Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action

A Whole Community Approach to
Emergency Management: Principles,
Themes, and Pathways for Action
FDOC 104-008-1 / December 2011

A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Table of Contents
Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1
National Dialogue on a Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management………2
Whole Community Defined………………………………………………………………………………………..3
Whole Community Principles and Strategic Themes…………………………………………………..4
Strategic Themes in Practice …………………………………………………………………………… 6
Understand Community Complexity ………………………………………………………………………….6
Recognize Community Capabilities and Needs……………………………………………………………8
Foster Relationships with Community Leaders…………………………………………………………10
Build and Maintain Partnerships……………………………………………………………………………..11
Empower Local Action…………………………………………………………………………………………….14
Leverage and Strengthen Social Infrastructure, Networks, and Assets………………………16
Pathways for Action………………………………………………………………………………………. 19
Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 23
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
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A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
The effects of natural and manmade disasters have become more frequent, far-reaching, and
widespread. As a result, preserving the safety, security, and prosperity of all parts of our society
is becoming more challenging. Our Nation’s traditional approach to managing the risks
associated with these disasters relies heavily on the government. However, today’s changing
reality is affecting all levels of government in their efforts to improve our Nation’s resilience
while grappling with the limitations of their capabilities.1 Even in small- and medium-sized
disasters, which the government is generally effective at managing, significant access and service
gaps still exist. In large-scale disasters or catastrophes, government resources and capabilities
can be overwhelmed.
The scale and severity of disasters are
growing and will likely pose systemic
threats.2 Accelerating changes in
demographic trends and technology are
making the effects of disasters more
complex to manage. One future trend
affecting emergency needs is continued
population shifts into vulnerable areas
(e.g., hurricane-prone coastlines). The
economic development that accompanies
these shifts also intensifies the pressure
on coastal floodplains, barrier islands,
and the ecosystems that support food
production, the tourism industry, and
suburban housing growth. Other
demographic changes will affect disaster
management activities, such as a growing population of people with disabilities living in
communities instead of institutions, as well as people living with chronic conditions (e.g.,
obesity and asthma). Also, communities are facing a growing senior population due to the Baby
Boom generation entering this demographic group. Consequently, changes in transportation
systems and even housing styles may follow to accommodate the lifestyles of these residents. If
immigration trends continue as predicted, cities and suburbs will be more diverse ethnically and
linguistically. Employment trends, when combined with new technologies, will shift the ways in
which local residents plan their home-to-work commuting patterns as well as their leisure time.
All of these trends will affect the ways in which residents organize and identify with communitybased associations and will influence how they prepare for and respond to emergencies.3
1 Resilience refers to the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption
due to emergencies. White House, “Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8),” March 30, 2011. 2 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and
Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation,” November 2011. 3 Strategic Foresight Initiative, “U.S. Demographic Shifts: Long-term Trends and Drivers and Their Implications for
Emergency Management,” May 2011.
Strategic Foresight Initiative, “Government Budgets: Long-term Trends and Drivers and Their Implications for
Emergency Management,” May 2011.
Figure 1: Joplin, Missouri, May 24, 2011—Homes were leveled with
the force of 200 mph winds as an F5 tornado struck the city on May 22,
2011. This scene is representative of the growing impacts of disasters.
Jace Anderson/FEMA
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
This document presents a foundation for increasing individual preparedness and engaging with
members of the community as vital partners in enhancing the resiliency and security of our
Nation through a Whole Community approach. It is intended to promote greater understanding of
the approach and to provide a strategic framework to guide all members of the emergency
management community as they determine how to integrate Whole Community concepts into
their daily practices. This document is not intended to be all-encompassing or focused on any
specific phase of emergency management or level of government, nor does it offer specific,
prescriptive actions that require communities or emergency managers to adopt certain protocols.
Rather, it provides an overview of core principles, key themes, and pathways for action that have
been synthesized from a year-long national dialogue around practices already used in the field.
While this is not a guide or a “how-to” document, it provides a starting point for those learning
about the approach or looking for ways to expand existing practices and to begin more
operational-based discussions on further implementation of Whole Community principles.
National Dialogue on a Whole Community Approach to Emergency
In a congressional testimony, the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA), Craig Fugate, described today’s reality as follows: “Government can and will continue
to serve disaster survivors. However, we fully recognize that a government-centric approach to
disaster management will not be enough to meet the challenges posed by a catastrophic incident.
That is why we must fully engage our entire societal capacity….”4 To that end, FEMA initiated a
national dialogue on a Whole Community approach to emergency management, an approach that
many communities have used for years with great success, and one which has been gathering
strength in jurisdictions across the Nation.
The national dialogue was designed to foster collective learning from communities’ experiences
across the country. It occurred in various settings, such as organized conference sessions,
research seminars, professional association meetings, practitioner gatherings, and official
government meetings. The various settings created opportunities to listen to those who work in
local neighborhoods, have survived disasters, and are actively engaged in community
development. Participants in this dialogue included a broad range of emergency management
partners, including representatives from the private and nonprofit sectors, academia, local
residents, and government leaders. The conversations with the various stakeholders focused on
how communities are motivated and engaged, how they understand risk, and what their
experiences are with resilience following a disaster. In addition, international and historical
resiliency efforts, such as FEMA’s Project Impact, were explored to gather lessons learned and
best practices.5
FEMA also brought together diverse members from across the country to comprise a core
working group. The working group reviewed and validated emerging Whole Community
principles and themes, gathered examples of the Whole Community approach from the field, and
4 Administrator Craig Fugate, Federal Emergency Management Agency, before the United States House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and
Emergency Management at the Rayburn House Office Building, March 30, 2011. 5 FEMA introduced Project Impact in 1997as a national initiative designed to challenge the country to undertake
actions that protect families, businesses, and communities by reducing the effects of natural disasters. The efforts
focused on creating active public-private partnerships to build disaster-resistant communities.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
identified people, organizations, and communities with promising local experiences. They
participated in various meetings and conferences and, in some cases, provided the examples
included in this document.
In addition to the national dialogue, this document was created concurrently with a larger effort
to build an integrated, layered, all-of-Nation approach to preparedness, as called for by
Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-8): National Preparedness.6 As such, the Whole Community
approach is being incorporated into all PPD-8 deliverables, including the National Preparedness
Goal, National Preparedness System description, National Planning Frameworks, and the
campaign to build and sustain preparedness nationwide, as well as leverage the approach in their
development.7 In support of these efforts, FEMA seeks to spark exploration into community
engagement strategies to promote further discussion on approaches that position local residents
for leadership roles in planning, organizing, and sharing accountability for the success of local
disaster management efforts, and which enhance our Nation’s security and resilience.
Whole Community Defined
As a concept, Whole Community is a means by which residents, emergency management
practitioners, organizational and community leaders, and government officials can collectively
understand and assess the needs of their respective communities and determine the best ways to
organize and strengthen their assets, capacities, and interests. By doing so, a more effective path
to societal security and resilience is built. In a sense, Whole Community is a philosophical
approach on how to think about conducting emergency management.
