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Friday, December 9, 2022

PERSPECTIVE: FEMA, Partners Building a Culture of Preparedness, State-by-State

What could be more meaningful than one state sharing both the successes and challenges they have faced in building preparedness across their state with partners from different levels of government? Six states sharing the same thing, exchanging lessons learned and best practices among each other, all with the opportunity to share and learn from one another – that might do it.

Add to that the full support and engagement of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional and national thought leaders, and the 2018 Preparedness Summit held in Philadelphia provided a new opportunity to push emergency preparedness further than it has been as we collectively seek to build a culture of preparedness, ready the nation for catastrophic events, and reduce the complexity of FEMA for our partners and stakeholders.

Emergency preparedness is a complex topic, particularly when you get into the finer details of what that might mean for individuals, families, communities, private-sector organizations, all levels of government, and the nonprofit organizations who all play a role. It is more complex than making a kit, building a plan, and being informed of risk – the spectrum is too broad now. By bringing representatives from each FEMA Region III state (Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), in addition to FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division, Ready program, and the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, together to share best practices, challenges, and successes, we did more than learn – we developed measurable outcomes for our region and preparedness as a whole to move the needle and engage with more people across our region and the nation at large.

From the onset, the Preparedness Summit promised real stories of success: the neighbor in Delaware who in working with the Delaware Citizen Corps met with and taught his neighbors generator and home safety in coordination with their Community Emergency Response Team (CERT); the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) working with counties to plan and develop resources for the homeless in an emergency; and the impact of a full-fledged public relations campaign in coastal Virginia by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to coordinate with counties on sharing new coastal evacuation zone messaging with the millions of people who could be impacted by a storm.

In West Virginia, volunteers have become critical to the state’s capability to respond to disasters and the program continues to expand as they respond to and recover from flooding events. In Washington, D.C., the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) is pushing the envelope with wireless emergency alerts, making sure people know what to do, where to go, and how to get information during planned and unplanned events in the National Capital Region. Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) developed resource guides for survivors and emergency managers that catalogue all of the potential state programs available in and after an emergency. Philadelphia OEM has taken preparedness to each neighborhood at a time, building their relationship with the city and its programs and putting preparedness into their hands.

Each of these by themselves is a tremendous achievement. But when we brought them together, we shared that success and, more importantly, the lessons and knowledge that can help each state implement a similar program.

FEMA’s recent 2018-2022 Strategic Plan highlighted the importance of preparedness – each pillar of the plan contributes to that goal. The Preparedness Summit brought this to the fore, and representatives from FEMA HQ and Region III are now looking to tie this into preparedness in the future. New products, messages, and a renewed focus on a synchronized national-regional-state-local relationship, as well as our private sector and nonprofit, voluntary agency partners, will be the key to building that culture of preparedness across the nation. FEMA Region III Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney and FEMA Associate Administrator for Resilience Carlos Castillo engaged with participants on the challenges they face: making programs work without resources or human capital, building networks from scratch and getting buy-in, managing different expectations for what communities can and cannot do. One of the goals of the Preparedness Summit was to bridge some of that gap and use existing, strong partnerships between FEMA and our states to identify those practices that work, highlight the challenges that cross state and county lines, and share resources and knowledge.

Earlier this month, Maryland launched their Know Your Zone campaign, inspired by Virginia’s success and with the same goal of informing people at risk of hurricanes what zone they were in and what they would need to do in the event they are asked to leave. West Virginia is looking to use mass communication services like Washington, D.C., has been using to increase sharing and communications with their county emergency managers, increasing bandwidth and resources. Philadelphia and Pennsylvania both shared their resources with the group for potential rebranding and use in their states. Delaware brought their resources in as well, and is looking to expand the state’s CERT program with new partnerships in their state. Each attendee brought our challenges and best practices to the table, and we each left with new resources and a renewed commitment to getting preparedness right and meeting people where they are to build resiliency across the country.

FEMA’s Strategic Plan is not just FEMA’s plan – every stakeholder has a role to play in its success, and building a culture of preparedness will take innovative solutions to solve complex challenges that emergency managers across the country face every day. The 2018 Preparedness Summit solved one challenge – we got everyone, from all of our states and FEMA HQ, into one room to talk about preparedness and commit to ensuring we are synchronized going forward. We cannot do it alone, and the summit proved we won’t be. That’s pretty meaningful.


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

William Powell
Will Powell is a FEMA Region III Public Affairs Specialist.

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