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Brent Woodworth is chairman and CEO of the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Foundation. He has been a leader in crisis management for more than 16 years and is responsible for building an international crisis response team with first-hand experience in responding to over 70 disasters in 50 countries. Woodworth serves on multiple distinguished boards including: The National Institute of Building Sciences, The Multi-hazard Mitigation Council, The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Advisory Committee, The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council on Resiliency, and the Sahana Software Foundation.

Laz: You have directed planning and response activities for major disasters literally around the globe. What are keys to making public-private partnerships successful?

Woodworth: Building successful partnerships requires locating and bringing together a diverse range of individuals and organizations in support of a unifying cause or shared vision. Saving lives and rebuilding a community following a major natural or man-made disaster is a strong unifying event. We have seen an amazing outpouring of support whenever we have responded to catastrophic events worldwide. The challenge occurs in trying to get the same individuals and organizations motivated to identify and mitigate risks prior to a major crisis event.

I believe one of the keys to facing this challenge is to break the traditional public-private partnership model of business and government by bringing together equal voices from all major community sectors. There are many groups to be considered including: faith based organizations, academic institutions, health care providers, charitable non-government organizations (NGO’s), community groups, and tribal interests. The business sector should include small, medium, and large business representation along with utilities (lifelines). The media is also a key strategic partner in this new model. Government sector partners should include a significant cross section of local government agencies plus county, state and federal representatives, if needed.

Once you have identified the potential mix of partners they must be brought together in a collaborative manner. One example where this form of public-private partnership is now working is the Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Foundation (LAEPF). This non-profit foundation has a board that includes traditional business representation plus faith based organizations, NGO’s, academic institutions, media, and government. Working as a team this foundation is open to all sectors interested in supporting preparedness efforts throughout the City of Los Angeles. The foundation also acts as a “trusted agent” in managing funds for disaster victim relief. Recently, LAEPF was named as the City of Los Angeles EOC - Business Operations Center Coordinator. I recognize there are many other outstanding organizations now working on similar collaborative efforts throughout the country and I applaud these efforts as well. It is my hope the lessons from these mutual efforts can be collected and shared for the benefit of all communities.

Laz: What are some low-cost things that a private-sector BC/DR Manager can do that will pay dividends in establishing a partnership with local public-sector representatives?

Woodworth: One of the lessons our team learned time and again when responding to global events was the benefit of a strong relationship with public sector agencies. The private sector BC/DR manager should look at external public sector agencies as partners in building corporate resiliency. I recommend allocating time to meet with appropriate representatives of local police, fire, emergency medical services, and utility companies. Each of these agencies will be important partners in the event of a crisis event. Become an advocate of direct two-way communications and the sharing of information, including relevant sections of your DR plan, to foster collaboration. Include public sector representatives and utilities in you training exercises and do not hesitate to ask for recommendations on what you can do to make their job easier. Introduce public sector contacts to your department team members and senior executives. For the cost of a phone call and a few meetings, public sector agencies can become part of your extended corporate family and potentially save your assets.

Laz: Where would you recommend our profession focus efforts toward reducing risks?

Woodworth: We must first win over the mindset of public-private sector executives and community organizations in understanding the value of early risk identification and investment in mitigation. A report I have found to be very effective in conveying this message is the US Congressional report on mitigation written by the Multi-hazard Mitigation Council (MMC): “Natural Hazards Mitigation Saves: independent study to assess future savings from mitigation activities.” The report was validated by the US Office of Management and Budget, the CRO and DHS. The report clearly shows that for every $1 invested in pre-disaster mitigation activities there is an associated $4 benefit. We all know preventative medicine helps identify problems early and saves lives. The same is true for mitigation. When utilized effectively, this report can open the eyes of senior executives to the value of enterprise risk management investments.

You can download the full report from the Multi-hazard Mitigation Council Web site at: http://nibs.org/MMC/mmchome.html

Peter R. Laz, MBCP, is a senior consultant with Forsythe Solutions Group. He is a member of the DRJ Editorial Advisory Board and a Board of Director of PPBI.