There are many different kinds of communities,
including communities of place, interest, belief, and
circumstance, which can exist both geographically
and virtually (e.g., online forums). A Whole
Community approach attempts to engage the full
capacity of the private and nonprofit sectors,
including businesses, faith-based and disability
organizations, and the general public, in conjunction
with the participation of local, tribal, state, territorial,
and Federal governmental partners. This engagement
means different things to different groups. In an allhazards environment, individuals and institutions will
make different decisions on how to prepare for and
respond to threats and hazards; therefore, a
community’s level of preparedness will vary. The
challenge for those engaged in emergency
management is to understand how to work with the
diversity of groups and organizations and the policies
and practices that emerge from them in an effort to
improve the ability of local residents to prevent,
protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from any type of threat or hazard effectively.
6 President Barack Obama, “Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8): National Preparedness,” March 30, 2011. 7 FEMA, “National Preparedness Goal,” September 2011. (Formally released on October 7, 2011.)
Whole Community is a philosophical
approach in how to conduct the
business of emergency management.
Benefits include:
ƒ Shared understanding of community
needs and capabilities
ƒ Greater empowerment and
integration of resources from across
the community
ƒ Stronger social infrastructure
ƒ Establishment of relationships that
facilitate more effective prevention,
protection, mitigation, response, and
recovery activities
ƒ Increased individual and collective
ƒ Greater resiliency at both the
community and national levels
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
The benefits of Whole Community
include a more informed, shared
understanding of community risks,
needs, and capabilities; an increase in
resources through the empowerment of
community members; and, in the end,
more resilient communities. A more
sophisticated understanding of a
community’s needs and capabilities also
leads to a more efficient use of existing
resources regardless of the size of the
incident or community constraints. In
times of resource and economic
constraints, the pooling of efforts and
resources across the whole community is
a way to compensate for budgetary
pressures, not only for government
agencies but also for many private and
nonprofit sector organizations. The task of cultivating and sustaining relationships to incorporate
the whole community can be challenging; however, the investment yields many dividends. The
process is as useful as the product. In building relationships and learning more about the
complexity of a community, interdependencies that may be sources of hidden vulnerabilities are
revealed. Steps taken to incorporate Whole Community concepts before an incident occurs will
lighten the load during response and recovery efforts through the identification of partners with
existing processes and resources who are available to be part of the emergency management
team. The Whole Community approach produces more effective outcomes for all types and sizes
of threats and hazards, thereby improving security and resiliency nationwide.
Whole Community Principles and Strategic Themes
Numerous factors contribute to the resilience of communities and effective emergency
management outcomes. However, three principles that represent the foundation for establishing a
Whole Community approach to emergency management emerged during the national dialogue.
Whole Community Principles:
ƒ Understand and meet the actual needs of the whole community. Community engagement
can lead to a deeper understanding of the unique and diverse needs of a population, including
its demographics, values, norms, community structures, networks, and relationships. The
more we know about our communities, the better we can understand their real-life safety and
sustaining needs and their motivations to participate in emergency management-related
activities prior to an event.
ƒ Engage and empower all parts of the community. Engaging the whole community and
empowering local action will better position stakeholders to plan for and meet the actual
needs of a community and strengthen the local capacity to deal with the consequences of all
threats and hazards. This requires all members of the community to be part of the emergency
management team, which should include diverse community members, social and
community service groups and institutions, faith-based and disability groups, academia,
Figure 2: Madison, Tennessee, May 29, 2010—Gary Lima, Tennessee
Emergency Management Agency Community Relations Coordinator,
leads Boy Scout troop #460 in a Memorial Day project to place flags on
graves. The picture reflects emergency managers becoming involved in
the day-to-day activities of community groups. David Fine/FEMA
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
professional associations, and the private and nonprofit sectors, while including government
agencies who may not traditionally have been directly involved in emergency management.
When the community is engaged in an authentic dialogue, it becomes empowered to identify
its needs and the existing resources that may be used to address them.
ƒ Strengthen what works well in communities on a daily basis. A Whole Community
approach to building community resilience requires finding ways to support and strengthen
the institutions, assets, and networks that already work well in communities and are working
to address issues that are important to community members on a daily basis. Existing
structures and relationships that are present in the daily lives of individuals, families,
businesses, and organizations before an incident occurs can be leveraged and empowered to
act effectively during and after a disaster strikes.
In addition to the three Whole Community principles, six strategic themes were identified
through research, discussions, and examples provided by emergency management practitioners.
These themes speak to the ways the Whole Community approach can be effectively employed in
emergency management and, as such, represent pathways for action to implement the principles.
Whole Community Strategic Themes:
ƒ Understand community complexity.
ƒ Recognize community capabilities and needs.
ƒ Foster relationships with community leaders.
ƒ Build and maintain partnerships.
ƒ Empower local action.
ƒ Leverage and strengthen social infrastructure, networks, and assets.
In the Strategic Themes in Practice section of this document, the Whole Community concept is
explored through real-world examples that highlight the key principles and themes of the Whole
Community approach. In order to provide an illustration of how the principles and themes can be
applied, examples for each of the five mission areas—Prevention, Protection, Mitigation,
Response, and Recovery (as outlined in the National Preparedness Goal)—are included. In
addition, examples from other community development and public safety efforts have been
included—most notably, community policing. While the focus and outcomes may differ, such
efforts have proven effective in advancing public health and safety and offer a model for
emergency management personnel to consider. The Pathways for Action section provides a list
of reflective questions and ideas for emergency management practitioners to refer to when they
are beginning to think about how to incorporate the Whole Community concepts into their
security and resilience efforts.
As a field of practice, our collective understanding of how to effectively apply Whole
Community as a concept to the daily business of emergency management will continue to
evolve. It is hoped that this document will assist emergency managers, as members of their
communities, in that evolution—prompting new actions and soliciting new ideas and strategies.
FEMA is committed to continued engagement in ongoing discussions with its partners in the
public, private, and nonprofit sectors to further develop and refine strategies to deliver more
effective emergency management outcomes and enhance the security and resilience of our
communities and our Nation.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Strategic Themes in Practice
The strategic themes presented in this section speak to the various ways the Whole Community
approach can be effectively employed in emergency management and, as such, represent
pathways for action by members of the emergency management community at all levels. These
themes and pathways are explored through the presentation of real-world examples that highlight
how Whole Community concepts are being applied in communities across the country.
Understand Community Complexity
Communities are unique, multidimensional, and complex. They are
affected by many factors and
interdependencies, including
demographics, geography, access to
resources, experience with government,
crime, political activity, economic
prosperity, and forms of social capital
such as social networks, social cohesion
between different groups, and
institutions. Developing a better
understanding of a community involves
looking at its members to learn how
social activity is organized on a normal
basis (e.g., social patterns, community
leaders, points of collective organization
and action, and decision-making
processes), which will reveal potential
sources (e.g., individuals and
organizations) of new collective action. A realistic understanding of the complexity of a
community’s daily life will help emergency managers determine how they can best collaborate
with and support the community to meet its true needs.
