Ok…so I’m off to a great start, already a day late, but here is the latest installment.
Whole Community. It’s become the buzzword of emergency management, especially for preparedness programs recently. But what does it actually mean?
FEMA breaks it down into three basic principles, which are further divided into six strategic themes. The whole community principles are: Understand and meet the needs of the whole community, engage and empower all parts of the community, and strengthen what works in communities on a daily basis. Keep those in mind, as we explore the strategic themes and how they apply.
Strategic Theme 1: Understand community complexity.
This is more than just understanding that there are different cultures that need to be recognized, but it involves looking to the root causes of problems. According to a national survey conducted by Citizens Corps in 2009, lower income families (those earning less than $25,000 a year) were 20% less likely to be prepared than those who earned a higher income. Can we build more disaster resistant communities by improving business districts where the buildings might not be as structurally sound? This theme really focuses on looking for those hidden problems that might be able to alleviate more than just one issue once it’s fixed.
Strategic Theme 2: Recognize Community Capabilities and Needs
Again, this requires going out into the community, and understanding where the gaps are. Do we have organizations around the area that focus on things like special needs, faith based organizations, or response organizations that have unique experiences with their particular area of expertise? For example, activities like sheltering are significantly more complicated than just opening a school and letting people sleep there. It requires a lot of foresight. Are their people with allergies? Special dietary restrictions? Access and/or functional needs? What are the medical needs of the residents? Do we have the ability to help provide them with the prescription medications that they may have lost? We have organizations around town that deal with those types of issues on a regular basis. During a disaster, it is extremely important that we are able to tap into their expertise. However, that is best done when there is already an understanding between emergency managers and those organizations, when they have trained with us, helped us develop our plans, and been involved from the start.
Strategic Theme 3: Foster Relationships with Community Leaders
One of the most effective ways to reach the members of our community is through our community leaders. We utilize people like City Council, County Commissioners, and people in leadership positions to help make decisions already, but government officials are not enough. It’s also important to look at business leaders, neighborhood organizations, civic groups, that can give us a unique understanding of their segment of the community, its needs and capabilities. It works as a two way street too. They are able to provide us with information regarding areas of concern for them, or opportunities that they can see, while at the same time helping us to disseminate information back to their groups.
Strategic Theme 4: Build and Maintain Partnerships
The greater number of partnerships we can build before the event, the better. Our ability to know the resources in the field is imperative. Our ability to trust that the partners that we have will come when an event occurs helps us to understand where we are at. During a large scale event, when we have to activate our Emergency Operations Center, there are 63 seats on our operations floor, we also have the ability to bring in people at policy making levels into our policy room, public information officers from across the city and county to assist in the Joint Information Center, people to work in our Region D Multiagency Coordination Center room, volunteers to work phone banks, and many others. Disasters are events that do not just affect emergency managers, but every facet of our community. They affect how whether our kids can go to school the next day, if businesses will be able to reopen, and where the next place to turn is. Our partners help us determine priorities, and help to provide for the resource needs that may come up. Partners in emergency management make this process work.
Strategic Theme 5: Empower Local Action
Empowering local action is all about the community taking ownership of their projects. As emergency managers, it is our job to promote and help coordinate some efforts, but ultimately the direction that we go is up to the citizens. We are here to help give you a jumping off point, but the rebuilding of a community is really in the hands of the people in that community. Regardless of who you are, you can be a leader in the community. It is no longer enough just to sit back and follow. Take action. If you see a problem, help find a way to fix it. Springfield and Greene County are made up of thousands of creative people who can make a difference. It’s time to take charge of your own destiny.
Strategic Theme 6: Leverage and strengthen social infrastructure, networks and assets
Communities are resourceful, whether that is to help in food banks, or neighborhood watch groups, or any number of other activities that we engage in on a regular basis. We don’t sit on the sidelines and watch other people do it for us. The networks, the social infrastructure, the ability to communicate with one another, it’s all already there for us. It’s a matter of capitalizing on those resources. What emerges from this communication and networking is a shared sense of responsibility, and an ability to make decisions that are not just in the benefit of one group, but that really takes into consideration everyone involved. The better our partnerships, be it local government to its citizenry, businesses to their clients, or just neighbors to neighbors, the greater resiliency we will have when the next one strikes.
Keep your head about you!