Collaborative Edge - Summer 2007
A newsletter of the Center for Collaborative Policy Laura Kaplan, Editor
Collaboration: A Critical Emerging Trend For Emergency Management & Homeland Security
Authored by Adam Sutkus
The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina made the nation keenly aware of the need to prepare for emergencies of all types, both natural as well as human-caused. The Gulf Coast disaster was a stark reminder of the critical role intergovernmental coordination and collaboration play in emergency response and homeland security. Since 9/11, the nation's emergency management and new homeland security organizations have been struggling to create the systems and coordination methods to process billions in federal funding, design prioritized approaches to public safety, and to engage with the public and interdisciplinary stakeholders. To help solve these strong challenges, California is taking aggressive steps to employ the elements of collaborative problem solving to accomplish vital public safety goals. This article is based upon the experience of a team led by Adam Sutkus of the Center for Collaborative Policy (CCP) at California State University, Sacramento.
A timely approach: California embraces collaboration
In the summer of 2005, the CCP team began working with the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and its partner agencies outlined in state legislation to assist them with developing a strategic approach for communications modernization and interoperability (the ability for different physical radio systems and the frequencies they use to work together seamlessly). CCP staff provided strategic consultation, organizational design, and policy facilitation services to the state Office of Emergency Services and the Interoperability Coalition.
After almost two years of previous inaction, within six months thirteen state agencies came together and successfully completed a strategic plan for State agency communications modernization and interoperability. The 2005 update and strategic plan was submitted to the California Legislature and became a cornerstone of the State's effort in this vital emergency response area throughout the next year. The implementation of this plan, and the concurrent design for the subsequent 2006 report to the Legislature was successfully completed as 2007 began. CCP also continues to work with a complimentary organization tasked with statewide regional interoperability that is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, primarily consisting of local governments, to accomplish many similar multi-agency / multi-stakeholder tasks. The capstone of this coordination and collaborative policy design effort came in late 2006, when the membership of both organizations participated in a joint ‘beta-test / feedback’ workshop held concurrently at three sites statewide—through audio and video-conferencing—to receive comments and suggestions on the draft statewide strategic plan. Coordinating the efforts of these two organizations across their diverse stakeholder memberships and multiple statewide committees will continue to be a focal point of the CCP team’s work in the disaster / homeland security area for some time to come.
Another key CCP project involved assisting the Emergency Management and Homeland Security community throughout California in meeting compliance requirements for the new National Incident Management System (NIMS) to ensure eligibility for additional federal grants in 2007. NIMS requires the involvement of a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary cadre of stakeholders at all levels of government, the private sector, Tribal Nations and the non-profit / volunteer community. The California Office of Emergency Services engaged a design consisting of ten committees covering a wide range of key policy issues important to the state and invited a cross-section of stakeholders to participate throughout. The result was strong support for this open dialogue, where the user communities themselves participated in the policy and program development mechanism. A stakeholder-driven ‘workbook’ for local government, state agency, and Tribal compliance was created by rolling up suggestions and comments into a common template framework and then re-releasing the final document to the users statewide and convening workshops to assist with local compliance. The intensive effort was completed in time for California’s Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to declare the state in compliance at a public forum of the group’s executives, attended by the Department of Homeland Security, ensuring uninterrupted grant and policy authority for the next year.
Not only does this form of consensus policy development assist with working through complex disaster response planning issues, it also sets the stage for long term implementation success—since the user community is helping to craft the very compliance documents they will soon be asked to complete.
In addition to the NIMS and Interoperability efforts in California, projects have been engaged utilizing the design and concepts of collaborative governance in several other areas including: developing new emergency medical volunteer operation integration guidelines through a stakeholder-driven mechanism; assisting initial design and strategic plan development for California’s State Citizen Corps Council; holding a community forum with public participation in the design of an evacuation plan for a city’s special-needs community; facilitating a summit for emergency response officials and local political leaders to address one community’s flood risk; and designing / facilitating a policy discussion forum for an executive branch collaborative group to address joint policy, budget, operational and strategic planning priority setting.
Something new invariably brings challenges
Although working together is not necessarily new for the emergency management and homeland security community, doing so in an organized and strategic manner brings its own set of road-blocks that all involved parties will have to recognize and work through to achieve the full, true potential for this methodology of collaborative policy making:
- Pre-existing silos of coordination is one of these barriers. The Law Enforcement community is necessarily and appropriately built around a culture of paramilitary accountability with an emphasis on intelligence, hierarchy and secrecy. The Fire and Rescue service has a long standing response protocol mechanism built upon the Incident Command System (ICS) that began in California in the mid-70s and went nation-wide—and has only recently been embraced by other sectors such as public health.
- Time challenges are another factor problematic for a collaborative approach. It is extremely difficult for emergency managers of all types to adopt a more open, consensus-based approach to policy making when the axe of time deadlines for grant applications or mandated deliverables remains a threat.
- Disaster response and operational mandates are also a key obstacle towards achieving collaborative policy solutions. Disasters will always happen, and when they do, all time and energy in the emergency management community—including the time and energy it takes to create and sustain good policy—become solely directed toward emergency response. The daily managerial tasks of preparedness and policy debate become subsumed by other critical needs. The current centralization of many complex policy collaboratives through external organizations such as CCP has been successful in allowing the coordination to continue even during major emergency operations—and may be a key toward nurturing the continued development of collaborative efforts during times of crisis.
- Chaos caused by reorganization is another recent barrier. As seen with the federal government, and also in California, new organizational structures have been developed that have created a high level of instability and change. With the creation of national and state Departments of Homeland Security, traditional lines of decision-making during emergencies and disasters that have been in place for decades have recently been updated and re-structured in a manner that has created confusion at many levels of the response structure. The irony is hard to ignore: just when the emergency field needs firm, structured organizational systems developed to assimilate these external strategic changes and make them work in this new environment—the time and leadership so critical to initiate actions are instead diverted towards addressing organizational challenges from within their own organizations.
The next generation of collaboration unfolds
The CCP team has also worked with Terry Amsler, Institute for Local Government / Collaborative Governance Initiative, and last year convened a cadre of groups—including non-profits, federal, state, and local governments—to discuss how they can potentially use collaborative problem solving tools to work with stakeholders, emergency response disciplines (Fire, Law, Emergency Medical, etc.) and the general public to coordinate planning and preparation for disaster and emergencies. The focus of this workshop discussion was primarily to assist local entities in dealing with the emerging trends in the homeland security / disaster services field. The design team has completed their assessment report and is now meeting with the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities to jointly release the report and begin implementing many of the recommendations.
The success of the more state agency-centered projects mentioned earlier has allowed for the collaborative approach to take hold at the statewide level. The next focal point for directed, strategic collaborative policy making is likely within local geographic areas, where the true implementation of this new field is directly applied “in the street”.
I believe it is fair to say that cross-jurisdictional collaborative mechanisms to achieve complex emergency management and homeland security goals in California are beginning to take off—and helping to secure the safety of the state's 35 million people.
For more information about CCP’s projects in this arena, you can contact Adam Sutkus at 916.445.2079 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Sutkus is a Lead Mediator and Facilitator for the Center for Collaborative Policy. He is the former state Director of California's Citizen Corps Program for community-based homeland security / disaster response, and a former Chief of Staff of California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES).