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FEMA Think Tank: Building, Sustaining & Envisioning Public-Private Partnerships


This week, U.S. Northern Command hosted the Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference.  We held our latest FEMA Think Tank call on the second day of the conference and had a great conversation on how the emergency management community can develop and sustain relationships with the private sector and build these partnerships for the future.  There were about 150 participants in the room and over 220 participants on the phone. 

Building and Sustaining Public-Private Relationships through Best Practices

Kicking off the call, we discussed best practices and highlighted the importance of engaging the private sector, including information sharing, engaging trusted partners and building resiliency. Ira Tannenbaum, the Director of Public/Private Initiatives at New York City’s Emergency Management Office, Bryan Strawser, Target’s Senior Group Manager of Global Crisis Management, Jami Haberl, Executive Director of Safeguard Iowa Partnerships, and FEMA’s current Private Sector Representative, Hilary Ward, Global Managed Services of Citi Group all led the panel style discussion.   Each provided a unique perspective, from the insight of a large corporation to that of a nonprofit organization.  The insight each speaker shared truly demonstrated the importance of whole community.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 24, 2012 -- Dep. Administrator Richard Serino speaks at FEMA's Think Tank held in Colorado Springs on Tues., July 24. Serino was also in Colorado to visit burn areas in the aftermath of the Waldo Fire which was declared a major disaster on June 29, 2012.

Our discussion focused on the coordination of private sector and emergency management resources prior, during and following a disaster. From these discussions, we were able to view real-life examples, which included working with the private sector to create a force multiplier in delivering messages, connecting businesses with regional private sector FEMA liaisons, and leveraging nonprofits to assist in building public/private partnerships. Additionally, we discussed how important it is to build a financial services toolkit to ensure disaster resiliency for businesses and the community at large. These are a only few examples of the critical need to work together before, during and after emergencies.

Envisioning the Future of Public-Private Partnerships

During the second part of the call, we challenged the participants to discuss the future of public-private partnerships.  Joe Donovan, Senior Vice President of Beacon Capital Partners and Preparedness Chair discussed collaborating on a future vision of public private partnerships.  In particular, we talked about developing sustainable private/public partnerships and discovering creative ways to leverage these partnerships, such as educating the community on trusted business sources to utilize after a disaster strikes.  I challenge you all to continue this discussion and discuss the future of public-private partnerships.  Where do we go from here, and how do we get there together?  Post your comments and ideas to the Think Tank Online Forum.

The next Think Tank call will take place on August 17 in Vermont. The theme for that discussion will be the role of faith-based and community organizations in advancing the whole community approach to emergency management. I encourage you to participate in the conversation on the Think Tank Online Forum by sharing and discussing ideas.  A full transcript of the July 24 conference call is available at

Celebrating Inclusive Emergency Preparedness


Today is truly a reason to celebrate because it marks the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Twenty two years ago, we reached a turning point in our nation’s history when the civil rights of millions of Americans with disabilities were recognized and protected by law. Today, more than 56 million Americans benefit from this law.

Here at FEMA, we are committed to honoring and upholding the ADA. We are uncompromising in our dedication for the right to equal access before, during and after an emergency. Equal access gives everyone an opportunity to contribute their skills, knowledge and resources to strengthen their community.

Here is my vision of equal access:

  • Equal access means that everyone participates in exercises that test the capability and     procedures of a community in the event of an emergency or disaster.
  • Equal access means that people have accessible transportation during an evacuation; restoring transportation accessibility after a disaster is simply a part of restoring the essential services needed by the whole community.
  • Equal access means that people with disabilities have the tools and resources to maintain their health, safety and independence in a shelter.
  • Because information has to be accessible to be actionable, equal access means that the whole community has access to effective communication including Sign Language interpreters, assistive listening devices, CART, materials in large print or Braille, TTY and video relay services; equal access also means receiving emergency alerts, warnings, and important messages in plain language.
  • Equal access means meeting the accessible housing needs of disaster survivors and addressing the recovery needs of the whole community so that children with disabilities go back to school with their peers and adults with disabilities go back to work along with their co-workers.
  • Equal access means that a career path in emergency management is as accessible to workers with disabilities as it is to workers without disabilities.

The anniversary of the passage of the ADA is a great opportunity to recommit to making sure that people with disabilities are ALWAYS included as a vital part of the planning team, and that the skills and knowledge of people with disabilities are fully recognized as integral to effective response, recovery and mitigation.

