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Equipping Staff and Stakeholders to Promote Social Equity in Emergency Management

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Anthony Buller
April 15, 2022

What makes an emergency management organization more likely to achieve the promises of social equity? Social equity of course “is fundamentally concerned with fairness and justice in the provision of public service.” In this series of columns, I am suggesting that there are drivers of social equity that emergency management should pursue (see the graphic). And specifically, in this column, I am exploring the importance of equipping staff and stakeholders.

As I wrote in the introductory column of this series, “Organizational staff and stakeholders (whether incorporated into the emergency management system or as a member of the served public) deserve clear policies and procedures, training and exercising around social equity considerations. Further, practical assistance provided to the public to equip them for disaster must be performed with equity in mind.”

We first look at equipping staff. Note that the main thrust of this column series concerns social equity, and when we speak about staff, we are really speaking about how they can be equipped with what they need to deliver equitable services to the public they serve. Emergency management should equip staff with:

Knowledge—Investing in the knowledge and awareness of staff is crucial to helping them understand how their work relates to social equity goals. At the most basic level, staff need to be aware of laws and policies along with their community’s demographics and needs. Going further, emergency management organizations can better educate staff about inequities and vulnerabilities to create self-awareness among staff. We want staff to understand and act in a way that promotes social equity. 

Resources and Materials—Providing the resources staff need in terms of physical goods enables them to meet the needs of the population they serve. A simple example might be having emergency management publications available in languages relevant to the community being served. Another example involves planning and resourcing foods that are appropriate for the community. Emergency management is in the business of identifying a need and filling it—we just must ensure that staff are pursuing the needs of the whole community.

Empowerment—Staff need to both be and feel empowered to pursue equity in what they do. We need to get past equality and get to equity. Staff that are empowered to act equitably will lean forward and address unique community needs. Additionally, staff need to be empowered to learn and to report equity shortfalls. Here, as in so much, emergency managers need to walk the talk and be serious about promoting equity.

Connection—Emergency management staff at many levels and in many specialties need to be connected to and build relationships with diverse stakeholders. Staff need the room and encouragement to do so. Investing in connections and relationships takes time. It also takes follow through. Emergency management organizations should allocate time and have it as a normal goal to build and maintain their relationships with stakeholders.

One of the main ways that emergency managers serve stakeholders is through equipping them. When it comes to stakeholders, emergency management staff should equip them with:

Knowledge—Emergency managers very traditionally provide information to the public in the areas of hazard awareness, how to respond and recover, etc. But for stakeholders that are actively engaging with emergency management, the need for knowledge transfer is much more robust. For example, emergency managers must train other agencies, along with engaged representatives of vulnerable communities, with the knowledge needed for integrating into the emergency management structure in all phases and in all efforts.

Inclusion—Having worked with stakeholders to educate them about how to engage with emergency management, now emergency management must include them. It doesn’t appear (through abundant scholarship and searching academic literature) that anyone has ever evaluated the most important social equity drivers, but inclusion is commonly raised as a main principle of social equity. In fact, a whole column will be devoted to the diversity and inclusion driver. But here, one way that resources (e.g., time) are transferred to stakeholders is through inclusion before and after disaster. It’s fundamental.

Resources and Materials—Also fundamental in equipping stakeholders is the provision of specific materials. An example could be after a flood, an economically disadvantaged community is identified as needing food assistance, but the point of distribution for relief supplies is miles away and the community members generally lack transportation. Emergency management commonly equips voluntary, faith-based or community-based organizations with relief supplies to serve throughout impacted communities.

These are just a few ways to equip staff and stakeholders. The next column in this series will explore the equity champions driver. Identifying, empowering and yes, equipping a champion to pursue equity is an intervention that has been tested in other areas that touch upon equity and is being applied to emergency management as well.

Author: Anthony Buller has deployed to more than 40 presidentially declared major disasters and emergencies in his 17 years of federal service. He leads a team of emergency management professionals covering the western US for a federal agency. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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