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ASSESSING DISASTER PREPAREDNESS CONFERENCE

Saturday, November 4, 2006
Quail Hill Conference Center, Lynmar Winery, Sebastopol, California

Conference Proceedings

Introduction
The intent of Assessing Disaster Preparedness was to have an honest and open dialogue with key stakeholders across different sectors about the level of preparedness in the Bay Area to respond to a major natural hazard such as an earthquake. The conference participants represented the Office of Emergency Services (OES) at the state, regional and local levels, heads of non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way, the corporate sector, academia, and philanthropy. In addition there were representatives from various city governments and national disaster preparedness organizations and emergency preparedness accreditation organizations (see Participant List). Conference participants were selected through discussions with their peers who identified them as leaders and experts in the disaster management community.

The conference began with welcoming remarks by Dr. Anisya Thomas, Managing Director of Fritz Institute, who spoke to the genesis of the project and the conference. The conference was sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation and PG&E as an initial component of a project that seeks to provide an objective, third-party view of the landscape of disaster preparedness. It is hoped that this exercise would lead to proposed ways to assess preparedness, so that gaps, if any, can be funded by the philanthropic community prior to the onset of a large-scale disaster.

Dr. Thomas reviewed the common themes that emerged from pre-conference interviews that were held with each participant. These interviews pointed to a consensus that preparedness was vitally important and agreement that no sector could provide ‘evidence’ of preparedness.  Impediments to preparedness appeared to include: the lack of clarity around a definition of preparedness, the lack of use of measures and metrics, the tendency for theory and practice of emergency management to evolve on different tracks, the fragmentation of knowledge across organizations, duplication of efforts, lack of collaboration across sectors and the lack of an intermediary or intermediaries to facilitate regional efforts or provide coherence in the landscape.

Disaster Preparedness Guidance and Metrics
Dr. Kathleen Tierney, Director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado, formally opened the conference by reviewing the results of the previous day's discussions among the most prominent academics on disaster preparedness and management . Among the activities were two reviews of the preparedness metrics literature conducted by Jeannette Sutton and Dr. Tierney of the University of Colorado and Dr. David Simpson and Matin Katirai of the University of Louisville. These reviews summarized existing measures of preparedness at the household level, organization level and community level using both primary and secondary data. Dr. Tierney concluded her presentation by providing a framework for measuring disaster preparedness that could be used across sectors and levels of analysis with existing indicators and instruments and included eight dimensions.

The Role of Government
The discussions on the role of the government were substantive and lively. Many in the room felt that emergency management and disaster preparedness were a 'policy without a public', and as a consequence did not get the prominence or importance that they deserved from city or state officials. Nonetheless, the group agreed that it was unreasonable to expect the government to be the sole provider of disaster response and recovery services and had mixed views on the level of preparedness and effectiveness of the office of emergency services at the city, region, state and national levels. Some members of the group felt strongly that there was an absence of strong leadership and that the subordination of FEMA to the Department of Homeland Security and the focus on terrorism had severely affected the nation's capability to respond to natural disasters. The group was critical about the lack of transparency in government spending and the lack of accountability of the government in how funds were spent and the resulting outcomes. However, it was also clear that many felt that the Bay Area was more prepared than other regions in the country due to frequent natural disaster exposure and experience in responding to those incidents.

Richard Eisner, Regional Administrator, Southern Region Branch of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, reflected on his career and experience in hazards management. He reminded the group about relevance of population diversity and the inabilities of the system to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations in disaster scenarios. He reiterated the critical importance of local preparedness and spoke to the effectiveness of various models of community participation in disaster planning that had emerged in the past and dissolved due to the lack of funding and political will.

For example, BAREPP, (Bay Area Regional Earthquake Preparedness Project) existed in various forms between 1983 and 2002. BAREPP's mission was to advance preparedness in the Bay Region. It was comprised of representatives from the government, emergency management practitioners, scientists, and community groups. They focused on providing information about hazards and their potential impact, and on targeted messaging and marketing. The initiative was funded by FEMA and the State of California, and was widely regarded as being very successful. Participants agreed that both these models thrived because they were created outside the bureaucracy of government, but included the government, and because they were independent and autonomous.

One weakness with the government is the lack of information within and outside about level of preparedness and enhancements to preparedness due to lack of standardized metrics and measures. An emerging standard in assessing preparedness at a jurisdictional level (e.g., city, county or state) is the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). EMAP is a standardized assessment of disaster preparedness plans created by the National Emergency Management Association to assess the readiness of local governments and is based on the NFPA 1600 standard. Philip Padgett, EMAP Private Sector Committee Chair, and David McMillion, Project Manager of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and an EMAP assessor, provided information on the EMAP process. EMAP starts with a self-assessment online which is followed by an on-site visit from five assessors who conduct a week-long review and audit of disaster preparedness plans and then make recommendations. The certification, if granted, lasts for five years. Thus far, 52 baseline assessments have been completed and nine jurisdictions have been accredited. As an example of the relevance and usefulness of this rigorous process, they described the experience of the National Capital Region in undergoing the assessment, the resulting lessons learned, the funds raised and the improvements being undertaken as a result.