We know that when communities integrate the access and functional needs of individuals in all phases of emergency management, they strengthen their ability to prepare for and more quickly recover from natural and man-made disasters. Much progress has been made in the past 22 years, but we still have a long way to go to achieve the full inclusion that is at the heart of the ADA.

At FEMA, we have a growing workforce of disability integration specialists working across the country and a growing toolbox of resources to support states in meeting the disaster-related needs of children and adults with disabilities. Join us as we continue building bridges with disability advocacy and service organizations, engaging with state and local partners, training emergency managers, making improvements in disaster response, and advocating for including people with disabilities in whole community planning.

There are many ways to get involved, especially before a disaster occurs. The whole community can participate in programs and activities to make their families, homes and communities safer from risks and threats. Learn about some promising practices in disability inclusive emergency management from across the country by visiting and how you can get involved by going to FEMA’s Ready website at

National Advisory Council Quarterly Meeting


As you hear us say frequently, FEMA is just part of the team, a team that encompasses the whole community, including partners, from state, local, and tribal governments to non-governmental organizations, to the private sector and voluntary groups. 

A key member of that team is the National Advisory Council. The NAC is comprised of members from state, tribal and local governments, private sector, and non-governmental partners who advise and provide recommendations to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on all aspects of emergency management.

This month, the NAC held their quarterly meeting and reviewed the progress and recommendations of its four subcommittees: Preparedness and Protection, Response and Recovery, Public Engagement and Mission Support, and Federal Insurance and Mitigation. They also met with FEMA leadership to receive briefings on current initiatives.

Alexandria, Va., July 12, 2012 -- Members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) ask Administrator Fugate and Deputy Administrator Serino questions. The NAC incorporates state, tribal, and local governments and private sector input in the development and revision of the national preparedness goal, the national preparedness system, the National Incident Management System, the National Response Plan and other related plans and strategies.

Administrator Fugate and Deputy Administrator Richard Serino briefed the NAC during the public portion of the meeting, highlighting their top priorities and answering questions. Some of the topics discussed by both FEMA leadership and the NAC included:

Administrator Fugate emphasized how important it is for the NAC to continue providing solid recommendations about how national emergency management should be improved and considered.

Alexandria, Va., July 12, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate answers questions during the National Advisory Council Meeting. The National Advisory Council incorporates state, tribal, and local governments and private sector input in the development and revision of the national preparedness goal, the national preparedness system, the National Incident Management System, the National Response Plan and other related plans and strategies.

Following every quarterly meeting, the NAC provides formal recommendations on current FEMA programs and initiatives. FEMA looks forward to receiving those recommendations and continuing our successful relationship with the Council.


Faith-Based Group Rebuilds Alabama Church Following 2011 Tornadoes

Editor's note: This was originally posted June 28, 2012, on the White House blog by David L. Myers, Director of the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships.

Tornadoes and fires hold more in common than being disasters: they can also make good neighbors.

This is uniquely true in Boligee, AL, a small rural town near the Mississippi border, and Hartville, OH, near Akron. It's a great story of faith communities helping each other -- and it has a beautiful twist at the end.

The story begins in and around Boligee in 1996, when four African American churches burned to the ground. Though it has never been proven, many suspect the fires were related to racial tension. Volunteers from around the world rebuilt the four churches -- including Little Zion Baptist Church -- with the assistance of Quakers and Mennonites.

Fast forward to April 27, 2011, when tornadoes tore through central Alabama, killing 139 people and destroying billions of dollars of property, including the Christian Valley Baptist Church in Boligee, home of a small African American congregation.


The Rev. Tracy Giles, Christian Valley’s pastor, didn’t know what to do. Insurance would cover $165,000, but estimates to rebuild the church exceeded $500,000. Pastor Giles heard about Mennonite Disaster Service and sat down over coffee with one of its coordinators, Jerry Klassen. Pastor Giles told Klassen, “I need a thread of hope.”

Klassen responded, “I can throw you a rope of hope.”

Klassen contacted Maple Grove Mennonite Church in Hartville, and soon skilled volunteers from several Hartville churches were making regular treks to Boligee. On Sunday, June 3, 2012, six months after the start of the rebuilding, Christian Valley Baptist Church commemorated its new opening; total cost was $160,000.

“It was God reaching across the borderline,” said Deacon Willie Cain.

