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FEMA Strategic Plan 2022-2026: What It Means for Public Administration

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

By Romeo Lavarias
January 19, 2022

Disasters impact people and communities differently, and due to past experiences with them, the impacted population has usually been able to handle them. However, 2021 proved to be an extraordinary season of disaster throughout the United States. According to the Washington Post, what made the year unique was where last year’s disasters occurred, as well as their frequency, intensity and severity. Examples include frigid arctic air temperatures in Texas that led to power loss in over four million homes, three supercells striking Alabama and Georgia, Hurricane Ana being the first named storm of the season before hurricane season even started – totaling 21 hurricanes for 2021 as the second year in a row that the National Hurricane center used all the names on its list- record heat temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, the second most destructive wildfire in California where the Town of Greenville was destroyed, tornadoes in unlikely areas such as New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut and a blizzard hitting Hawaii.

Due to the past few “off the scale” disaster seasons like 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authored the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan: Building the FEMA our Nation Needs and Deserves to help communities address future disaster environments, preventing them from resembling disasters of the past, and improving what is still being experienced today. To accomplish this, FEMA’s Strategic Plan outlined three goals: 1) Instill equity as a foundation of emergency management, 2) Lead the entire community in climate resilience and 3) Promote and sustain a ready FEMA and well-prepared nation. All three goals have implications for public administration through their respective objectives and performance measures. While these objectives and performance measures are worthy of individual examination, this discussion will examine those deemed most advantageous for public administrators to implement.

Objective 1.2 for goal 1 is to “Remove barriers to FEMA programs through a people first approach.” One of the measures used to gauge this is the “percent of FEMA programs with feedback loops that integrate input from communities.” This measure reflects FEMA’s efforts to not only listen to what communities have to say about their programs, but to also make the appropriate changes so that their programs are more efficient and effective. This will take effort by communities to provide detailed feedback with recommendations for improvement in program areas.

Objective 2.2 for goal 2 is to “Build a climate resilient nation.” One of the measures used is the “percent of communities in high earthquakes, flood and wind-prone areas adopting disaster-resistant building codes.” This measure reflects how disaster-resistant building codes help strengthen mitigation to reduce communities’ vulnerability to disasters. Oftentimes, these building codes are written prior to the severe disasters that many communities are now experiencing. By bringing the building codes up to the disaster level being experienced, there may be less damage and quicker recovery for a community.

Objective 3.2 for goal 3 is to “Position FEMA to meet current and emergent threats.” One of the measures used is the “number of emergency management capabilities where communities are achieving less than 30% of the national capability targets.” This reflects the measure of risks, capabilities and gaps of the nation as a whole and the risks, capabilities and gaps of each community in comparison. When communities undertake the efforts to identify their respective risks, capabilities and gaps, they place themselves in a better position to then address those gaps. It forces communities to take a realistic look at their hazards and vulnerabilities. Subsequently, it will give them a clear path/road map to becoming resilient before, during and after a disaster.

With the “Great Resignation of 2021”, coupled with the increasing number of retirements and the ever-present Covid-19 Pandemic, governments are losing institutional knowledge and experienced personnel who were able to get their governments back up and running after a disaster. Coupled with the inevitability of less experienced staff assuming vacated positions, governments will be challenged to accomplish their one main goal following a disaster: returning things back to normal. What makes this situation even more challenging is that some communities lack emergency managers, staff or strategic partners to help as well. One proposed remedy is FEMA’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan which outlines their efforts to build and place their organization in a better position reflective of the new types of disasters the country is facing, allowing all communities to be helped in times of disaster. Therefore, FEMA’s success will require public administrators to help their respective communities to understand the ‘new normal’ as it pertains to disasters.

Author: Romeo is the Emergency Manager for the City of Miramar, FL and is an Adjunct Professor for Barry University’s Public Administration Program where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. He is a Certified Emergency Manager through the International Association of Emergency Managers. His research interests include emergency management, homeland security, ethics, and performance measurement. 

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