management

By O'Neill, Bob | Public Management, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Acting to Coordinate Emergency Management


O'Neill, Bob, Public Management


As another hurricane season approaches, a quote often attributed to the noted humorist, satirist, lecturer, and writer, Mark Twain, comes to mind: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Clearly, we have not mastered control of nature's climatic forces. Yet, approaches for managing the impacts of weather are available to us and are constantly evolving and improving.

In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, local governments have stepped up their efforts to develop and implement more effective emergency management solutions, all of which rely on sophisticated mutual aid networks and partnerships, not only among first responders but throughout all functions of local government and across all phases of a disaster.

ICMA's members have been at the forefront of that discussion and have advocated for the development of a network approach to emergency management to answer the challenge of identifying the vast resource of experienced local government professionals that can be certified, trained, accessed, and deployed as part of teams that can respond to any of the four phases of disaster situations: preparation, response, recovery, and long-term restoration.

The need for improvement in emergency management is urgent as more and more people locate to disaster-prone areas (1) and the impacts of disasters continue to increase. (2) Long-term recovery needs are especially acute. After a disaster and after the rescue personnel have finished their tasks and the camera crews have left town, the difficult path to community restoration begins.

The restoration burden falls on the shoulders of local government personnel and often requires unsustainably long hours on the job for extended periods of time and demands that staff fulfill challenging new responsibilities. In many cases, local government personnel are also trying to put their own personal lives, homes, and families back together. In situations such as these, the long-term professional and personal hardships can lead to reduced effectiveness and loss of staff and resources and can result in a slower recovery.

Surveys and other research conducted by ICMA during the past several years indicate that an interoperable multijurisdictional and multidisciplinary network approach is vital for increasing the nation's disaster resiliency and the effectiveness of emergency response and long-term restoration. The key question: Is this approach able to improve disaster management and mitigate the challenges of response through long-term recovery? The answer is undoubtedly yes.

A network-centered approach has the flexibility to move human and physical assets where they need to be, when they need to be there. This approach represents an evolution from traditional command and control to a network of local governments organized into multijurisdictional, multidisciplinary teams composed of the human and physical assets required for all disaster phases.

Teams include the immediate response resources of fire, police, search and rescue, public works, and emergency medical services, along with the full complement of resources and disciplines needed to help communities through recovery, including management, finance, building inspectors, information technology, and public information specialists. Teams can be formed among multiple jurisdictions and prepared for deployment within or across state boundaries.

A network approach requires certain fundamental elements, including:

* Establishing teams and developing relationships among key team members before an emergency.

* Identifying other resources to support the teams (state emergency and Emergency Management Assistance Compact [EMAC] responsible staff, Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], nonprofit organizations, and businesses).

* Defining and documenting team member's roles and credentials.

* Providing opportunities for teams to train and practice together. …

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