Understanding the complexities of local communities helps with tailoring engagement strategies
and shaping programs to meet various needs. Numerous examples that involve local initiatives to
identify, map, and communicate with a wide range of local groups exist nationwide. For
example, the Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) has been actively
identifying ways to better communicate and plan with linguistically isolated populations (LIP)
and limited-English proficient (LEP) populations within the city. HDHHS is working with about
20 community organizations that serve and represent LIP/LEP communities, along with
Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, four refugee resettlement agencies that work with these
populations, and several apartment complexes in southwest Houston (where many refugee and
some immigrant populations live), in an effort to develop trusted relationships and ways to
provide current preparedness, response, and recovery information. Because of this outreach,
significant unmet needs (e.g., transportation) for these specific populations have been identified.
The City of Houston is using this information to fulfill unmet needs for these populations and
continues to work with these community organizations and private sector partners to improve
outreach materials, methods of communication, and preparedness programs.
Figure 3: New Orleans, Louisiana, September 5, 2008—A bilingual
volunteer helps non-English speaking evacuees, guiding them in the
right direction to board the correct buses to their parishes.
Understanding the complexity of communities (e.g., non-English
speakers) helps emergency management practitioners to meet the
residents’ needs. Jacinta Quesada/FEMA
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
The full diversity of communities is better understood
when communication and engagement efforts move
beyond easy, typical approaches to looking at the real
needs and issues a community faces. In one California
city, the police noticed a high level of violent crime in
a particular neighborhood. In a typical policing model,
the police would have assigned additional officers to
patrol the neighborhood, approached the community
to provide them with information about the criminal
activity, and informed residents of what they might do
to avoid being affected by the crime. However, as part
of an operational shift, the police took a proactive
approach by first engaging with the community to
obtain information about the nature and frequency of the local crimes. At the initial meeting, the
police learned from the local residents that a number of problems contributed to the unsafe
conditions of the neighborhood—problems that police response alone could not correct. Cars
speeding through the neighborhood; the presence of abandoned cars, couches, and other litter in
front yards; rundown conditions of apartment buildings; few safe walkways for neighborhood
children; and a lack of lighting on street corners all contributed to the crime situation.
At the next community meeting, the police brought together a number of government
departments, including fire, public works, and the housing authority, to address the residents’
concerns. Government representatives agreed to provide dumpsters for the litter and the residents
agreed to fill them. The community agreed to tow the abandoned cars and identified street
repaving as a high priority. Together, the community and city officials approached the apartment
owners, who agreed to paint the exteriors of the buildings. The public works department fixed
the street lighting. Building upon the cooperation and the demonstrated responsiveness to the
community’s needs, several residents provided the police with information that led to the arrests
of several individuals involved in the area’s drug-related activities. In a relatively short period of
time, police worked with local residents to transform what had been perceived to be a narrow
crime issue into a broad-based community revitalization effort. Crime decreased, residents
became involved, and the neighborhood was significantly improved. Emergency management
practitioners can take a similar approach by understanding the underlying and core community
concerns in order to build relationships and identify opportunities to work together to develop
solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
Numerous approaches exist to identify and better understand the complexities of local
populations, how they interact, what resources are available, and the gaps between needs and
solutions. For example, community mapping is a way to identify community capabilities and
needs by visually illustrating data to reveal patterns. Examples of patterns may take into account
the location of critical infrastructure, demographics, reliance on public transportation, available
assets and resources (e.g., warehouses that can be used as distribution centers), and businesses
that can continue to supply food or water during and after emergencies. Understanding
communities is a dynamic process as patterns may change. Emergency managers and local
groups often use community mapping to gather empirical data on local patterns. Revealing
patterns can help emergency managers to better engage communities and understand and meet
the needs of individuals by illustrating the dynamics of populations, how they interact, and
available resources.
Understand Community “DNA”
Learn how communities’ social activity
is organized and how needs are met
under normal conditions.
A better understanding of how
segments of the community resolve
issues and make decisions—both with
and without government as a player—
helps uncover ways to better meet the
actual needs of the whole community in
times of crisis.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
One community mapping program that the Washington State Emergency Management Division
developed (“Map Your Neighborhood”) won FEMA’s 2011 award for addressing
community preparedness. This program helps citizens identify the most important steps they
need to take to secure their homes and neighborhoods following a disaster. In addition, it helps to
identify the special skills and equipment that neighbors possess, the locations of natural gas and
propane tanks, and a comprehensive contact list of neighbors who may need assistance, such as
older residents, children, and people with disabilities and other access and functional needs.
Recognize Community Capabilities and Needs
Appreciating the actual capabilities and
needs of a community is essential to
supporting and enabling local actions.
For example, in response to past
disasters, meals ready-to-eat (MREs)
have been used to feed survivors because
these resources were readily available.
However, for a large portion of the
population, such as children, seniors, or
individuals with dietary or health
considerations, MREs are not a suitable
food source for various reasons, as MREs
tend to contain high levels of fat and
sodium and low levels of fiber.
A community’s needs should be defined
on the basis of what the community
requires without being limited to what
traditional emergency management capabilities can address. By engaging in open discussions,
emergency management practitioners can begin to identify the actual needs of the community
and the collective capabilities (private, public, and civic) that exist to address them, as the role of
government and private and nonprofit sector organizations may vary for each community. The
community should also be encouraged to define what it believes its needs and capabilities are in
order to fully participate in planning and actions.
Based on a shared understanding of actual needs, the
community can then collectively plan to find ways to
address those needs. Following the devastating
tornadoes in Alabama during the spring of 2011,
various agencies, organizations, and volunteers
united to locate recovery resources in the community
and communicate information about those resources
to the public. Two days after the tornadoes, they
formed the Alabama Interagency Emergency
Response Coordinating Committee. The committee
was led by representatives from Independent Living Resources of Greater Birmingham, United
Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham, and the Alabama Governor’s Office on Disability. The
committee also included representatives from FEMA and the American Red Cross.
Figure 4: Fargo, North Dakota, March 23, 2009—Thousands of
students and community members work together with the National
Guard at the Fargo Dome to make sand bags during a 24-hour
operation. Community members have the capabilities to help meet
their own emergency needs. Michael Reiger/FEMA
Recognize Community Capabilities
and Broaden the Team
Recognize communities’ private and
civic capabilities, identify how they can
contribute to improve pre- and postevent outcomes, and actively engage
them in all aspects of the emergency
management process.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
A daily conference call was attended by as many as 60 individuals representing agencies that
serve individuals with disabilities and chronic illnesses. In addition, volunteers with disabilities
continuously scanned broadcast media and printed and electronic newspapers and called agency
contacts to obtain the latest information on resources for disaster recovery. For instance,
volunteers placed calls to local hospitals and clinics, faith-based organizations, and organizations
representing clinical professionals to request help with crisis counseling. Recovery resource
information was compiled in an extensive database with entries grouped within the following
categories: Red Cross, FEMA, emergency shelters/housing assistance, medication assistance,
health care services, mental health support, food assistance, eyewear, communications,
computers/Internet, hiring contractors for home repairs, insurance claims, legal aid, vital
documents, older adult care, childcare, blood donations, animal shelter and services, and
emergency preparation. The Disaster Recovery Resource Database was updated twice daily and
information was disseminated in multiple formats (e.g., email attachment, website, hard copy,
and telephone).
