In the United States today, losses resulting from natural disasters are on the rise, as is the frequency of such events. With state and federal budgets continuing to decline, the nation’s emergency management community is constantly challenged to do more with less – while at the same time continuing to improve community resilience. A whole-community approach to mitigation offers a collaborative way forward to improve community resilience to all hazards on federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels.
Impressive strides forward in hazard mitigation are in fact being made at the community and federal levels. The Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (Risk MAP) program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is used by many communities to help build a better understanding of local risks. In addition, FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS) incentivizes local mitigation actions through, among other things, the use of discounted flood insurance rates.
However, as damages continue to rise, it becomes obvious that there must be a better understanding of precisely what it means to mitigate risks. The answer to that question involves, among other things: (a) improving community and individual risk awareness through persistent and more effective risk communication efforts; and (b) encouraging the “ownership” of risk and responsibility for action. Moreover, there is a compelling need to not only encourage improved building codes, community planning, and building practices, but also to expand mitigation participants to include all components of the whole community. In addition to using citizen groups and local and national businesses for mitigation purposes, the community must also involve the insurance, real estate, building, and lending industries, as well as local planning officials and the media.
An Insightful Panel Discussion & Viable Plans of Action
Recently, Booz Allen Hamilton gained additional insight and perspectives on the increase in hazard-mitigation challenges by connecting directly with the hazard mitigation community. More specifically: In March 2012, Booz Allen Hamilton conducted a major, and illuminating, Hazard Mitigation Survey, polling a representative cross section of the nation’s hazard mitigation professionals on the status of hazard mitigation today and asking respondents for their opinions on the best approaches to build and improve the disaster resilience capabilities of individual communities. In addition to offering their opinions on emergency preparedness and hazard mitigation issues, many of the survey participants provided concrete views on how to improve community natural hazard resilience. Those views included recommendations urging more accountable development, increased risk awareness at all levels of a specific community, more effective action on known risks, and the building of a more responsible and insured citizenry.
To further this important discussion, the company partnered with industry thought leaders in late April 2012 in Washington, D.C., in sponsoring a panel discussion on “Mitigating Our Nation’s Risks: Calling Upon the Whole Community.” The discussion provided a much-needed open forum to gain a deeper insight into the critical issues facing the U.S. hazard mitigation industry as a whole. Panelists included David (Dave) Miller, Associate Administrator of the FEMA Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration; Dr. C. J. Huff, Superintendent of Schools in Joplin, Missouri; Lawrence (Larry) Larson, Executive Director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers; Matthew Gannon, Assistant Vice President of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies; and Admiral Thad Allen, USCG (Ret.), former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and now Senior Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton.
Using the survey results as a starting point, the panelists discussed the need for a sustainable model that engages the whole community at all levels. They also emphasized the importance of: (a) understanding and communicating information related to a broad spectrum of risks; and (b) translating that awareness into appropriate mitigation actions that can be carried out both by the community at large and by individual citizens. The insights developed in the panel discussion are today being shared to further the dialogue on this vital and compelling national issue.
Megan Clifford, a Principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, is a leader of the firm’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) market team. She also oversees the firm’s work with FEMA clients, providing support in such areas as policy analysis, program design and development, stakeholder engagement, grants management, and program management focused on efficiencies and effectiveness. She has more than 14 years of experience serving a variety of clients, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense. She is a member of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the National Grants Management Association, and the Project Management Institute.
With over 15 years of experience, William Meyer, CFM, PMP, Booz Allen Hamilton, consults with federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as the private sector, on emergency management and homeland security, particularly hazard mitigation, with special focus on improving community disaster resilience. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP) with the Project Management Institute and a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) with the Association of State Floodplain Managers.