The Role of the Non-Profit Sector
It is widely understood that the non-profit sector is crucial to the survival and well-being of the vulnerable, underprivileged and underserved communities who would be most affected in the event of a major disaster in the Bay Area. However, there is considerable skepticism about the inherent capability of these organizations to function effectively if a disaster strikes. While many organizations in this sector have begun to create business continuity and disaster preparedness plans, many others have not. Small community-based organizations cite lack of funds and knowledge as significant impediments. Larger organizations expressed frustration at not knowing what their role would be relative to the Red Cross, which is the dominant recipient of donations and the auxiliary to the government. All agreed that coordination and collaboration with each other is critical, and that insufficient coordination and collaboration is a current problem.

The discussion began with presentations by two non-profit organizations, both providing different perspectives on disaster preparedness. Harold Brooks, CEO of the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter spoke to his organization's interest in leveraging partnerships with the local non-profit community as well as the private sector to improve their capacity to deliver services. He suggested that the key to creating enduring and sustainable community resiliency was in sharing resources and knowledge and forging trust among the various actors charged with serving the community. He acknowledged that the community is "missing the spirit of abundance" that is required to address the problems and committed to actively participating in an initiative that promoted collaboration.

Ana-Marie Jones, Executive Director of Collaborative Agencies Responding to Disasters (CARD), followed with a plea to revisit current messaging and methods around disaster preparedness. Her view was that using fear to urge people to prepare for disasters was a disempowering and ineffective approach. CARD is built on the concept that preparing for disasters is an essential part of every person's responsibility to themselves, their organizations and their families. She argued eloquently that the survival of the Bay Area rested on its ability to bounce back after the inevitable earthquake and maintain the viability of the region as a center of innovation and commerce. She urged the audience to use this economic development perspective in accessing funds to prepare.

The participants also recognized the vital role of faith communities in preparing for disasters. Research around the social response of citizens during times of emergency shows that even those who are not members of a faith community reach out to local churches, synagogues and mosques for assistance. It is clear that there needs to be a realistic and achievable strategy for incorporating faith communities in any local disaster preparedness initiative.

There was consensus that a comprehensive map of the major non-profit providers in a community and the services offered by each in various geographical areas would be an invaluable resource to the community. Further, many participants felt that having a common framework and definition of disaster preparedness, and a common metric to assess preparedness and delineate gaps could stimulate funding and collaboration.

The Role of the For-Profit Sector
Estimates suggest that over 80% of the productive resources required for disaster response and recovery are controlled by the private sector. Yet, there are almost no linkages between the private sector and the government emergency services departments or the non-profit community-based organizations. Further, recent research has suggested that only 33% of Bay Area businesses have a business continuity plan, fewer have plans to assess and ensure employee well-being, and almost none have concrete plans or partnerships to participate in community recovery. Yet, experience suggests that businesses are strategic players after major events, willingly providing resources and expertise. Unfortunately, such responsive actions do not allow for the optimization of core competences. As a result, this lack of coordination and collaboration with front-line players such as the government and community-based organizations results in many valuable resources remaining unaccessed, or unused.

Peter Ohtaki, Director of Business Executives for National Security (BENS), spoke to their model of partnerships between the private sector and the government around issues of disaster preparedness and national security. The participants agreed that there were many impediments to the government and non-profit organizations collaborating with corporations, including a difference in cultures and approaches. Nonetheless, all agreed that this should be a priority in the future.

The Role of Philanthropy
Colin Lacon, President and CEO of Northern California Grantmakers, spoke to the role of philanthropy in preparing for disasters. His view, shared by Sandra Hernandez, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, was that philanthropy is recognizing its responsibility to invest in the resiliency of the Bay Area. He cited this conference and other initiatives under the aegis of Northern California Grantmakers, The San Francisco Foundation and the United Way, which are all directed at gaining knowledge about gaps in disaster preparedness so that philanthropy can focus on addressing these gaps before a disaster, and also understand how to best use resources immediately after a disaster. The group discussed the fact that the philanthropic community needed to be an important part of a local initiative as its funds could address important issues that the government has been unable or unwilling to do.

