Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Public Private Partnerships in Disasters

Haiti is just one more mega-disaster that demonstrates the need for public/private partnerships to respond effectively. One study coming out of Katrina identified two organizations that performed exceptionally well in responding to the Katrina disaster: the US Coast Guard and Wal-Mart.

Washington State Emergency Management Department has gained well-deserved recognition for its leadership in working closely with major employers. National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) identified WA EMD's Business Portal as a Best Practice in this article. And FEMA has posted this article about WA EMDs business communication activity relating to major flooding that shut down Interstate 5 as well as potential massive flooding related to Howard Hanson dam.

(Full disclosure--WA EMD uses PIER, the system my company provides, which is why we are quite familiar with the outstanding work of Rob Harper, Mark Clemens and Wendy Freitag at WA EMD.)

Communication is clearly one critical element of building strong public-private partnerships. One of the major problems of managing large events is the ad hoc nature of response team. So you pull together Unified Command with multiple different players representing multiple different agencies. The issue of calling on the resources of private companies to help with logistics, infrastructure, communications, public warnings, etc. does not fall easily into one place. Maybe most of it goes to the Liaison Officer. But that role is typically not prepared with the kind of sophisticated online communication technology that has made WA EMD effective. You simply can't be effective in establishing that kind of effective partnership when things are really hitting the fan. Just like everything else in emergency management, the response will only work well and look effortless if a lot of planning and preparation happened first.

So now is the time for response leaders to get together with major employers and map out a plan as to how their valuable assets will be accessed in an emergency. And how information about the event and the response will flow quickly and easily to the emergency management team in these companies. Only by working this out in advance, as Wendy Freitag did at WA EMD, will it work as smoothly and effectively when the floods hit.

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