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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

PERSPECTIVE: Cross-Sector Collaboration Critical in Protecting Urban Environment

As any security director or emergency manager can testify, complex incidents and emergencies require a wide range of resources and skill sets. 2017 proved to be one of the most challenging years in recent memory for safety professionals across North America, with hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, acts of terrorism, mass shootings, and more.

What each and every one of these large-scale incidents had in common was that all demanded a unified response to protect people and infrastructure. These examples required cross-sector collaboration for effective response and recovery – public sector, private sector, and nonprofit sector.

At its core, collaboration is “to work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something.” Ultimately, collaboration may be seen as a force multiplier – magnifying the impact of multiple organizations, units, or assets by combining available resources and skill sets. In an urban area, the immediate impacts and cascading effects of a disaster are magnified by a concentration of people and infrastructure.

Best Practices

A number of lessons learned during the initial start-up phase of a new collaborative effort are particularly relevant. A new organization including elements of critical infrastructure from across multiple sectors can greatly improve its chances at long-term survival and ongoing positive impact by considering a few key foundational actions.

  • Set common objectives: Begin by assessing risk to help establish a group of core, overarching strategic objectives.
  • Establish structure and operating parameters: A basic organizational format for the collaboration must be established, such as a committee, task force, or working group.
  • Identify potential partners: Select potential contributors to reach the strategic objectives, drawing upon all sectors and multiple organizations.
  • Set meeting/planning frequency and format: Participants must collectively decide how often to meet and in what format (i.e. teleconference, Skype, in-person, or some combination).
  • Identify specific goals and projects: Attainable and tactical project goals with realistic timelines should be established to advance the strategic objectives.

Starting a cross-sector collaborative effort is a challenging endeavor. Yet multiple successes over a period of time will be required to keep it going. Highly successful collaborative bodies often share a number of readily identifiable traits or characteristics.

  • Meeting on a regular basis: Staying on schedule by communicating on a regular basis is vital to advance both short-term and long-term project goals (and is made considerably easier by technology).
  • Tangible progress and outcomes: Specific goals and specific results display value to both internal and external members and encourage future participation.
  • All members contribute: Successful collaborative organizations do not include “free rides” – all active stakeholders must bring resources or skills to the group.
  • All members benefit: Stakeholders must also be rewarded for participation via tangible project outcomes and takeaways.
  • New tasks and projects: When one project nears completion, the group should identify another to take its place – no meeting for the sake of meeting.

To further complicate such collaborative efforts, recall that we are attempting to implement and sustain such efforts across the full cycle of emergency management. Truly effective cross-sector cooperatives will be active in prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. This model embraces an “all-hazards” approach, addressing natural, human-caused, and hybrid threats – including acts of terrorism or criminal sabotage.

Several less-tangible elements can contribute to a collaborative infrastructure-protection effort truly gaining traction within its membership and jurisdiction(s).

  • Personalities matter nearly as much as qualifications: Skill sets are vital, but temperament may be just as important.
  • Training and exercises will increase interaction: We tend to play how we practice, so involvement in a rigorous training program is highly beneficial.
  • An association of associations, network of networks: The ideal collaborative member will in turn represent his or her entire network of similar organizations (law enforcement agencies, hotel operators, etc.).
  • Interface with the local emergency operations center: The organization should have direct contact with their EOC, and ideally a seat at the table to rapidly provide and/or disseminate information.

Case Study

Chicago provides an example of collaboration in a major American jurisdiction. As in many large cities, cross-sector collaborative efforts are vital to Chicago’s homeland security and emergency management posture. With a population of just under 3 million, Chicago is the third-largest city in the nation, and the largest in the Midwest/Great Lakes regions and FEMA Region V.

Local oversight and guidance is provided by the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC). In 2010, the OEMC launched a collaborative effort called the Critical Infrastructure Resiliency Task Force (CIRTF). The original group consisted of public-sector agencies, private-sector critical infrastructure owners and operators, and active nonprofits.

In 2012, Chicago hosted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, demanding immense and detailed planning for hazards including civil unrest and terrorism. As a part of the after-action process, the CIRTF expanded and evolved as the Chicago Public-Private Task Force (CPPTF). The organization meets monthly, and operates under two co-chairs, one nominated from the public sector and one from the private sector.

Current CPPTF membership Includes:

  • Fire/EMS
  • Police
  • Public health
  • Emergency management (current co-chair)
  • Hospitals
  • Cultural properties
  • Colleges/universities
  • Commercial buildings
  • Retail buildings
  • Financial firms (current co-chair)
  • Apartment buildings
  • Hotels/tourism

Tangible projects remain crucial. Specific ongoing collaborative efforts include the Business Recovery Access Program (BRAP) credentialing project, Chicago Central Business District evacuation/shelter plans, joint cross-sector drills and exercises, and joint coordination of large-scale special events.

This preparedness process must include both pre-planned and spontaneous events.

OEMC leads multi-departmental and cross-sector planning and intelligence-sharing efforts for large-scale special events such as the Lollapalooza music festival and the Chicago Marathon. The city’s emergency operations center (EOC) coordinates events in real time, and includes a seat designated for a qualified private-sector representative.

Still very much an active group, and a work-in-progress, the CPPTF has already proven highly valuable to members, and to their professional networks throughout Chicago.


Cross-sector collaboration is not a convenience for urban centers – it is a necessity. Collaboration begins with common objectives and an established structure. Traits of successful public-safety efforts include regular communication, tangible progress and outcomes, with input and benefit for all stakeholders.


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.

Thomas Henkey
Thomas Henkey served for six years as Senior Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Chicago, where he was responsible for disaster planning and response, as well as special events, physical-security, infrastructure, transportation, and homeland security and antiterrorism analysis. Mr. Henkey also has nearly 15 years of experience in a range of private-sector and nonprofit safety and security management roles. In 2017, publisher Elsevier released his new text Urban Emergency Management. He is currently the Director of Emergency Management for Titan Security Group, and an adjunct instructor at DePaul University’s School of Public Service. Mr. Henkey is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM), a Certified Institutional Protection Manager, and a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers, the ASIS Cultural Properties Council, the Chicago Public-Private Task Force, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He is the vice-chair of the Chicago Cultural Properties Security Group, as well as vice-chair of the BOMA-Chicago Preparedness Committee. Mr. Henkey holds undergraduate degrees from St. Louis University, and a Master’s Degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University.

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