Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 25, 2011

FEMA is looking for your public participation ideas

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,State and Local HLS,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on January 25, 2011

FEMA is looking for ideas about how to increase public participation in emergency management and homeland security. As a part of that search they’ve made available a paper describing some of the policy challenges associated with creating resilient communities.

As described in an email from a colleague:

Over the last several months, we have engaged a diverse range of people, organizations, and professions from across the Nation. Our goal is to learn what works well in local communities before an incident occurs and to connect these successful activities, networks, assets, and processes to preparations to withstand, respond, mitigate, and recover from emergencies.

…We would like your comments on a working paper, Policy Challenges in Supporting Community Resilience. (The 29 page paper can be downloaded at this link.) This paper explores how governments can better engage with the public to increase locally-organized disaster resilience and empower citizens and local institutions to take an active role in protecting themselves and their communities.

In particular, we would appreciate your thoughts on the following questions:

  • Do the themes and concepts outlined in this paper resonate with you? Please describe.
  • Are there additional characteristics (i.e. themes) that are important to consider?
  • Have you seen greater resilience in places where communities have been engaged in emergency management activities? Please share examples.

Please submit your reactions and comments on the themes, challenges, and overall approach presented in this paper by Monday, February 11, 2011 to “FEMA-Community-Engagement@dhs.gov”.

The paper also asks for comments on such policy issues as:

  • What are the best and smart practices among government and private sector agencies and social sector organizations in listening to, learning from, and engaging with community groups (including the general public) in local neighborhoods?
  • What experiences at the local level activate and sustain local residents? interest and involvement in resilience activities? What information do they need to motivate behavioral change and trigger preparedness activities? How are these activities organized? How do these resilience-oriented activities compare with insights from other research and policy literature on why and how communities engage in non-emergency, non-security related activities?
  • What specific barriers do diverse communities face in participating in resilience activities? What types of support do communities need once they have decided to ‘do something,’ including access to sources of expertise (people and guidance documents) or equipment and other assets? Who do they think this should come from?
  • What “entry points? exist for building an effective exchange between communities and national governments on resilience policies?
  • In what ways is each country [the paper describes UK and US experiences] working to build support for action on community resilience among various levels of society and policy makers, ranging from officials and political leaders to citizens and local responder organizations?
  • How might a whole community approach to emergency management work in your community?

Again, if you have any reactions to the ideas in the paper, please email them to “FEMA-Community-Engagement@dhs.gov”.

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8 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 25, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

Well the paper sounds worth a read so will download and read. Hey it seems that DHS and FEMA often collect public comments but amazing how seldom any feedback given. But not sure at what I am surprised about that since their various advisory committees recommendations, GAO recommendations, Congressional recommendations, even Congressional mandates in statutes, and OIG recommendations are often ignored. So what might be interesting is if the leadership ordered a study on how it reacted and responded to the above comments and recommendations from this groups. Personally I find their so-called Leadership Journal stale, the FEMA blog mainly weather predictions and often no evidence comments are really encouraged. Am I wrong? Maybe but maybe not.

Will download and read the paper.

And the President is forecasted that this is the Nation’s second SPUTNIK moment. No that will be when the Chinese colonize the moon before 2030. Taking the high ground so to speak.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 25, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

WOW the paper was presented in London in earlier November 2010 by David Kaufman of FEMA’s policy shop. Glad that group got to look at it first. Why wait so long to give just two weeks to review the doc?

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 25, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

Well I notice a reference to Phil Palin in footnote if not elsewhere. I am supporter of the concept of resilience but perhaps this paper makes some contribution however limited.
Note the concluding sentence on page 29:

“We find amidst the hardships revealed in every experience we review elements of an optimism among those affected by disasters that humbles the sometimes tortured calculations of governments trying to figure out what needs to be done. No one who has experienced a real tragedy is naive enough to believe survivors do not need help – and often massive help. But communities find ways to succeed in normal times and they are persistently effective during the worst moments of emergencies and their aftermath. It would come as little surprise that the best policy opportunities for authorities promoting resilience consist of finding ways to become part of these local, neighborly activities.”
Basically the whole of the first decade almost completed after 9/11/01 has shown that fundamental academic research is almost never incorporated into DHS/FEMA policy–e.g. social vulnerability analysis such as that done by Professor Susan Cutter, PhD, and others, and little recognition of other organizations that do operate successfully on a decentralized basis–e.g. the FIRE SERVICE and other organizations that are in fact part of the sinews of resilience in any community. By the way I hope the USFA leadership spreads out this document for comment by the various FIRE SERVICE leaderhsip organizations. The UK since Margaret Thatcher has restricted the independence and I would argue the resilience of local government, even eliminating many such units, and now appears to be going the other way as having overdone it. But few local governments are truly self sufficient and resilient in particular when their governmental capability is damaged by a disaster or key elements of resilience in the community are destroyed by that disaster. So perhaps a better approach would be like Mark Chubb’s identifying the specifics of resilience, their metrics, their bolstering, much as apparently NZ has done in last few years.

But will study some more and hope for more insight.

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January 25, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

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Comment by Claire B. Rubin

January 26, 2011 @ 7:42 am

If FEMA staff had better connections with the U.S. research community, both sides would benefit.The gap seems to grow rather than narrow, in my opinion.

A great deal of research on resilience is going on in the U.S., much of it funded by DHS’s Science and Technology directorate, yet that body of work and this recent paper do not seem to have a relationship.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 26, 2011 @ 8:43 am

Claire made my point much more succintly!
Agree. FEMA is research/results phobic.
I keep asking why but after 32 years of FEMA experience, 20 working, still not sure why?
I do know the number of PhDs in Science, Engineering and other disciplines is down to about 10% of what it was when the doors opened in 1979. Could two leaders with vast experience but only high school educations have something to do with it?

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 26, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

Unfortunately, after reviewing the 2007 National Preparedness Guidelines, the two Preparedness status reports issued in January 2009 and again last September, the downloaded piece does not in any way reflect this guidance or work product or even the recommendations contained in all the above about promotion of community resilience. Does this mean that the paper represents an entirely new initiative on understanding community resilience? Or just ignorance by the authors?

Comment by bellavita

January 26, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

Claire and Bill — I will ask.

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