A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management

January 13, 2012
David Kaufman, FEMA | Director, Office of Policy and Program Analysis

A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management

At FEMA and in the emergency management community, we often talk about the importance of engaging the whole community in how we prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate against disasters. Experience has taught us that we must do a better job of providing services for the entire community. This means planning for the actual makeup of a community and meeting their needs, regardless of demographics, such as age, economics, or accessibility requirements.

Over the last eighteen months, we engaged many of our partners, including tribal, state, territorial, local, and Federal representatives, the academic sector, the private sector, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, the disability community and the public in a national dialogue on a Whole Community approach to emergency management. The recently released document, A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action synthesizes what we heard through research, conferences, listening sessions, and direct feedback from our partners about how this Whole Community approach is successfully working around the country.

Woven throughout the document and supported by several examples are three key Whole Community principles that emerged through the national dialogue: understand and meet the actual needs of the whole community; engage and empower all parts of the community to define their needs and provide ways to meet them; and strengthen what already works well in communities on a daily basis to improve resiliency and emergency management outcomes. Below are just a couple of the examples collected in this document that show the Whole Community approach being driven from community identified needs.

• Support Alliance for Emergency Readiness Santa Rosa (SAFER) was developed in order to bring together local businesses, faith-based, and nonprofit organizations to provide a more efficient service to disaster survivors after Hurricane Ivan devastated northwest Florida. The relationships SAFER formed while serving community residents provided the foundation for collective action when disaster strikes. During non-emergency periods, SAFER worked closely with other agencies to address the needs of the county’s impoverished and vulnerable populations.

• Days after the devastating series of tornadoes and severe storms that swept through Alabama this past spring, various agencies, organizations, and volunteers came together to form the Alabama Interagency Emergency Response Coordinating Committee. Understanding the community’s capabilities and needs, the committee united to locate recovery resources and communicate information about available resources to individuals. The committee also worked to ensure that individuals with disabilities received important recovery and assistance information. Conference calls were held daily to provide critical information to individuals with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Additionally, volunteers continuously scanned broadcast media, print and electronic newspapers to obtain the most accurate information on resources for disaster recovery. The committee worked together with many organizations including FEMA, American Red Cross, Alabama’s Governor’s Office and numerous others to ensure that all members of the community received information on disaster recovery and assistance resources available.

We hope you find this document useful as we continue working to strengthen the resiliency and security of our nation through a Whole Community approach. And as we continue our national dialogue, we encourage you to exchange ideas, recommendations, and success stories. If you have a good idea or example to support the Whole Community approach, let us know. Leave a comment below or submit your idea to the FEMA Think Tank or email FEMA-Community-Engagement@fema.gov.

You can learn more about the Whole Community approach by visiting http://www.fema.gov/about/wholecommunity.shtm.

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