The Trend Is Your Friend

PREPostrophiles, don’t you love when a conference invigorates your work?  I attended a research conference on community resilience that charged me up again.  The Veterans Health Administration’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Program Evaluation and Research Conference in Alexandria, VA just let out. The topic was “The Federal Role in Building Community Resilience.”  Leading off were presentations from FEMA, ASPR, and the VA.  And they were all “community engagement” this, “evidence-based methods” that. Yes, that was Keith Turi, a Deputy at FEMA talking about FEMA’s “Whole Community” approach to emergency management. FEMA recognizes that it takes all aspects of a community (volunteer, faith and community-based organizations, the private sector, and the public, including survivors themselves) to effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from any disaster.  Real disasters require more than what government can provide.  We need to call upon our communities’ natural resources and invigorate all that makes us resilient on a daily basis so that we can work at pumped up volumes in a disaster.  Right on:  Every citizen should know this.  It’s beyond any question of cynicism, libertarianism, or Katrina-era distrust– though the issue was settled once and for all then. It’s a simple truth.

So here’s the feds sounding like 70’s community activists in new millennial skins. And yes, “Whole Community” is an idea straight out of the public health playbook, thank you very much.  Understand the whole community.  Engage the community in an authentic manner.  Meet people where they are. Build on what already works on a daily basis. Empower local action.

Is the Obama administration giving cause to believe again?  Can a man still dream?

Sure, during times of recession and massive budget deficits promoting self-sufficiency may be too smart for our own good.  The locals and NGO’s will need money.   “Looking beyond government” for response and recovery, as Turi said, is not the same as “lets get the feds out of the business of saving our sorry butts in a disaster” (that he didn’t say).  This seems like something both sides of the Congressional aisle can support.

Does FEMA really mean it when they espouse Whole Community? If they are playing from the public health playbook then why aren’t they bringing more public health pro’s in to help them?  Turi didn’t adequately answer this question.  It’s going to take many more years to change the emergency management culture so that engagement and meeting communities where they are really happens.  Unlike Doonesbury’s Reverend Sloan, the “fighting young priest who can talk to kids”, EM professionals can’t rely on just going in to chat and get the truth from hidden groups that are typically disenfranchised.  The non-English speaking immigrants, the developmentally disabled adults who live on their own, the homeless:  they aren’t going to open up to these guys.

Still, there is reason for optimism.  Afterall, my Obama sticker did say Hope, right?  Maybe I’ll regret tearing it off my car in disappointment months ago (that’s another story).


About David Eisenman

I'm a physician and public health/health services researcher. I want to bring these perspectives to understanding disaster resilience.
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