The committee used local media outlets, state agencies (e.g., health, education, rehabilitation,
aging, and mental health), city and county governments, the United Way’s 2-1-1 Information &
Referral Search website, and nonprofit organizations to disseminate the database to community
residents. Independent Living Resources of Greater Birmingham hosted a website with recovery
resources presented by category. This collaboration greatly enhanced the delivery of services to
individuals with disabilities, as well as older residents.
As a protection effort, some communities have
developed self-assessment tools to evaluate how
prepared they are for all threats and hazards. One
example is a Community Resilience Index (CRI),
which was developed by the Gulf of Mexico
Alliance’s Coastal Community Resilience Priority
Issue Team, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant
Consortium, and the Louisiana Sea Grant College
Program in collaboration with 18 communities along the Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida. It is
a self-assessment tool and provides communities with a method of determining if an acceptable
level of functionality may be maintained after a disaster. The self-assessment tool can be used to
evaluate the following areas to provide a preliminary assessment of a community’s disaster
resilience: critical infrastructure and facilities, transportation issues, community plans and
agreements, mitigation measures, business plans, and social systems. Gaps are identified through
this analysis. The CRI helps to identify weaknesses that a community may want to address prior
to the next hazard event and stimulates discussion among emergency responders within a
community, thus increasing its resilience to disasters. As a result of the initial implementation of
the Community Resilience Index (CRI), additional grant funding is being provided by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Storms Program to continue
to build capacity in the region so facilitators can assist communities in taking the next steps.
Under this new grant, facilitators will continue their work by helping communities identify issues
and needs in connection with becoming more resilient, create a shared community understanding
of the potential extent of future losses, apply strategies to serve near- and long-term mitigation
needs, and take the first steps toward adapting to a rise in sea level. This support will be in the
form of follow-up training and/or technical assistance.
Plan for the Real
Plan for what communities will really
need should a severe event occur and
not just for the existing resources on
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Foster Relationships with Community Leaders
Within every community, there are many different formal and informal leaders, such as
community organizers, local council members and other government leaders, nonprofit or
business leaders, volunteer or faith leaders, and long-term residents, all of whom have valuable
knowledge and can provide a comprehensive understanding of the communities in which they
live. These leaders can help identify activities in which the community is already interested and
involved as people might be more receptive to preparedness campaigns and more likely to
understand the relevancy of emergency management to their lives.
The Colorado Emergency Preparedness Partnership (CEPP) exemplifies the benefits of fostering
relationships with community leaders. According to its website, “CEPP is a collaborative
enterprise created by the Denver Police Foundation, Business Executives for National Security,
and the Philanthropy Roundtable. It is a broad coalition to implement a voluntary, all-hazards
partnership between business and government and, to date, is the product of many Colorado
partners including leaders of the philanthropic community, Federal, state and local agencies,
business, academia, and US Northern Command.” CEPP has built these trusted relationships
since its inception in 2008. When not responding to a disaster, Colorado Emergency
Preparedness Partnership (CEPP) partners remain connected with their network through
information bulletins and tap into their capabilities for smaller emergencies and other needs. For
example, the police recently needed a helicopter for a murder investigation and they contacted
CEPP, a trusted partner, to see if there was one available. Within 30 minutes, three helicopters
were offered by three different member organizations.
As suggested previously, disaster-resilient
communities are, first and foremost, communities
that function and solve problems well under normal
conditions. By matching existing capabilities to
needs and working to strengthen these resources,
communities are able to improve their disaster
resiliency. Community leaders and partners can help
emergency managers in identifying the changing
needs and capabilities that exist in the community.
Community leaders can also rally their members to
join community emergency management efforts and to take personal preparedness measures for
themselves and their families. The inclusion of community leaders in emergency management
training opportunities is a way to reach individuals, as these leaders can pass preparedness
information to their members. They can be a critical link between emergency managers and the
individuals they represent. Many emergency management agencies, such as the New York City
Office of Emergency Management, include their private sector partners in regular exercises,
sustaining and strengthening their relationships in the process.
For example, central Ohio is home to the country’s second-largest Somali population. The MidOhio Regional Planning Commission has been working to gather information about this group’s
preferred communication methods, traditions, behaviors, and customs in order to appropriately
plan for its needs in the event of an emergency. The Somali population requested that planners
include the Somali community leaders in emergency preparedness and response efforts because
they were the foremost sources of trustworthy communication. Both emergency managers and
the community benefit from developing these trusted relationships.
Meet People Where They Are
Engage communities through the
relationships that exist in everyday
settings and around issues that already
have their attention and drive their
interactions. Connect the social,
economic, and political structures that
make up daily life to emergency
management programs.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Trust is a recurring theme that underpins healthy and
strong communities. It acts as the glue that holds
different groups together, strengthens and sustains
solidarity, and supports the means for collective
action. It is crucial that partnerships are based on
trust and not on fear or competition to ensure the
success of the Whole Community approach. Building
social trust requires more than conventional outreach
focused on “trust issues”; it requires collaborating
with communities in joint activities designed to
address specific local problems. As emergency
managers and community leaders work together to
solve problems, trusted relationships are formed as they learn to support and rely on one another.
Fostering relationships and collaborating with community leaders is a way to build trust within
the broader community as they are the links to individual community members. To this end, it is
important that the government and its partners are transparent about information sharing,
planning processes, and capabilities to deal with all threats and hazards.
Build and Maintain Partnerships
While certainly not a new concept,
building relationships with multiorganizational partnerships and coalitions
is an exemplary organizing technique to
ensure the involvement of a wide range
of local community members. The
collective effort brings greater
capabilities to the initiatives and provides
greater opportunities to reach agreement
throughout the community and influence
others to participate and support
activities. The critical step in building
these partnerships is to find the
overlapping and shared interests around
which groups and organizations are
brought together. Equally important is to
sustain the motivations and incentives to
collaborate over a long period of time
while improving resilience through
increased public-private partnership. As FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate stated at the first
National Conference on Building Resilience Through Public-Private Partnerships, “We cannot
separate out and segment one sector in isolation; the interdependencies are too great.… We want
the private sector to be part of the team and we want to be in the situation where we work as a
team and not compete with each other.”8
8 Administrator Craig Fugate, Federal Emergency Management Agency, First National Conference on Building
Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships, August 2011.
Build Trust through Participation
Successfully collaborating with
community leaders to solve problems for
non-emergency activities builds
relationships and trust over time.
