About The Resilience Institute

The Resilience Institute is part of WWU Huxley’s College of the Environment. It facilitates scholarship, education, and practice on reducing social and physical vulnerability through sustainable community development, as a way to minimize loss and enhance recovery from disasters in Washington State and its interdependent global communities.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

the cavalry

I have spent the week at the FEMA Higher Education Conference at the National Emergency Management Institute. While emergency management and the four phases of disaster (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery) are a part of what we teach and research at the IGCR, it is not everything. It was clear that the emergency management field is focus on management, tactics, and coordination. All are important aspects of disaster reduction. Yet, aspects of sustainable planning, strategizing, and integrated vulnerability reduction are not top agenda items.....especially within Department of Homeland Security's dictates of a heavy focus on terrorism.

Being somewhat on the margins of the conference focus is always a fascinating position. This time I was struck (again) with the underlying oxymoron present in the FEMA mandate. On the one hand, the average resident understands FEMA's role as the knight on a white stallion, the cavalry, the agency that is going to sweep in and save them from a catastrophic event. Of course, Katrina greatly tarnished this image, but the expectation remains. On the other hand, one of FEMA's missions is to promote disaster preparedness. This promoting of preparedness requires a host of risk education and risk communication activities, many of which require FEMA to say that there is risk, that people are unsafe, and that people need to DO SOMETHING to prepared themselves. The implicit and unintended message underneath it all is, "We're the cavalry, but we can't really do our job, so you need to prepare yourself."

Its a challenging position for emergency managers to work within.

1 comment:

Scott Miles said...

Ah, FEMA. Ah, emergency management. Both the agency specifically and the field of EM generally engage in this mixed message campaign. The most troubling thing for me with regard to the mixed message is that neither of them are the most importan message to get out. Their message is either "YOU as individual need to prepare [behavior/lifestyle change], but if you don't we'll do the best we can to save you [negative feedback]." But what their message doesn't ever talk about is the system. But just to take the focus/pressure off of FEMA/EM a little, this "behavior" vs. "system" change issue exists in many areas of sustainable development. Should we spend money on getting people to change their behavior and drive less? Or should we spend money (or organizational capital) on changing street markings/controls, transit routes, parking, etc.? That is, should we tell people to make a difficult choice or should we make good choices easier (if not, unnoticed)?

You might get an idea where my feelings lie in this debate....