Whole Community - A Five-Year Look Back

Over the past five years, the term “Whole Community” has become a common catch phrase. However, the question is, “How well is this concept being implemented?” On 16 November 2015, DomPrep hosted a roundtable discussion with subject matter experts to answer this question and share key takeaways and suggestions for building community resilience.

In November 2015, emergency planners from around the world converged on Las Vegas, Nevada, to attend the annual meeting of the International Association of Emergency Managers. That meeting offered the perfect opportunity to address the topic of whole community efforts over the past five years and address topics such as: leadership vs. governance; priorities and conflict resolution; legacy knowledge; community dynamics, structure, and networks; identification and maximization of community resources; and empowering community members to take action.

DomPrep Advisor Anthony S. Mangeri, MPA, CPM, CEM, who serves as director of strategic relations for fire services and emergency management for the American Public University System, moderated a lively discussion with 29 other professionals from various disciplines in attendance. Richard Serino, distinguished visiting fellow at Harvard School of Public Health’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, began the roundtable discussion by sharing his insights from conversations in 2009 with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate and other colleagues, when he served as the 8th deputy administrator of FEMA. The initial reasons behind FEMA’s “Whole Community” concept were that FEMA needed to:

  • Define what FEMA does and does not do

  • Determine how to deliver an effective message

  • Identify who is missing from the preparedness table

  • Distinguish what was happening at city and state levels that was not happening at the federal level

  • Maintain the whole community focus beyond the concept’s creation 

  • Remember that the government does not make up the response, so the effort must be inclusionary

  • Enhance resilience through core concepts that empower all members of the community

  • Keep the survivor at the forefront

A long history of events has demonstrated the need for a whole community approach to address: (a) human-caused disasters, such as explosions and infrastructure failures; and (b) natural disasters, such as wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Gaps in whole community planning and response have been exposed during regional exercises and catastrophic planning meetings. However, more costly are the gaps exposed during actual incidents – for example, when a downed airplane crashed on the border of two different jurisdictions, as witnessed by Ronald Wakeham, department chair for Security, Emergency Response, and Interdisciplinary Studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Worldwide. Although the idea of “neighbor helping neighbor” was common in local and rural communities, “The concept was news to D.C.,” said Serino. The larger the city, the greater the likelihood is for fragmentation.

Successes & Roadblocks

The success of a whole community approach is dependent on “making it a way of business,” said Bruce Lockwood, preparedness planning assistant for the Town of East Hartford, Connecticut. “The value of the document was that we were doing it, but emergency managers didn’t know how to do everything – for example, recovery requirements. We said, ‘we got this,’ but the reality is we didn’t.” According to other roundtable participants, this requires being progressive, cultivating inclusive networks, working with all stakeholders, developing curriculum, and providing any necessary guidance.

Unfortunately, roadblocks still exist. From agency restrictions to constant personnel turnover, it is difficult to build trust within and between key stakeholders. In addition, “With a 24-hour news cycle, we end up behind an incident before we even get started,” said Donald Gerkin, lieutenant at the Baltimore Police Department, Office of Emergency Management. A lack of effective communication and public trust of officials hinders collaborative efforts. Mark Bejarano, business continuity coordinator/electronic engineer at NPR, acknowledged that, “Through reporting, we are instrumental in influencing, helping, and hurting the message.” Jason Block, regional countermeasures coordinator at South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, emphasized that the delivered message needs to positively motivate the community, but there are “different ways to communicate to different groups and also an emotional intelligence component, which requires balancing the emotions of ourselves and our communities to support the whole community as one.”

Underserved communities are a particular challenge when it comes to trust because it is difficult to get citizens involved.  Government efforts to involve citizens in preparedness and response, including Citizen Corps and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), are less effective in disconnected communities.  Such programs need to be tailored to “meet [community members] where they are, make preparedness part of what they do, and demystify the disaster,” said Vincent Davis, senior preparedness manager at Sony Network Entertainment.  He further warned, “Don’t be afraid to get up in front of the community and be attacked.”

Organizations like The Salvation Army already reach out to and are building relationships with stakeholders in these communities, but it takes time. Lanita Lloyd, the organization’s corporate and interagency liaison for emergency disaster services, shared an example of how one law enforcement agency did not realize that they needed anything that the organization could provide until trust was established.

Churches are also a valuable community resource that should not be underestimated, but Davis pointed out that many churches are not prepared, nor do they have emergency plans and ministries to address these concerns. By knowing their communities, reaching the right religious leaders, and ensuring that the programs are viable and supportable, officials can leverage these underutilized resources.

Leadership – More Than a Title

Leadership – by supporting leaders and being leaders – is key to whole community buy in. As Serino mentioned, “The definition of ‘leader’ is that people follow you; the question is why and how?” Leadership, management, and governance are not synonymous.

“Leadership involves creating long-standing partnerships within the community, but not necessarily with a title or legitimate authority,” said Aaron Poynton, director of Global Safety and Security Business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Many studies have been published over the years that provide valuable lessons about leadership during previous community responses. From these past lessons learned, models of best practices can be created to use for future incidents.

However, Thomas Drabek, emeritus professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver, noted that emergency management research is not new:

“There have been a great many studies of community responses. Some of those studies have emphasized how things got screwed up and perhaps why they got screwed up. A great deal can be learned from looking at those case studies. In the last 10 years, there’s been an emergence of twisting it around. Let’s not go out as researchers and document more cases of how things got screwed up, let’s talk about and write about what could be done to avoid the screw-ups. The whole community approach gives a conceptual framework that begins to move things in that positive direction.”

