UASI Conference Themes: Questions for Bill Anderson

The UASI Homeland Security Conference is only two short weeks away. As we rapidly approach the much anticipated event certain themes, specifically the concepts of “whole communities” and resource/information sharing, have emerged. The Intelligent Asset Manager sat down with Bill Anderson, President of the Board of Directors for the National Homeland Security Association, to discuss these emerging themes as well as the importance of common operating software platforms that support emergency managers and first responders. Bill started his career during the Regan-era as a civil defense planner, organizing evacuation plans for large cities in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. In the 1990s, the decade during which climate-change began to dominate the emergency management conversation, Bill became involved in the environmental response to haz-mat spills and incidents. In the post 9/11-era Bill assumed various roles in the emerging homeland security profession dealing with the current suite of issues addressed by emergency managers – the very same issues that will be the focal point of this year’s UASI conference.

Intelligent Asset Manager: What are you looking forward to about the UASI National Homeland Security Conference, will you be presenting? If so on what?

Bill Anderson: I’ll be leading some town hall meetings, with DHS, FEMA and other federal departments (such as the Departments of Justice and Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office) to talk about FEMA grants. What we’ve done in setting up these town halls is to ask all the programs in DHS and the entire federal family to talk about the grant resources and partnerships that are available. This is a new grant-world. In an era of declining resources we are attempting to identify where new opportunities and non-traditional resource exist in the federal arena.

IAM: In your own words would you please describe the concept of “whole communities?”

BA: In the past, emergency management as a profession has a very narrow view when it came to collaboration. We’re individuals with highly specialized skill sets and the general consensus was that we functioned to serve the public, not with the public. The whole communities concept really means, when a disaster incident occurs the entire community, all the private citizens, businesses and institutions – as well as the public sector, are engaged in response efforts. This concept realizes that when a disaster strikes it takes a society functioning together to recover effectively. Emergency managers most include the private sector in the planning process and emphasize resilient self-preparedness. It is a daunting prospect in a lot of ways because it means a change in the way emergency managers operate. The focus has to be has to be placed as much on building partnerships as it is on grant writing. In other words the scope of stakeholders involved is broadening and has created a new paradigm in the emergency management field.

IAM: Why is the concept of whole communities such an important strategy in today’s emergency management community and what are steps emergency managers and first responders can take to bolster preparedness based on this concept?

BA: It involves skill sets that are used to build relationships and partnerships at the local level. Developing community partnerships isn’t just done within local governments. Non-profits and the non-governmental sector play a huge role in developing preparedness and resilience. It’s time to take our proven best practices for planning and exercising and apply them outside of local government through collaboration with partners from the private sector. Citizen engagement and empowerment is key. We need people to understand that when disaster strikes the government might not be there immediately, and they could potentially be without resources for hours and even days. The key is to develop resilience on the citizen level, and that is what whole communities is about to the core: preparing citizens not just in the sense of having physical resources, but increasing their psychological resilience to disasters as well.

IAM: How is the whole communities concept going to be addressed at this year’s UASI conference? Will you be presenting on the topic, if so, what are some of you talking points?

BA: The UASI Conference has a model in which we invite practitioners from around the country to submit a presentation and lecture on their innovative and proven best practices. In every 90-minute session we designate 30 minutes for a collaborative question-and-answer session between the audience and panelists. We are trying to give the conference attendees the best examples of effective, efficient and proven strategies. We’re saving people a lot of time in experimentation by putting them in direct contact with emergency managers who have implemented effective programs.

IAM: A significant aspect to the whole communities concept is engaging in an authentic dialogue. That ties in nicely to the concept of resource and information sharing between emergency management organizations and first responders. Would you discuss the importance of maintaining open lines of communications between jurisdictions and how emergency managers can supplement each other’s resources?

BA: When we talk about information and resource sharing, especially in the whole communities regard, we’re again talking about community engagement and partnership building. The key to strengthening community resilience is through collaboration. Watch what the cities of Los Angeles and Minneapolis are doing, they’ve set the precedent for a truly collaborative whole community – that’s about all I’ll tell for now, you’ll learn the rest at the conference!

IAM: What are some strategies emergency and property managers can employ for coordinating resources? What is the value in deploying a software platform that can help integrate this process? Is such software a growing trend in the industry?

BA: Common operating platforms are hugely valuable when managing an incident. We’re seeing a number of really good models out there. They key is for these software platforms to be flexible, scalable and most importantly, easy to use. Emergency managers and incident coordinators can’t afford to spend 30 minutes getting a system up when a disaster strikes. So because of that we’re seeing an interest in these simple and efficient platforms. These software solutions also have to be shareable between jurisdictions with a low cost of maintenance.

 

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