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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Exclusive: NEMA President Russ Strickland on Steering Maryland and National Emergency Management

Like many in emergency management, Russ Strickland wears many hats.  Two of his most substantive hats at this time are as Secretary of Emergency Management at the Maryland Department of Emergency Management (MDEM) and as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA).

I have had the pleasure to know and work with Russ for more than a dozen years during my time at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  This past week, Russ graciously took some time to share some of his insights from both of these roles.  We broke them down here individually.

MDEM

Q:  In your role as Secretary of Emergency Management, MDEM, what is your greatest concern, the one thing that may keep you up at night?  

RS:  Love this question, and hear it all the time… my response, the one greatest concern that I have, that literally makes me wake up at night, simple… our staff.  They are lean and mean, not nearly compensated for what they do, and frankly can leave at any minute for a higher paying job, probably with “normal” hours.  So how do you keep that motivated… focusing on the workforce is our most important job, so we can do our job, plain and simple.  Without people, we can’t help the survivors.  And of course, you can add flooding, categorized hurricane making landfall, tornados, cyber, and nation state threat, just to mention a few.

Q:  How do you balance the relationships between local, state, and federal officials to ensure survivors needs are met?  

RS:  That’s interesting, “balance the relationship”… we are sort of in the middle.  And we all profess that all disasters start and end locally, so we should all be attentive to that, working to support the local. I think the key is to never lose site of the mission, which is the survivors, mission above compliance, mission first people always.  We end up at times the mediator, thus we place all four of the C’s on the table, coordination, communication, cooperation, and collaboration.  We don’t balance, we do for the survivors.

Q:  How does MDEM motivate and inspire individual and community preparedness to reduce future challenges in disaster response and recovery?  

RS:  Maryland has an Emergency Management System that is a system of systems.  We work with our 26 local appointed emergency management directors (local chosen/hired, Governor appointed), and with all our partners, governmental, private sector, non-profit and faith based.  We communicate on a regular basis; thus, our preparedness is collective of all partners. I think we motivate and inspire through the building of relationships, very seldom are we out of the reach of many we know and have planned, trained, and exercised with, and responded and recovered together with. Two words, relationships and partnerships.

Q:  What advice do you have for young people looking to pursue a career in emergency management?  

RS:  The universe awaits you… follow your heart.  This is an endless business that wants, needs, looks for people who care, really care.  For people who see that preparedness is not just response, but rather working together, collectively, on every aspect of risk / threat / vulnerability to prevent, protect, mitigate, respond and recover.  We can teach you the basics, and any background has a spot. If you want to be a part of an enterprise that builds resilience in our world, join emergency management, where there are no back seats!!

NEMA

Q:  What is the number one, or top few agenda items for NEMA currently?  

RS:  Right now, today, 1) Restoration of the cuts made to the FY24 preparedness grants.  The trickle down effect of those cuts is devasting to local jurisdictions.  2) Passage of the management costs bill that is in Congress, it will allow us to better prepare for recovery and assist our survivors. 3) Focus on recovery, that’s where we can change lives.  4) Work to develop and enhance our workforce, creating a more diverse workforce for the future.  5) Enhance the development of technology for everything from data gathering, analysis, creating confident predictive analysis, strengthening our emergency management watch centers, emergency operations centers, and resource coordination centers.  We need to drive technological development.

Q:  What is one thing that either Congress and/or the federal government can do to better empower and support effective emergency management across the nation?  

RS:  I might have mentioned this in one, but funding to locals and states so effective preparedness programs can be developed, maintained, sustained, thus becoming resilient within the community.  Restoration of EMPG to FY23 levels with an additional $100 million nationwide would be a tremendous help, and passing the management costs bill will help for sustainability.

Q:  As NEMA celebrates its 50th anniversary now in 2024, what are some of the most impactful accomplishments?  

RS:  That’s an interesting question, so I refer to our mission/vision of which there are six.  And as I look through the list of “milestones” or maybe “memory stones” of the past 50 years, I note and “feel” that we address all six of those annually.  If you want the single most “stand outs” – beyond any doubt I’d say “testify,” providing that advocacy in Washington for the profession, and second is “EMAC.” Emergency Management Assistance Compact has added tremendous support to states experiencing disasters.  Looking through 50 years I see those two the most.  Our publications, positions, letters, are all an accomplishment, and continue so.  A letter to Congress with 18 partners is a success.  A white paper in 2023, “Empowering Emergency Management to Meet Current and Emerging Threats, and another paper, “Status of DEI and A Within State Emergency Management,” one more recent is “Preparing for the Next Pandemic Response Through Strengthened Collaboration”…  just to name a few.  And our Biennial Report, just published in 2024 [these papers and reports are available to NEMA members].  The other accomplishment is building and maintaining relationships… EM depends upon EM, we need each other, and NEMA is conduit for us to meet and build those relationships.

Q:  As disasters are occurring with greater frequency, while more non-traditional events are being assigned to emergency managers, and at the same time these state agencies are underfunded and understaffed – what are the keys to overcome these challenges?  

RS:  How do emergency mangers effectively do more with less?  Emergency managers have heart, they don’t give up or give in.  And they prioritize.  And they assist one another. They stay focused on the mission. It comes back to the 4 C’s and our laser focus on alert / warning / communications to the public, evacuation, sheltering, and recovery.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to add or address, from either or both of your leadership roles?  

RS:  Yes, preparedness is not a state / attitude / mentality that we can change overnight.  It will take time and effort, what we do today is for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. To realize what that really means is a tough, uncomprehend able thought. We won’t be here, we’ll never know, but we must continue to push in that direction.  To build a more resilient nation it must start with the education of our children in school at a very early age… look at previous campaigns such as “duck and cover” and “stop, drop and roll”… we need to do the same, and with repetition, such that thinking “preparedness” is muscle memory with action that follows.

To learn more about MDEM and NEMA, visit Maryland Department of Emergency Management and Home – National Emergency Management Association (nemaweb.org)

Dan Stoneking is the Owner and Principal of Stoneking Strategic Communications ,  the Author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet , and the Founder and Vice President of the Emergency Management External Affairs Association .

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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