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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By William M. Toms
September 15, 2015
Natural and man-made disasters seem to plague various parts of the United States on a regular basis. Some of these events are predictable; others are not. A severe snowstorm causing extensive power outages in the state of Maine is not unusual. However, dealing with a tornado in Maine is probably not within the realm of the state’s weather threats. However, tornadoes do occur in Maine. While the constrained resources of governmental entities and volunteer organizations prevent communities from planning for every type of emergency in their jurisdiction, community leaders and first responders must still be prepared to plan for, respond to and recover from each of these types of situations.
Evidence increasingly indicates the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) understands how communities cannot possibly independently research and plan for every emergency or disaster that may strike their community. Over the past year, FEMA has focused on identifying and disseminating best practices across the country as a means to prepare, communities with the situational awareness needed to prepare for emergencies they may not face on a routine basis. FEMA has solicited proposals for technical assistance over the past 12 months to promote the building of continuity of operations (COOP) plans and develop toolkits to develop the 31 core capabilities in the five emergency management functional areas that address prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery.
Many communities do not all possess the same sets of resources and business acumen pertaining to emergency management, research and experience in implementing various aspects of resiliency plans and programs. The development of best practices in COOP planning and the development of toolkits that consist of a compendium of existing resources, after action reports, lessons learned, SOP’s, and other plans ensures that communities across the country can have access to the tools that can assist them plan, exercise and generally prepare for what they have not yet encountered. When the experiences and actions of planners and responders in other venues have been critiqued and validated, they form a valuable tool that can be shared with other communities. Since so many communities are resource constrained, the philosophy behind disseminating best practices in the form of toolkits ensures communities have the opportunity to prepare for an event that may not have occurred in their region. These resources essentially encompass research and practice on various community resiliency strategies and activities that have an exponential impact on building an inventory of resources that can be used in communities as deemed appropriate by local and regional partners.
A review of disaster declarations by FEMA and other generally available evidence clearly reveals the broad range of experience and expertise accumulated and developed by various entities while handling emergencies and disasters nationwide. The abundant resources utilized and managed in these situations are not always easily replicated or available in differing jurisdictions for a multitude of reasons. For these reasons, the development of toolkit solutions presents an effective and efficient means to disseminate the firsthand experiences and solutions of those that experienced such emergencies and disasters.
The appropriate level of technical assistance, available from FEMA or through contracted vendors, allows these experiences to be reviewed so that best practices can be identified and honed before dissemination. This strategy allows local officials and community stakeholders to have access to the requisite expertise in a given discipline or set of circumstances to better plan, prevent, respond to and recover from various types of emergencies or disasters. This is important because although communities often are required to adhere to various federal and state standards, the autonomous nature and operation of these communities yield very different levels of resources and preparation efforts. Providing templates consistent with COOP planning and best practices associated with the development of toolkits helps to broaden the types of support provided to all communities. When the strengthening of emergency preparedness can occur across a broader jurisdiction of contiguous as well as geographically dispersed communities, entire regions can increase their capabilities to handle a broader spectrum of emergencies and disasters.
Many observers often note that community resilience focuses on preparedness and prevention efforts. These functions are both very important. When regions of geographically dispersed communities can focus on preparedness and prevention efforts, the resiliency of regions will be greatly enhanced. When regions are resilient, recovery speed will become palpably faster. Timely recoveries are the best evidence of a truly resilient nation.
Author: William M. Toms, Ed.D., is an assistant professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and teaches graduate courses in higher education, homeland security and management. He has held executive positions in law enforcement and higher education, operates a consulting practice focusing on increasing the capabilities of organizations and can be reached at [email protected].