Late last year, a group of experts from the United States and Britain came together to give a presentation at the London Workshop of the Multinational Community Resilience Policy Group. The title of the presentation was “Policy Challenges in Supporting Community Resilience.” Since then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has put out a call for comment on this working paper. Well, I sure have something to say!
This is an exciting paper. The authors took a look at six individual disasters, three from each nation. They matched disasters in Britain with similar disasters in the United States in order to create comparative analyses. For example, the flooding in New Orleans was compared to the flooding in Hull England. You can find the paper here (http://short.continuityinsights.com/workitout) and I encourage you to read it for yourself.
The intent of the paper is to figure out how to support local communities developing their own resilience strategies, without guidance from centralized emergency management plans. In other words, the authors concluded that most jurisdictions are different and that local issues need to be addressed at the local level. Wow! Go figure.
Try to See It My Way
I can’t even describe how happy I was to see this paper. I’ve had a copy on my desk for weeks, salivating over it like a dog with a bloody bone. I know that this is a “discussion” paper, and I’m aware that it includes the caveat “the views expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors, and do not represent the official position of any government, agency, or organization.” However, it is my hope that it soon becomes the opinion of the government…our government, at least.
So what could that mean to us? What if FEMA does what I think it must—start supporting local collaborations between the public sector (me) and the private sector (most of you)?
I would hope it means some seed money in the form of grants. No, not more taxes! I didn’t say that. There are adequate funding sources available already. For instance, they could take the Citizen Corps grant program, and expand it to allow for spending on collaborative partnerships that assist the receiving jurisdiction to become a more disaster resilient community. In this way we’d be taking money used mostly for preparedness, which is still important, and redirecting some of it towards building communities that are more resilient.
Think of What I’m Saying
So what is community resilience? For lack of a universally-accepted definition, I’ll say it is the ability of a community to return to pre-disaster “normal” with minimal disruption of public or private sector functionality. Yes, I mostly made this up, but hear me out. A community is the sum of all parts within a jurisdictional boundary. This includes all governmental functions (police, fire, schools, etc.), quasi- governmental functions (post offices, etc.), and the private sector (businesses, non-profits, churches, etc.).
Most governmental agencies and organizations have continuity of operations and continuity of government plans. Many are required by law, statute, resolution, or ordinance to have such plans in place. How many businesses, churches and non profits have plans? Governments can raise revenue to pay for plan development, churches cannot.
How many private sector entities are there compared to public sector entities? I know in my small (by population) county we have about 2,500 businesses and several hundred churches. I can count government agencies on both hands. If I divided them into departments, I would have to remove my shoes, but compared to 2500? There is no comparison.
If the bureaucracy is to be lifted from the community resilience building aspect of government plans, the private sector will have to assume part of the burden of participation.
There’s No Time for Fussing and Fighting
The private sector must get involved in assisting communities in becoming more resilient. And our federal government may finally be onto something so wonderful that I almost cry thinking about its potential ramifications for doing good in our communities. But I’m afraid our communities might not see it that way.
Do not be apathetic. All it takes is a leader, and if you are reading this magazine then chances are you are one.