Gerkin pointed out that the media often determines the success of a whole community campaign – that is, “whether we reach the entire demographic” – however, this does not necessarily mean, “the campaign itself is applicable to the whole community.” Measures of social media site statistics do not provide an adequate measure of preparedness levels either.

Although there is a need to look at multiple aggregate data areas, Lockwood noted that, “There is no spot to find the data in one single source.” The return on investment at the local level cannot be determined. This is especially true, as Lockwood noted, for personal preparedness, which is not adequately addressed in national documents and has no core capability structured around it. “We talk about whole community, but don’t include the whole community,” he said.

Engaging the whole community, measuring preparedness efforts, and funding these efforts are tightly interconnected. When all stakeholders are engaged, the results become more tangible and resources are more fully leveraged. “If you have the right people, you don’t need a lot of money. Leverage the resources you have and the people within your organization,” said Irene Navis, assistant emergency manager/plans coordinator for Clark County Office of Emergency Management in Nevada. With regard to whole community, engagement can be more valuable than money.

Adapting to a Changing World

Whole community is not an effort that should be standardized, but should be a scalable, adaptable framework that can be modified to address the needs of each community. Robert Deleon, emergency manager at Gila River Indian Community, expressed the need for this concept to become doctrine, with a toolbox of best practices. Support is needed at all levels throughout the process in order to engage all stakeholders and obtain buy in.

Each community stakeholder should strive to become an agent for change, by extending invitations to collaborate, finding common interests and goals, and creating robust networks. With significant technological, environmental, and interpersonal changes over the past five years, the fact that this discussion is still on the table is a sign of success. As whole community efforts expand, there is a natural expansion to greater levels of community resilience. However, roadblocks still need to be knocked down.

As Drabek warned, “Don’t leave here thinking that all of us, as comfortable as we are, are not aware of the intense strains that still exist in this country and are surfacing from time to time. Most of the society, in my opinion, is not listening. We have strains that we’ve ignored, then we have a disaster like Katrina, and we wonder, ‘Why did this happen?’” By addressing these strains and bridging gaps in preparedness, communities may still face disasters, but they will be able to shift their focus from questions and blame to recovery and resilience.

This edition of the DomPrep Journal addresses more in-depth the key takeaways from the November roundtable discussion on “Whole Community.” Special thanks to the many people who contributed in various ways to this issue:

Elizabeth B. Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer, International Association of Emergency Managers

Birch Barron, Senior Policy Analyst, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security

Meloyde “Mel” Batten-Mickens, Interim Chief/Director of Public Safety, Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts

Mark Bejarano, Business Continuity Coordinator/Electronic Engineer, NPR

Jason Block, Regional Countermeasures Coordinator, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control

Jessica Wambach Brown, Freelance Writer, the Northwest Healthcare Response Network, and the Department of Defense’s Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance

Megan Chamberlain, Division Disaster Director, American Red Cross

Vincent B. Davis, Senior Preparedness Manager, Sony Network Entertainment

Robert DeLeon, Emergency Manager, Gila River Indian Community

Dolph A. Diemont, Federal Coordinating Officer, FEMA

Thomas E. Drabek, Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Criminology, University of Denver

Daniel Ellis, District Chief, First Deputy Director, Office of Emergency Management and Communications

Chelsea Firth, Whole Community Project Manager, International Association of Emergency Managers

David Geary, Business Manager, Wauconda Fire Protection District

Donald Gerkin Jr., Lieutenant, Baltimore Police Department

Christopher Godley, Director of Emergency Management, Tetra Tech

Yuri Graves, Emergency Management Officer, City of Henderson, Nevada

Richard “Dick” Green, Director, Disaster Response, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Jennifer Grimes, Intern, Harvard University, National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, and Research Coordinator, Harvard Faculty Physicians Fellowship in Disaster Medicine

Jeff Hayes, Director of Homeland Security, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Robert C. Hutchinson, Deputy Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations

Joseph Leonard, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard (ret.), and Senior Consultant, Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health

Lanita Lloyd, Corporate and Inter-Agency Liaison, Emergency Disaster Services, The Salvation Army

Bruce Lockwood, Preparedness Planning Assistant, Town of East Hartford, Connecticut

Helen Lowman, Director, Individual and Community Preparedness Division, FEMA

Anthony S. Mangeri, Director, Strategic Relations for Fire Services and Emergency Management, Faculty, American Public University System

Herbert “Bud” Marshall, Southern Nevada Regional Supervisor, Nevada Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management

Anne McCann, National Emergency Programs Coordinator, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Care Program

James “Jim” Metzger, Deputy Chief of Emergency Management, Amtrak

George Navarini, President, International Association of Emergency Managers–USA Student Region

Irene L. Navis, Assistant Emergency Manager/Plans Coordinator, Clark County Office of Emergency Management

Aaron Sean Poynton, Director of Global Safety and Security Business, Thermo Fisher Scientific

Carlito “Lito” Rayos, Commander, Fighting 137th Military Police Detachment, Nevada Army National Guard

Randy Robertson, City Manager of Cordova, Alaska

Robie Robinson, Executive Director of Emergency Services, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

David (Dave) Sacks, Communications Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Care

Shannan Saunders, Manager of Emergency Management, Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Jannah Scott, Deputy Director, DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Sean Scott, Contractor, Consultant, and Author

Richard Serino, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Harvard School of Public Health, National Preparedness Leadership Initiative

Douglas C. Sharp, Physical Scientist, National Center for Radiation Field Operations, Environmental Protection Agency

Anthony Smith, Operations Manager, Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management Christine G. Springer, Director, Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Ronald Wakeham, Department Chair for Security, Emergency Response, and Interdisciplinary Studies, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Worldwide

Catherine L. Feinman

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 35 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and The Weekly Brief. She works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in International Business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University.



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