Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

Contacts Are Key in Emergency Management

Emergency managers’ contacts must cover a wide spectrum of people and organizations.

I don’t think there’s anyone I know who will not say that individual relationships are key to a successful emergency management program. People talk and write about it and espouse it in any number of venues and publications. But what are we really after?

If you were to start building a list of contacts you need to have a relationship with, it could be long. A quick summary might include:

-- your boss, employees and peers;
-- local elected officials;
-- first responder agencies — your own and others in the region;
-- nonprofit leaders in the community;
-- business owners and managers;
-- public and private utility officials for your jurisdiction;
-- emergency managers in adjacent jurisdictions and at the state level;
-- FEMA officials for your region;
-- response personnel from emergency medical services and private ambulance companies;
-- health-care staff at hospitals and trauma centers;
-- officials at universities, colleges and school districts;
-- key citizens and volunteer groups active in the community; and
-- members of professional associations for your discipline and those active in associated areas of interest.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a start.

Why do we need to cover such a wide spectrum of organizations and people? It’s because of the broad swath of our communities that get impacted by disasters and are also resources to us during emergencies. If you are going to take a whole community approach to emergency management, you must take a whole community approach to the relationships you need to establish and maintain. That last word, “maintain,” adds another dimension to what it means to have established relationships. Having a relationship goes beyond exchanging business cards and sticking them in your Rolodex or scanning them into your computer.

Having an active relationship means that there is some form of ongoing dialog between you and the other person.

Here are three tips to help you maintain relationships:

The best way for emergency managers to establish and maintain working relationships is to do joint planning. The type of planning includes: internal agency planning, regional disaster response planning, mitigation planning, recovery planning, mass casualty planning and pandemic planning. And the planning phase is never finished.

There’s a new tool available to you: social media. Social media provides the ability to have two-way communications. Personally, I like Twitter for situational information and just pushing things out, but Facebook and LinkedIn are meant for one-on-one relationship building.

“Friends come and go; enemies you keep forever.” This is a quote I’ve used many times to guide myself and my staff members in their interactions with other individuals and organizations. Sometimes we disagree with others, but we don’t have to be disagreeable in the manner
in which we choose different paths. We don’t need enemies getting in the way of doing what is right for our community.

This relationship building is hard work. It’s something that needs to pervade what you do day to day. I have 9,100 contacts on my list. Not all of those people are close friends or even acquaintances. I have made it my purpose in life to meet people, establish a relationship with them and help them in any way I can. In the end, perhaps,

I’ll be able to influence them for some good purpose. I encourage you to do the same.

Eric Holdeman  |  Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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