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When Your County Is No Longer Effective: Case Study of Broward County, FL Emergency Management Division

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

By Romeo B. Lavarias
April 28, 2023

A key feature of contemporary public administration is the relationship between jurisdictions and public management. But how is this relationship to be is the thesis of this article. According to The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy (Strange, 1996) there is a declining relationship between “the jurisdictions of public management of all types—nation states, states, provinces, cities, counties and special districts, which are all losing their borders.”  This is evident in the field of emergency management when its key motto providing disaster assistance to those in need is, “Federally Funded, State Managed and Locally Executed”.  The motto describes that the federal government (FEMA) would provide the necessary funding, then the state (Florida) would create programs and/or grant programs to provide these funds to local entities and that the local entities (Broward County) would dole out those funds and/or expertise to the cities who would dole it all out to their respective city residents. But what happens when the local execution (Broward County) is no longer effective or able to assist those cities?  This article will discuss how the Emergency Management Division of Broward County, FL lacks an effective program to assist the 31 cities within its jurisdiction that encompass close to 1.9 million people.

Like most counties in the United States, Broward County is the recipient of FEMA’s Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPG) which are to “support our citizens and first responders to ensure we work together as a nation to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate terrorism and other high-consequence disasters and emergencies.” The money is then spent on those products and/or services to aid everyone in Broward County. However, hardly any of those EMPG funds have been spent on the 31 cities. Instead, the money has gone towards Broward Emergency Management staffing. But the staffing has not led towards any advancement of the 31 cities’ emergency management programs. Each city would have benefitted from the EMPG funding in several ways:

  • Each city is still responsible for creating and maintaining their own emergency management program and would have benefited from assistance from Broward County for updating their plans and assisting them in conducting their own exercises. 
  • EMPG funding could have also gone towards providing training to all emergency management staff in the area so to bring their skill set up to the latest emergency management techniques and FEMA plans and policies. Instead, many cities have had to take on the trainings themselves to provide their own buildings to conduct training and to secure their own trainers without assistance from the County other than them listing it on a countywide class schedule.
  • One critical feature of emergency management is the training of residents to take care of themselves, their families and their neighbors during times of disaster. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program was developed by FEMA to advance that effort. EMPG funding could have also gone towards helping each city develop its own Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) as well as provide advanced training to those already trained in CERT. Many cities have had to launch their own program, maintain it and secure outside funding for it. 

So due to Broward County’s lack of effectiveness, it has forced many cities to basically fend for themselves. Interestingly, it resulted in cities learning how not to have to depend on the County for resources or expertise during times of disaster. Cities had realized that they were not going to have their quality of life or successful recovery be dependent upon an outside jurisdiction that was not interested in providing the resources the cities would need. Instead, the cities worked together amongst themselves to create their own Municipal Emergency Managers Group and CERT group that are both subcommittees under the Broward County Association of Fire Chiefs. So, the formation of these two subcommittees essentially removed what the Broward County Emergency Management Division should have handled.

The ineffectiveness of the BEMD came out during the April 2023 rainstorm event that flooded the eastern cities in Broward County and caused massive gridlock and flooded neighborhoods. BEMD’s lack of response and collaboration warranted the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) to come in and create an Incident Action Plan (IAP) to organize and coordinate resources to assist the flooded areas.

In the end, while federalism will always be the way government is run, it is becoming more and more obvious that as expertise and effort at the lower level grows, the need for the upper level will begin to wane to the point where they become more of a hindrance to actual results, and a waste of resources that could be put to better use at the local level. So, it begs the question, why are they even needed at all?

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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