Summary of Conference Themes
Throughout the conference and in the afternoon discussion around preparing for disasters five core themes emerged, around which the group coalesced and formed consensus. These are summarized below:

Leadership
Currently there is no constituency for emergency management, which was referred to by a participant as a 'policy without a public.' While most people in the Bay Area agree that disaster preparedness is important, it is not an issue that is at the top of the lists of politicians. Further, at the national level, government spending weighs heavily in the direction of homeland security, rather than emergency management. As a consequence, there is a lack of transparency around the allocation of resources, previously directed toward preparing for natural disasters.

The experts agree that there needs to be an emphasis on advocacy around this subject and a strategy to elevate the subject on the agendas of local and national governments. However, in addition to 'top-down' leadership, the group felt that 'bottom-up' leadership that was 'local' was also critical.

Messaging
Current emergency management messaging focuses on the negative, or advocating preparedness, in order to prevent negative results such as the loss of property or life. As a result, the public typically views disaster planning as an unpleasant burden. Several participants felt that messaging around disaster preparedness could be made more positive by focusing on community resiliency and economic development. On a related note, the importance of an "all hazards" focus in disaster preparedness was also mentioned. Focusing on preparedness for one hazard in lieu of another creates missed opportunities for leveraging investment and optimizing community resiliency.

All agreed that the media is an important constituent in any initiative on preparedness and resiliency.

Measurement and Metrics
The lack of available and accurate data contributes to inefficient and unsuccessful planning. It was agreed that at the current time, no one could speak to the level of resiliency or preparedness in any community in the United States as there are no common tools or metrics.

It was agreed that any initiative should include a component that objectively assesses and baselines current levels of preparedness and is able to chart progress from it.

Movement Toward Action
On the heels of this discussion about measurement, Arrietta Chakos, Assistant City Manager of the City of Berkeley, eloquently pleaded with the group not to mistake measurement for wisdom. It is challenging and time-consuming to develop practical and reliable measurement tools. Although all agreed on the importance of measurement, the group also seconded Arietta's call to action. There are already widely exposed gaps that can begin to be addressed.

The group recommended that while measurement tools are being developed, there begin to be movement forward toward the prioritization of gaps and execution of solutions. The group would like to begin development of a strategy for deciding which issues to tackle first and how and who should lead these efforts.

Coordinating Organization
There is a great deal of concern about the 'silo' or 'stovepipe' approaches. While it was agreed that there is a great deal of activity and thinking around disaster preparedness, different stakeholders often have limited visibility to the activities of others. There was wide recognition of the need for the creation of a coordinating organization to aggregate efforts, establish metrics and standards, facilitate cooperation and partnerships and advocate for disaster management policy change. A call for a neutral party to step forward into this role was logged several times during these conversations. The group's consensus was for Fritz Institute to serve as the organization providing leadership in this umbrella role.

Call for Action
Jim Aldrich of the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services summarized the call to action as follows, "There is a sense of urgency in the Bay Area emergency management community. We are facing the prospect of a catastrophic disaster. We know there are vulnerable people who can't survive a disaster. We need to make sure we can tie the resources and services to them quickly to reduce suffering. It's important to address the immediate operational needs of ensuring that we are able to execute when the time comes." This sentiment, echoed by all, does not contradict the need to address longer term gaps. It simply suggests that there should be parallel paths that simultaneously pursue longer term goals such as the creation of common frameworks, tools and metrics, even as we work to address the gaps we know about now with the resources currently available.

At the conclusion of the conference, Harold Brooks made the following motion:

We resolve to make the Bay Area the most resilient community in the world; a resiliency that we can prove.

The motion was accepted and the participants suggested that a 'compact' to record the group's intention to commit to further research, while at the same time moving toward action to improve areas of obvious gaps, should be established.

The Lynmar Compact
For Disaster Preparedness in the Bay Area
  • The initiative shall be 'local' in nature.
  • The approach shall be holistic and include households, businesses, government experts, academia, non-profit groups and philanthropy.
  • The initiative shall be led by a neutral, non-governmental third party and supported by a diversity of funding sources.
  • The approach shall include significant outreach components in the form of marketing and media to create a 'public' and gain support from politicians.
  • The approach shall include research to develop metrics to baseline and demonstrate progress.
  • The initiative shall have the support of conference participants who will bring additional partners.
  • Standards shall be developed to encourage best practice, provoke media attention and facilitate additional funding to support the local model.

The group asked Fritz Institute to incubate this initiative and report back with proposed next steps.

 
 
 
 
+ Disaster Preparedness Conference
 
There is a sense of urgency in the Bay Area emergency management community. We are facing the prospect of a catastrophic disaster. We know there are vulnerable people who can't survive a disaster. We need to make sure we can tie the resources and services to them quickly to reduce suffering. It's important to address the immediate operational needs of ensuring that we are able to execute when the time comes.

  –Jim Aldrich
   Office of Emergency Services & Homeland Security
   Disaster Preparedness Division
   City and County of San Francisco
 
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