As trust is built, community leaders can
provide insight into the needs and
capabilities of a community and help to
ramp up interest about emergency
management programs that support
Figure 5: Tuscaloosa, Alabama, June 9, 2011—The Japanese
International Cooperation Agency made a donation of several pallets of
blankets to representatives from several faith-based and volunteer
organizations. The donation came in the wake of the April tornados
that hit the southeast. Tim Burkitt /FEMA
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Businesses play a key role in building resilient
communities. As businesses consider what they need
to do to survive a disaster or emergency, as outlined in
their business continuity plans, it is equally important
that they also consider what their customers will need
in order to survive. Without customers and
employees, businesses will fail. The ongoing
involvement of businesses in preparedness activities
paves the way to economic and social resiliency
within their communities.
An example of a public-private partnership that
successfully negotiated difficult community political
and economic dynamics comes from Medina County,
just southwest of Cleveland, Ohio. Like so many
urban areas, expansion into rural areas placed new
demands on water supplies. Some homebuilders
initially wanted to develop large plots that would
require filling in existing wetlands and natural
floodplains. The building plans also required
firefighting services to truck in large amounts of water
in the event of an incident.
A broad-based coalition that included the local
government, county floodplain manager, planning
commission, homebuilders association, and
emergency manager came together to spearhead a
process to promote development in the county while
protecting water supplies and preserving wetlands and
ponds. The partnership achieved a building standard
that allowed builders to develop their desired housing
design but also required them to build ponds and
wetlands within each housing subdivision in an effort
to sustain water supplies and allow for improved fire
protection and floodplain management. The zoning
and land use mitigation efforts promoted and
protected the health, safety, and welfare of the
residents by making the community less susceptible to
flood and fire damage.
Working as a public-private partnership enabled the
participants to reach an agreement and institutionalize
it through cooperative legal processes. Mutual
interests and priorities brought this otherwise
disparate group together to form a productive
Partnerships are attractive when all parties benefit from the relationship. The State of Florida
established a team dedicated to business and industry. This dedicated private sector team is
Partners to Consider Engaging
ƒ Community councils
ƒ Volunteer organizations (e.g., local
Voluntary Organizations Active in
Disaster, Community Emergency
Response Team programs,
volunteer centers, State and County
Animal Response Teams, etc.)
ƒ Faith-based organizations
ƒ Individual citizens
ƒ Community leaders (e.g.,
representatives from specific
segments of the community,
including seniors, minority
populations, and non-English
ƒ Disability services
ƒ School boards
ƒ Higher education institutions
ƒ Local Cooperative Extension
System offices
ƒ Animal control agencies and animal
welfare organizations
ƒ Surplus stores
ƒ Hardware stores
ƒ Big-box stores
ƒ Small, local retailers
ƒ Supply chain components, such as
manufacturers, distributors,
suppliers, and logistics providers
ƒ Home care services
ƒ Medical facilities
ƒ Government agencies (all levels and
ƒ Embassies
ƒ Local Planning Councils (e.g.,
Citizen Corps Councils, Local
Emergency Planning Committees)
ƒ Chambers of commerce
ƒ Nonprofit organizations
ƒ Advocacy groups
ƒ Media outlets
ƒ Airports
ƒ Public transportation systems
ƒ Utility providers
ƒ And many others…
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
composed of various state agencies/organizations and
business support organizations. The purpose of this
team is to coordinate with local, tribal, state,
territorial, and Federal agencies to provide immediate
and short-term assistance for the needs of business,
industry, and economic stabilization, as well as longterm business recovery assistance. The private sector
team’s preparedness and response assistance may
include accessing financial, workforce, technical, and
community resources. Local jurisdictions in the state
are also incorporating this concept into their planning
processes. Such partnerships help get businesses
back up and running quickly after a disaster so they can then assist with the response and
recovery efforts.
Throughout 2011, the Miami-Dade County Department of Emergency Management, in
partnership with Communities United Coalition of Churches, the American Red Cross–South
Florida Region, FEMA, Islamic Schools of South Florida and many others, conducted a pilot
effort to identify what works and what does not work in engaging the whole community in
emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. The following seven target population groups
were chosen: low-income and disadvantaged residents, seniors, immigrants and those with
limited English-speaking abilities, those of minority faith traditions, disabled people, youth, and
the homeless. Given the size, diversity (e.g., ethnicity, religion, and age), and breadth of
experience of Miami-Dade County Emergency Management, many lessons could be learned by
focusing Whole Community efforts on this geographic area. Most notably, the pilot identified
previously unknown assets that the target population groups could bring to an emergency
situation, which resulted in the following developments:
ƒ A network of 25 newly affiliated groups now partnering with emergency management and
the Red Cross;
ƒ Identification of 65 houses of worship, community groups, and religious broadcasters who
can support disaster communications and language translation;
ƒ New capacity to serve 8,000 survivors;
ƒ Nine facilities already in the community identified as potential new sites for feeding and
sheltering; and
ƒ Five existing facilities identified as new points of distribution for commodities.
Following the pilot and despite significant budget cuts, Miami-Dade emergency management
officials established a team of people to work over the next two years to institutionalize Whole
Community into the way the department thinks, plans, and acts.
Once partnerships have been established, relationships like the ones created in Miami-Dade can
be sustained through regular activities. Community ownership of projects will help ensure
continued involvement and progress in the future. Furthermore, engaging community members
through routine resilience-building activities, such as business continuity-related exercises, will
ensure they can be activated and sustained during emergencies.
Create Space at the Table
Open up the planning table and engage
in the processes of negotiation,
discussion, and decision making that
govern local residents under normal
Encourage community members to
identify additional resources and
capabilities. Promote broader community
participation in planning and empower
local action to facilitate buy-in.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Including partners such as representatives from for-profit and nonprofit private sector
organizations and individuals from the community in preparedness activities (e.g., emergency
management exercises) is a way to maintain momentum. One key aspect of maintaining
partnerships is to set up regular means of communication with community groups and local
leaders, such as through newsletters, meetings, or participating volunteers, to ensure that they
stay informed about and engaged in emergency management activities. The Agua Caliente Band
of Cahuilla Indians sends out a monthly outreach newsletter that includes emergency
preparedness updates. Contact information is provided in the newsletter to encourage community
members to provide feedback on emergency management programs. The tribe also uses social
media applications like Twitter and Facebook to update the community on emergency
management issues and programs.
Emergency managers can continue to build and maintain partnerships that emerge during the
response phase, enabling a better response when another disaster strikes. For example, Support
Alliance for Emergency Readiness Santa Rosa (SAFER) is a network of organizations
committed to serving actively during disasters. It was developed to bring together local
businesses and faith-based and nonprofit organizations to provide more efficient service to
disaster survivors after Hurricane Ivan devastated northwest Florida. The network’s coordinating
efforts were aimed specifically at eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort.
