Building A Public/Private Partnership in Emergency Management
By James Lee Witt
Disasters pose a threat to every segment of our nationís communities - individuals, home owners, utilities, small and large businesses, government services. For too long, our nationís emergency management system has relied almost exclusively on government and volunteer groups to assist communities in preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters.
The time has come for the business community to become a full partner in our nationís emergency management system. The health and safety of our citizens and the vitality and the future of our communities depend on it.
That is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is actively exploring opportunities to create a Public/Private Partnership for Emergency Management.
FEMA Strategic Goal
One of the principal strategic goals of the Federal Emergency Management Agencyís (FEMA) is to ďcreate an emergency management partnership with other Federal agencies, state and local governments, volunteer organizations and the private sector to better serve our customers.Ē
In the past three and one-half years, with the leadership and support of President Clinton, FEMA has strengthened our working relationships with the 28 Federal agencies and volunteer organizations that comprise the Federal Response Plan.
Additionally, FEMA has increased funding to state and local emergency management operations in each of the past three fiscal years and instituted new Performance Partnership Agreements with each state that provide emergency officials with the flexibility they need to manage the risks they face.
As a result, from the 1993 Midwest Floods to the Northridge Earthquake to Hurricanes Opal, Marilyn and Fran to floods in the Northeast and the Northwest, FEMA and its partners have responded quickly to efficiently and effectively deliver disaster relief to millions of Americans.
Just as FEMA has worked to strengthen our partnership with other government and volunteer agencies, we are also seeking partnership opportunities with the private sector. While the business community has been generous in the past in supporting disaster relief efforts with donated goods and services, until now there has never been a coordinated effort to include the business community in the nationís emergency management system.
Why should the private sector enter a partnership for emergency management? What possible benefits could be derived from such a partnership? These are the two most commonly asked questions I get from members of the business community.
First and foremost, the business community has a clear stake in the health and personal and economic security of the community at large. The people who live in our nationís communities comprise the employee and customer base for most businesses.
When a disaster strikes, individual businesses may survive and recover operations quickly. But the recovery is not complete if employees canít get to work or customers canít buy the products/services if they canít travel on the roads, if electricity and water arenít available, if debris hasnít been removed and if order and safety has not been restored.
Conversely, individuals and communities have a stake in the health and security of the business community. The business community provides jobs and taxes that have a direct impact on the quality of life in any given community.
When disaster strikes, individuals and communities may survive and recover quickly. But the recovery will not be complete if the business community is destroyed and unable to recover. Jobs will be lost, the tax base decimated and the community at large may never recover.
Clearly, the business community and the community at large are interdependent and itís just common sense and is mutually beneficial for any emergency management activities to be cooperatively coordinated and implemented.
The bottom line is that a public/private partnership in emergency management will increase the likelihood that communities and businesses will survive and recover from disasters.
FEMA Partnership Activities
In recent years, FEMA has been involved in several public/private partnership activities. In the Pacific Northwest, FEMA Region X staff have worked closely with business, lifeline, engineering and government organizations and area universities to form the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW). CREW was formed to develop and promote cost-effective all-hazard mitigation initiatives in response to the threat of a great Cascadia Subduction Zone quake.
As FEMA Director, I have sponsored a series of Roundtable Discussions with public and private groups to discuss their potential involvement in emergency management.
Additionally, FEMA has formed several task forces with members of the insurance community to explore partnership opportunities.
FEMAís Response and Recovery Directorate has scheduled a workshop in October designed to explore partnership opportunities in all four phases of emergency management; mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
Business representatives from the Agility Forum, an industry sponsored research organization that regularly partners with government and academia, will meet for two days with representatives from the member agencies of the Federal Response Plan to identify how government and the business community can work together on emergency management issues and to draft a strategic plan for implementing such a partnership.
The goal for this workshop, and other similar efforts, is to develop a structure for a public/private emergency management partnership that facilitates communications and coordination between government and the business community not only during a disaster but also in shaping and implementing preparedness and mitigation initiatives.
The possibilities for a public/private partnership in emergency management are limitless. That is why I want to encourage DRJís readers to share their ideas and suggestions with us. Please contact George Haddow, FEMAís Business Liaison, by phone at (202) 646-3291, by E-mail at email@example.com or by mail at FEMA, 500 C. St., SW, Room 832, Washington, DC 20472.
FEMAís mission is ďto reduce the loss of life and property and protect our institutions from all hazards by leading and supporting the nation in a comprehensive risk-based emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.Ē
To successfully fulfill this mission, the business community must become a full partner in our nationís emergency management system.
A Public/Private Partnership for Emergency Management will ensure that we build the strongest possible emergency management system to protect and serve our nationís communities.
It is in the best interest of our people and the business community and we at FEMA are committed to making it a reality.
Mr. Witt is Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
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