Building a Usable Whole Community Toolbox

Having a toolbox with the right tools and instructions on how to use these tools would better equip new emergency managers who may be faced with high levels of operation in short time periods. Community stakeholders and local emergency managers should work together to stock the emergency management toolbox for the next generation.

Emergency management professionals understand the importance of collaborating with their partners and community stakeholders to ensure their respective communities are prepared. This is achieved by ensuring that the whole community is working together.

This is nothing new. In fact, emergency managers have been the change agents in many ways on how public safety is approached in many communities. Because the efforts are focused not in silos, but on the whole community, an emergency manager must be skilled in many areas such as: planning for emergencies; providing real-time emergency information and notification; or restoring a community’s vital services as quickly as possible. This can only be achieved when everyone works together with a common vision and mission. The desired outcome is that community members are confident that they are prepared and led by professionals.

Having the Right Tools Some emergency managers get to this point through formal education, mentoring, or coaching to become the consummate professional. However, there are situations where emergency managers are thrust into their positions with little or no training, due to a variety of factors.

Currently, the oldest baby boomers are in their 60s and retiring, which means that a decreasing labor workforce with limited experience is now a factor. In addition, the recent economic downturn that resulted in “right sizing” organizations may never recover to previous levels. All of these factors have led to the loss of significant institutional knowledge, where even current emergency management programs are affected. For example, becoming a qualified emergency manager can be challenging with no or limited experience. Many smaller businesses, local governments, or tribal governments are facing this realistic problem on a daily basis.

Emergency management groups should not be comfortable with this fact. Some have been fortunate to learn and grow in their positions slowly over time, but this is not the case for everyone. The answer could be an “emergency management toolbox” that considers the prospect that someone may be thrust into a position and expected to operate at a high level in a very short time. This toolbox would be filled with the tools and information that will undoubtedly save lives, mitigate issues in the short term and long term, and answer questions such as:

  • How can someone with limited experience write an emergency plan or lead a community through a disaster?

  • How are the dots connected from the federal government to the local government?

  • How can the large amount of work ahead of a new emergency manager be prioritized?

  • What are the minimum requirements for an emergency management program?  

Knowing How to Use the Tools A toolbox for work is often described as a set of tools to get the job done. Unfortunately, without knowing how to use the tools or what they are for, they are useless. The concept of a “toolbox” should shift to something in which to place key tools, along with their manuals. This way everyone knows not only what is in the toolbox, but also what to do with these tools. Of course, a toolbox is not a single purchase, but something that must be built based on foundational elements. The key isentifying the elements and associated tools required.

Ensuring good emergency management requiresentifying the critical components and critical areas that need to be addressed. For example, it is important to realize that, in the event of a significant incident, resources may not be immediately available. Therefore, public education and outreach plans must be a part of preparedness. By getting the general population educated, critical resources can be used for the most critical needs.  Communities must also do their due diligence in preparing for large-scale events. Ensuring that key emergency operations plans are developed and well trained would best accomplish this task.

For a medical professional, the toolbox would include a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.  These tools alone would provide an understanding of the patient’s vital signs and overall condition. Emergency management needs similar tools to determine the “vital signs” of communities and measure success rates and accurate direction of emergency plans and actions. This can be accomplished with an emergency management toolbox that positions a new emergency manager for success. A toolbox that provides the basic tools needed to save lives and mitigate disaster.

Examples of toolkit requirements include:

  • Clear straightforward information and overview of how emergency management functions are integrated with local, county, state, and federal partners – for example, National Planning Frameworks and the Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101;

  • Listing of requisite emergency plans, example plans, and best practices on creating emergency plans – for example, emergency operations plans, threat hazardentification risk assessment and hazard mitigation plan, and continuity of operations plan;

  • Overview on the development of a multiyear training and exercise plan and Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation program requirements – for example, a listing of the courses required by staff;

  • Resources for various Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency grants – including State Administrative Agencies (SAAs), Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), port security agencies, and transit security agencies – with the goal of supporting applications for grants, understanding of the administration and management of grant programs, and determination of accessible products and services; and

  • Development and implementation of volunteer programs through nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups in the community to develop active disaster programs for volunteers.

This may seem straightforward and not a big deal but, for some new emergency managers, this list of examples alone can be intimidating. A good toolkit that is filled with best practices and designed to indoctrinate a new emergency manager is a great start. The information already exists and only needs to be integrated into a simple and straightforward “emergency managers toolbox,” which will continually be modified with additional – and more advanced – tools.

The challenge is for community stakeholders to work with their local emergency managers to develop a toolbox that can be used by future emergency managers, who may be thrust into these positions. After all, these stakeholders may one day need those future emergency managers during a crisis.

Robert deLeon

Robert DeLeon has 36 years in public safety experience, which includes being a chief officer in the fire service, and emergency manager for the cities of Mesa and Scottsdale, Arizona. He currently holds the position of emergency manager for the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. He has collaborated with others in the creation of life-safety codes and public safety education. He has also collaborated in the creation of an incident management team and planning efforts for large events, which includes being involved in the planning of signature events such as the Super Bowl, professional golf tournaments, and others.



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