During non-emergency periods, SAFER works closely with other agencies to address the needs
of the county’s impoverished and vulnerable populations. In connection with this, SAFER helps
families who lose their homes to fire, replenishes local food pantries, and provides cold weather
shelters to the homeless. The relationships it forms while serving community residents daily
provides the foundation for collective action when disaster strikes.
Empower Local Action
Recognition that government at all levels cannot manage disasters alone means that communities
need the opportunity to draw on their full potential to operate effectively. Empowering local
action requires allowing members of the communities to lead—not follow—in identifying
priorities, organizing support, implementing programs, and evaluating outcomes. The emergency
manager promotes and coordinates, but does not direct, these conversations and efforts. Lasting
impacts of long-term capacity building can be evident in an evolving set of civic practices and
habits among leaders and the public that become embedded in the life of the community. In this
regard, the issue of social capital becomes an important part of encouraging communities to own
and lead their own resilience activities.9 Furthermore, community ownership of projects provides
a powerful incentive for sustaining action and involvement.
In May 2011, a devastating tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, leading to the development of the
Citizens Advisory Recovery Team (CART). CART is composed of city officials, business
leaders, community leaders, and residents whose shared purposes are to engage residents to
determine their recovery vision and share that vision with the community; provide a systematic
way to address recovery through a planning process; and bring all segments of the community
9 “By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital—tools and training that enhance individual
productivity—‘social capital’ refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that
facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” Putnam, Robert D., “Bowling Alone: America’s
Declining Social Capital,” Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78, p. 67.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
together to share information and work together.10 Shortly after the tornado, CART, with support
from FEMA’s Long-Term Recovery Task Force, Housing and Urban Development,
Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Institute of Architects, conducted extensive
public input and community sessions to discuss: housing and neighborhoods, schools and
community facilities, infrastructure and environment, and economic development. All of the
ideas and comments from these meetings were used to draft a recovery vision as well as goals
and project concepts. Recommendations were then presented to the City Council in November
Similarly, following the 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the city came together to identify the
capabilities of agencies and organizations that could assist with the recovery. Representatives
from state, county, and city governments, the chamber of commerce, schools, businesses, faithbased organizations, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood associations, many of which
were involved in the response to the flood, formed the Recovery and Reinvestment Coordinating
Team (RRCT). They explicitly forged the partnership to help create a framework for recovery
that would include the broad interests of the entire area.
The RRCT organized open houses and general public
meetings for hundreds of residents and business
owners in an effort to develop a community-wide
discussion on the priorities for long-term
revitalization and investment in the city. They also
focused the public discussions on the need to
integrate the revitalization plan with a flood
protection plan. Out of these efforts, the RRCT
established the Neighborhood Planning Process to
oversee the city’s post-flood Reinvestment and Revitalization Plan. The Reinvestment and
Revitalization Plan included area action plans, goals, timelines, and redevelopment strategies for
all ten affected neighborhoods, ultimately turning the recovery effort into an opportunity for
redesigning and revitalizing the city.
Strengthening the government’s relationship with communities should be based on support and
empowerment of local collective action, with open discussion of the roles and responsibilities of
each party. This vision should be clearly conveyed so that participating organizations can
commit adequate resources over the long term and have a clear understanding of what the
desired outcomes will be. Engaging members of communities as partners in emergency planning
is critical to developing collective actions and solutions.
Two consecutive tragedies involving youth in a city in Colorado caused community members to
recognize a need to better educate their youth on emergencies. A local fire department battalion
chief helped form a small group of volunteers from the fire and police departments, enlisted
support from a local television station’s meteorologist, and began offering clinics and classes.
Other agencies joined the effort and the group also began offering a Youth Disaster Training
program for teenagers, hoping to engage the younger population in a broader, more meaningful
experience through which emergency management skills and knowledge could easily be learned.
The organizers found that when the teen participants became involved, the program’s learning
10 Citizens Advisory Recovery Team. Listening to Joplin: Report of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, Nov.
Let Public Participation Lead
Enable the public to lead, not follow, in
identifying priorities, organizing support,
implementing programs, and evaluating
outcomes. Empower them to draw on
their full potential in developing collective
actions and solutions.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
objectives and training approach were transformed from what had initially been envisioned. The
teens rejected the program’s original logo and redesigned it to be more meaningful to their peers.
The teens also pressed for a different type of instruction. They wanted to hear from people who
had actually survived a disaster and learn what the experience was like and how the survivors
and relatives of victims felt afterward.
The Youth Disaster Training program became such a success that requests to participate quickly
outstripped the available and planned resources. Other organizations, including public school
leaders, state agencies, and other organizations, joined in. The teenagers brought their parents,
informed their friends, and participated in activities such as a career development session during
which they met emergency managers from the health, fire, and police departments, as well as the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and FEMA. As a result of the
summer program, the teenagers became empowered to voice their needs and interests and design
and implement the best ways to fulfill them.
Empowering local action is especially important in rural communities where there tends to be
less infrastructure (e.g., telecommunications, public transportation, and health services) and
where emergency managers are often part-time employees who are also responsible for areas
outside of emergency management. Rural communities understand that the social capital found
in local volunteer organizations and individuals is necessary for preparing for and responding to
unique rural threats such as agroterrorism. The Agrosecurity Committee of the Extension
Disaster Education Network (EDEN) has established the Strengthening Community
Agrosecurity Planning (S-CAP) workshop series to address challenges concerning the protection
of agriculture and the food supply. Workshop participants include a wide range of community
representatives (e.g., local emergency management and public health personnel, first responders,
veterinarians, producers/commodity representatives, and agribusinesses). They come together to
address the issues relevant to their specific agricultural vulnerabilities. The workshops help guide
local Extension personnel and other community partners in developing the agricultural
component of their local emergency operations plan to help safeguard the community’s
agriculture, food, natural resources, and pets. The workshops empower communities to build on
their capacity to handle agricultural incidents through improved networking and team building.
Leverage and Strengthen Social Infrastructure, Networks, and
Leveraging and strengthening existing social infrastructure, networks, and assets means investing
in the social, economic, and political structures that make up daily life and connecting them to
emergency management programs. A community in general consists of an array of groups,
institutions, associations, and networks that organize and control a wide variety of assets and
structure social behaviors. Local communities have their own ways of organizing and managing
this social infrastructure. Understanding how communities operate under normal conditions (i.e.,
before a disaster) is critical to both immediate response and long-term recovery after a disaster.
Emergency managers can strengthen existing capabilities by participating in discussions and
decision-making processes that govern local residents under normal conditions and aligning
emergency management activities to support community partnerships and efforts. Emergency
managers can engage with non-traditional partners within their communities to build upon these
day-to-day functions and determine how they can be leveraged and empowered during a disaster.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Communities are extremely resourceful in using what is available—in terms of funding, physical
materials, or human resources—to meet a range of day-to-day needs. Whether relying on
donations and volunteers to stock a local
food bank or mobilizing neighbors to
form “watch groups” to safeguard
children playing in public parks,
communities have a great capacity for
dealing with everyday challenges. There
are opportunities for government to
support and strengthen these pathways,
such as providing planning spaces where
people can meet and connect, providing
resources to support local activities, and
creating new partnerships to expand
shared resources. Enhancing the
successful, everyday activities in
communities will empower local
populations to define and communicate
their needs, mediate challenges and
disagreements, and participate in local
organizational decision making. As a
result, a culture of shared responsibility
and decision making emerges, linking
communities and leaders in tackling
problems of common concern.
