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Sunday, July 14, 2024

COLUMN: The Private Sector Is More Than A Stakeholder

On June 10, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Office of External Affairs and co-sponsors hosted the first-ever Risk Communications, Crisis Communications, and Community Engagement Summit at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.  It was a one-day convening of cross-sector leaders working to address complex all-hazards challenges to learn, share and connect.  It was an amazing and inspiring day.  For me, it was also a reminder of the government’s powerful and essential relationship with the private sector. 

In 2011, we were responding to a series of devastating tornados across several states in the country.  I was at FEMA HQs in the National Response Coordination Center and just finished briefing dozens and dozens of examples of private sector success stories in their efforts to help survivors and communities.   I could have briefed more, but time was limited.  Perhaps I was a bit boastful on their behalf.  I was proud of them.  When I completed my briefing, the guy next to me at the conference table handed me a napkin where he drew a picture of the Goodyear blimp, with the caption underneath, “Dare you.”   It was a joke to him.  But I took it as a challenge.  I made a cold call.  The next day the Goodyear blimp was in the air with a digital message driving folks to donate on behalf of survivors.  The opportunities for the public and private sector to work together are limitless.    

I flinch whenever I hear someone in the public sector refer to the private sector as a “stakeholder.”  They are so much more.  Together, we are so much more.  A stakeholder is basically a special interest audience.  Yes, the private sector meets that criteria from the public sector.  But they are also a partner.  Partners are those who have a role in the response to a crisis.  And the private sector meets and exceeds that criteria as well.   Emergency responders are stronger and more effective when they form a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).  I think, for some, the challenge is that they do not fully understand and appreciate the foundation, essential elements, value proposition, benefits, motivators and outcomes of this relationship. 

Foundation 

Effective PPP’s are forged in three inherent principles.   

Needs: Each member of the partnership has resources or support it needs from the partnership. 

Capabilities: Each member of the partnership brings its own unique set of capabilities that can be leveraged. 

Three-way communications: In 2010, while serving as FEMA’s Director of Private Sector Outreach. I referred to this as two-way communications, simply that both parties would engage in active dialogue and listening with each other.  Over time, I realized that the third way each sector communicates, directly with the general public and other stakeholders, is equally, if not more, important.  Whether it’s on the Goodyear blimp, a sports arena jumbotron, a can of Budweiser Water, or even on a banner strewn across a Vermont hay bale (all real examples), the results of these communications have been lifesaving. 

Finally, when one only considers needs, it is condescending.  When one only considers capabilities, it is self-serving.  They are a package deal.  Absent any of these three principles, their collective potential is weakened.   

Essential elements 

During that same position, now more than a decade ago, I created a moniker, PADRES, to help people remember the essential elements of any emergency management public-private partnership.  Each element is just as true today.   

Publicly Accessible: EM PPP’s cannot meet their full potential if the general public, communities, and survivors cannot find them.  They need to promote their links, contact information, and services to benefit those they serve before, during, and after disasters. 

Dedicated: While this function does exist in some areas in a part-time capacity, the results are seldom as successful as those programs who have invested in full-time staff to build and maintain relationships and programs. 

Resourced: Similar to every EM roles, PPP’s must have the funding, facilities, and tools to succeed.   

Engaged: Both the public and the private sector partner must be actively engaged.  They can’t stop at an agreement and a title.  This includes making a substantive positive impact in every disaster response. 

Sustainable: In a world where good ideas come and go, the PPP’s need to stay through the entire disaster cycle and in steady state.  Even in preparedness their collective energy and capacity to help the nation is limitless.   

Value Proposition 

For some decision-makers it comes down to this.  The value of a public-private partnership is defined as the benefit of the partnership minus the cost of the partnership.  Benefits can include physical assets, access to threat information, or relationships within a network.  Costs associated with partnerships can refer to both financial costs as well as costs to resources and personnel. 

But those are just words.  Math is simpler.  If a PPP can produce lifesaving messages on dozens of electronic billboards across multiple states for a two week period, for free (as opposed to the standard cost of roughly $200,000 for a typical non-EM business-to-business arrangement), then that is an impressive benefit.  It also actually happened.  Compare that to a State EM Director hiring someone full-time as a PPP Liaison at an annual salary of $60,000, the proposition is proven.  A good PPP Liaison’s benefit can exceed their entire annual salary cost in just one disaster.    

Benefits 

The benefits are so obvious, they are seen in every response, and they roll off the tongue.  More innovation.  Better depth of experience.  More commodities available to all partners.  Broader reach for each partner.  Force multiplier.  Increased sense of social responsibility.  More community buy-in.  Better supply chain management.  Increased quality of service.  Improved flow of communication.   Beyond all of that EM managers recognize the ultimate benefits are lifesaving and property protection.  The ultimate beneficiary is the survivor.   

Motivators 

Occasionally, EM decision-makers on both sides question how to motivate the other side into forming a PPP together.  There are countless drivers, but these should suffice:  Benevolence and value to communities.  Access to informationRestoration of servicesAccess to resourcesAssistance in emergency planning, response, and recoveryA seat at the table. 

Outcomes 

Outcomes vary from steady state to disasters and even between disasters.  The strongest examples tend to have three things in common.  The results are meaningful, measurable, and visual.  At times, only one or two of these may be achieved.  But when the PPP’s keep all three as their objective, the results build and inspire confidence in both partners as well as the emergency management community as a whole. 

Dan Stoneking is the Owner and Principal of Stoneking Strategic Communications and the Author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet.   

author avatar
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC as well as the Founder and Vice President of the Emergency Management External Affairs Association, and an Adjunct Professor for Public Speaking at West Chester University. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.
Dan Stoneking
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC as well as the Founder and Vice President of the Emergency Management External Affairs Association, and an Adjunct Professor for Public Speaking at West Chester University. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.

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