For example, the protection and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure is a shared
responsibility involving all levels of government and critical infrastructure owners and operators.
Prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts relating to the Nation’s
infrastructure are most effective when there is full participation of government and industry
partners. The mission suffers (i.e., full benefits are not realized) without the robust participation
of a wide array of partners.
Following September 11, 2001, communities discovered that partnerships with local rail
enthusiasts can help strengthen the security of the Nation’s rail network. Across the United
States, thousands of rail enthusiasts, or “rail fans,” enjoy a hobby that takes them to public spots
alongside rail yards where they watch and photograph trains. Rail fans are drawn from across a
community’s social and demographic landscape. However, the heightened security measures that
followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, resulted in law enforcement and rail
security police becoming suspicious of rail fans photographing busy locations where commuter
and freight trains clustered.
After two rail fans were detained by local police for taking pictures of trains, a public outcry
arose from rail fans online and their national associations. Across the country, rail fans insisted
that they were far from being a threat to security and were actually one of the rail network’s best
security assets because they were routinely in a position to observe suspicious behavior. A
coalition of senior police officers, rail fans, and local elected leaders convened to review and
resolve the conflict. The controversy subsided as police acknowledged the rights of rail fans to
Figure 6: Margaretville, New York, September 4, 2011—Volunteers
came to help residents remove mud and salvage belongings from
homes ruined by floodwaters on “Labor for Your Neighbor” weekend
events following Hurricane Irene. Elissa Jun/FEMA
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
photograph trains from public locations and the rail fans publicly embraced the need for greater
security around rail yards. Rail fans offered to help keep America’s rail network safe from
vandalism, terrorism, and other incidents by reporting situations that appeared to be out of the
BNSF Railway, one of the largest freight rail companies in North America, developed a
community-based rail fan reporting program called Citizens for Rail Security. This program
includes a web-based reporting system in which rail fans can enter a minimal amount of their
personal information, generate an official identification card, and receive guidelines on how to
report any suspicious activities or potential security breaches.
Experiences in Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 also underscore the value of
leveraging existing social infrastructure. A research team that had worked for months after the
disaster identified two different types of social and organizational networks providing aid to
earthquake survivors.11 One network consisted of large relief agencies that focused on
transporting a large volume of humanitarian aid from outside the country and into the disaster
area. The second type of network involved pre-existing social groups that routinely worked with
and inside local Haitian neighborhoods to provide basic social services.
The network of large relief agencies had to create
systems and gather manpower and equipment to
distribute the aid, whereas the second group that used
pre-existing social groups already had systems,
manpower, and equipment in place. The unfamiliar
network of large relief agencies was also plagued by
aggression and theft by the locals, which the familiar
pre-existing social groups did not experience. Since the network of pre-existing social groups
routinely worked with and inside local Haitian neighborhoods to provide basic social services,
they were trusted and had detailed knowledge of local conditions, which allowed them to
anticipate local needs accurately and provide the aid required. Since they knew the actual amount
of resources needed, they did not rely on large convoys that would be tempting to vandals.
Many of the problems encountered in providing aid to Haiti resemble difficulties faced in other
large-scale emergency response operations. Problems did not occur because of an absolute
shortage of supplies or slow responses. Rather, they resulted from failures to connect with and
benefit from the strengths of existing, familiar patterns of community interaction and assistance.
One reason why local community organizations are effective during emergencies is that they are
rooted in a broad-based set of activities that address the core needs of a community. They are of,
by, and with the community. They may be, for instance, involved in feeding and sheltering the
homeless or working with children in after-school programs. They also remain visible in the
community, communicating regularly with local residents about issues of immediate concern, as
well as more distant emergency management interests.
11 Holguín-Veras, José, Ph.D., et al., “Field Investigation on the Comparative Performance of Alternative
Humanitarian Logistic Structures after the Port au Prince Earthquake: Preliminary Findings and Suggestions,”
March 2, 2011.
Strengthen Social Infrastructure
Align emergency management activities
to support the institutions, assets, and
networks that people turn to in order to
solve problems on a daily basis.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
Pathways for Action
While there are many similarities that most communities share, communities are ultimately
complex and unique. Ideas that work well in one community may not be feasible for another due
to local regulations, available funding, demographics, geography, or community culture, for
example. Some communities have fully integrated Whole Community concepts into their
operations. For other communities, this is a new concept that they are hearing about for the first
time. If this concept is familiar to you, think about what you can teach and share with others. On
the other hand, if you are looking to begin a Whole Community approach or expand existing
programs, the following questions and bullets may help get you started.
What follows are ideas and recommendations that were collected as part of the national dialogue
during facilitated group discussions with emergency management practitioners from nonprofit
organizations, academia, private sector organizations, and all levels of government. These
recommendations are by no means exhaustive, but are intended to help you think about ways in
which you can establish or broaden a Whole Community practice of emergency management
within your community.
How can we better understand the actual needs of the communities we serve?
ƒ Educate your emergency management staff on the diversity of the community and implement
cultural competence interventions, such as establishing a relationship with a multi-lingual
volunteer to help interact with the various groups.12
ƒ Learn the demographics of your community. Develop strategies to reach community
members and engage them in issues that are important to them.
ƒ Know the languages and communication methods/traditions in the community—not only
what languages people speak and understand, but how they actually exchange new
information and which information sources they trust.
ƒ Know where the real conversations and decisions are made. They are not always made at the
council level, but at venues such as the community center, neighborhood block parties, social
clubs, or places of worship. Tap into these opportunities to listen and learn more about the
community. For example, homeowner association quarterly meetings (social or formal) may
serve as opportunities to identify current community issues and concerns and to disseminate
important public information.
What partnerships might we need in order to develop an understanding of the community’s needs?
ƒ Identify a broad base of stakeholders, including scout troops, sports clubs, home school
organizations, and faith-based and disability communities to identify where relationships can
be built and where information about the community’s needs can be shared. Partner with
groups that interact with a given population on a daily basis, such as first responders, places
of worship, niche media outlets, and other community organizations. These
12 For more information on cultural competence interventions, see Betancourt, J., et al., “Defining Cultural
Competence: A Practical Framework for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Health and Health Care,” Public
Health Reports, 2003, Vol. 118.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
groups/organizations have already established trust within the community and can act as
liaisons to open up communication channels.
ƒ Every year, foreign-born residents and visitors are among those affected by disasters in our
country. Reach out to local foreign country representatives through consulates or embassies
to incorporate international partners in a Whole Community approach to domestic disasters.
How do we effectively engage the whole community in emergency management to include a wide breadth
of community members?
ƒ Reach out and interact with your Citizen Corps Council (or similar organization) to inquire
about groups that are currently involved in emergency planning, as well as groups that are
not involved but should be. Citizen Corps Councils facilitate partnerships among government
and nongovernmental entities, including those not traditionally involved in emergency
planning and preparedness. Additionally, Councils involve community members in order to
increase coordination and collaboration between emergency management and key
stakeholders while increasing the public’s awareness of disasters.
ƒ Strive to hire a diverse staff that is representative of the community.
ƒ Maintain ongoing, clear, and consistent communication with all segments of the community
by using vocabulary that is understood and known by those members.
ƒ Discuss how organizations can have a formal role in the community’s emergency plan and,
when feasible, include them in training activities and exercises.
ƒ Use the power of social media applications (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) to disseminate
messages, create two-way information exchanges, and understand and follow up on
communication that is already happening within the community.
ƒ Involve children and youth through educational programs and activities centered on
individual, family, and community preparedness.
ƒ Develop recovery plans with full participation and partnership within the full fabric of the
ƒ Incorporate emergency planning discussions into the existing format of community meetings.
Multi-purpose meetings help increase participation, especially in communities where
residents must travel long distances to attend such meetings.
ƒ Identify barriers to participation in emergency management meetings (e.g., lack of childcare
or access to transportation, and time of the meeting) and provide solutions where feasible
(e.g., provide childcare, arrange for the meeting to be held in a location accessible by public
transportation, and schedule for after-work hours).
ƒ Consider physical, programmatic, and communication access needs of community members
with disabilities when organizing community meetings.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
How do we generate public interest in disaster preparedness to get a seat at the table with community
ƒ Integrate the public and community institutions into the planning process by hosting town
hall meetings and by participating in non-emergency management community meetings.
Listen to the public’s needs and discuss how individuals can play a role in the planning
ƒ Make yourself available for local radio call-in programs to answer questions that callers have
about emergency management and solicit input from the listeners on what they see as the top
priorities for community resilience.
ƒ Have an open house at your emergency operations center (EOC) and invite the public. Invite
schools for field trips. Explain the equipment, organization, and coordination that are used to
help protect the community.
How can we tap into what communities are interested in to engage in discussions about increasing
ƒ Find local heroes and opinion leaders and learn what they are interested or involved in and
tailor emergency management materials and information to meet their interests.
ƒ Find out what issues or challenges various groups in your community are currently
confronting, how they are organizing, and how emergency management might help them
address pressing needs.
What activities can emergency managers change or create to help strengthen what already works well in
ƒ Understand how you can share and augment resources with partners within your community
during emergencies. For example, providing a power generator to a store that has all the
supplies the community needs but no power to stay open would be an example of a way in
which to share and augment resources.
ƒ Work with your partner organizations to better understand the various ways they will be able
to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from threats and hazards and
supplement their activities and resources rather than compete with them.
ƒ Identify organizations that already provide support to the community and determine how you
can supplement their efforts during times of disaster when there might be a greater need. For
example, if food banks distribute food on a regular basis, emergency managers can deliver
additional food to the food banks to help them meet a greater demand during a disaster.
ƒ Leverage existing programs, such as the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA), to
strengthen emergency management skills in the community. Offer Community Emergency
Response Team (CERT) training to PTA members.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
How can communities and emergency management support each other?
ƒ Provide adequate information to organizations ahead of time so they can better prevent,
protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from threats and hazards. In return,
organizations will provide you with information on their status and ability to assist when you
need them. For this reason, ongoing multi-directional information sharing is one of the most
important aspects of maintaining your partnerships. Have regular meetings with formal and
informal community leaders and partners to maintain momentum.
ƒ Provide support to for-profit private sector organizations in the development of business
continuity plans. Keeping businesses up and running after an event helps to stabilize a
community’s economy and promotes resiliency.
When reflecting on the previous questions and ideas, it is important to remember that one size
does not fit all. The definition of success will vary by community. Just as certain Whole
Community efforts are appropriate for some communities and not for others, every jurisdiction
has a different idea of what success means to them. Periodically assessing progress facilitates an
ongoing dialogue and helps determine if the needs of the community are being met. Whole
Community implementation requires flexibility and refinement through routine evaluation as
lessons are learned. Communities should define metrics that are meaningful to them to track
progress in the actions they choose to take toward meeting the communities’ needs.
Regardless of what stage you are at in practicing Whole Community principles, think about how
you can start or continue incorporating Whole Community principles and themes into what you
do today. Test out your ideas and discuss them with your colleagues to learn and continue the
national dialogue.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
FEMA began its national dialogue with a proposition: A community-centric approach for
emergency management that focuses on strengthening and leveraging what works well in
communities on a daily basis offers a more effective path to building societal security and
resilience. By focusing on core elements of successful, connected, and committed communities,
emergency management can collectively achieve better outcomes in times of crisis, while
enhancing the resilience of our communities and the Nation. The three core principles of Whole
Community—understanding and meeting the actual needs of the whole community, engaging
and empowering all parts of the community, and strengthening what works well in communities
on a daily basis—provide a foundation for pursuing a Whole Community approach to emergency
management through which security and resiliency can be attained.
Truly enhancing our Nation’s resilience to all threats and hazards will require the emergency
management community to transform the way the emergency management team thinks about,
plans for, and responds to incidents in such a way to support community resilience. It takes all
aspects of a community to effectively prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover
from threats and hazards. It is critical that individuals take responsibility for their own selfpreparedness efforts and that the community members work together to develop the collective
capacity needed to enhance their community’s security and resilience.
Building community resilience in this manner requires emergency management practitioners to
effectively engage with and holistically plan for the needs of the whole community. This
includes but is not limited to accommodating people who speak languages other than English,
those from diverse cultures or economic backgrounds, people of all ages (i.e., from children and
youth to seniors), people with disabilities and other access and functional needs, and populations
traditionally underrepresented in civic governance. At the same time, it is important to realign
emergency management practices to support local needs and work to strengthen the institutions,
assets, and networks that work well in communities on a daily basis.
To that end, FEMA will continue its national dialogue to exchange ideas, recommendations, and
success stories. FEMA also intends to develop additional materials for emergency managers that
will support the adoption of the Whole Community concept at the local level. As part of this
ongoing dialogue, reactions and feedback to the Whole Community concept presented in this
document can be sent to [email protected]
This document is just a start. It will take time to transform the way the Nation thinks about,
prepares for, and responds to disasters. FEMA recognizes that the challenges faced by the
communities it serves are constantly evolving; as an Agency, it will always need to adapt, often
at a moment’s notice. This shift in the Nation’s approach to addressing the needs of survivors is
vital in keeping people and communities safe and in preventing the loss of life and property from
all threats and hazards. The Whole Community themes described in this document provide a
starting point to help emergency managers, as members of their communities, address the
challenge. However, it will require the commitment of members of the entire community—from
government agencies to local residents—to continue learning together.
A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management:
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
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