The Rev. David L. Myers, a Mennonite minister and director of the DHS/FEMA Center for Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, who participated in the dedication ceremony, said it was a mutual opportunity for service. “Christian Valley Baptist cannot be itself without a church to worship in, and Mennonite churches cannot be themselves without a service project.”

And here's the beautiful twist: one of the biggest challenges faced every year by thousands of disaster volunteers is finding housing during their time of service. That wasn't the case for the volunteers rebuilding Happy Valley Baptist Church.

Remember Little Zion Baptist Church, which was burned and rebuilt in 1996? That same church provided housing for more than 80 volunteers who traveled more than 800 miles from Hartville to Boligee.

Disasters of all kinds can indeed make good neighbors. 

FEMA's Newest Private Sector Representative


As many of you may know, almost two years ago FEMA implemented a private sector representative program to support the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC). Through its many rotations, the program has improved the way the agency works with many private sector partners across the field of emergency management. Recently, Walmart served in this unique role and was able to assist the National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute and the International Association of Emergency Managers with the development of their Big Business – Small Business Emergency Management Mentorship Program (PDF). And by the way, you should check into that and join the growing list of difference-makers.

This week, we have made another significant leap in the Private Sector Representative program by incorporating a new sector – the financial community.

We are delighted to have Hilary Ward joining us from Citi. Hilary is a Director and Chief Administrative Officer to Citi Vice Chairman Lewis B. Kaden, responsible for supporting the Vice Chairman in charge of Citi’s Institutional Client Group’s Public Sector Group, the Citi Foundation, and Citi Community Development.

Here’s what Hilary had to say about being our next private sector liaison:

Citi is extremely excited about the opportunity to partner with FEMA through the Private Sector Representative role and to be the first representative from the financial services industry. Citi has a long record working with governments and non-governmental organizations to assist communities impacted by natural disasters, and we are committed to share best practices and to improve outreach to the private sector, in particular, as it relates to emergency financial management issues. I look forward to engaging and working with our peers, FEMA and others on these efforts over the next 90 days and beyond.

We at FEMA couldn’t agree more. We look forward to learning, sharing and accomplishing great things working with Hilary, Citi and the whole private sector community. While stationed at FEMA, she is a resource for all of our partners. If you need to reach out to her, feel free to email

If you or someone you know is interested in being a candidate for the Private Sector Representative, please see this brochure (PDF) for more details on the benefits. Our private sector team is available 24/7 and ready to work with you. And please continue to share your stories and ideas about how we can continue working with the private sector to better serve our nation and communities.

Supporting Legislative Efforts to Recognize the Sovereignty of Tribal Governments When Emergencies or Disasters Strike


In my December blog, I expressed the Obama Administration’s support for amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the President for a federal emergency or major disaster declaration. Under current law, only States, through the Governor, can make such requests.

I’ve re-emphasized my support for amending the law by sending letters to Congressional Committee Chairmen to offer FEMA’s support for S. 2283. A change to the Stafford Act would enhance our ability to respond directly to tribal governments’ declaration requests regardless of State or county boundaries or jurisdictions. I’m giving my firm commitment to actively work with Indian Country and Members of Congress to support and facilitate the passage of this legislation.

Specifically, the letters I sent today are recommending that Congress take swift action to pass this legislation. If Congress passes and the President signs such legislation into law, my office will act promptly in the development of appropriate regulations and policies for implementation.

Through the years, I’m proud of the close working relationships we developed at FEMA with recognized tribal governments across the country, especially as it relates to disaster response, recovery and mitigation activities. Based on these experiences, I’ve seen great success and some challenges. I believe that amending the Stafford Act to allow federally recognized tribal governments to make a request directly to the President for a federal emergency or disaster declaration, will only improve our coordination efforts and build stronger more resilient communities.

The U.S. Government has a unique government-to-government relationship with federally recognized tribal governments based on the U.S. Constitution, statutes, regulations, treaties, executive orders, executive memoranda and policies. Amending the law would acknowledge the sovereignty of federally recognized tribes, enhance FEMA’s working relationship with tribal governments, and improve emergency and disaster responsiveness throughout Indian Country.

I’m looking forward to the day when the changes I have communicated here are made law and we are better situated to improve our coordination efforts with tribal governments and Indian Country. Visit for additional information.

We will continue to follow the progress of this legislation closely and I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Big Business - Small Business Mentorship


On March 30, 2012, I challenged the 800+ private sector members subscribed to my email distribution and 30,000+ more subscribers to FEMA Private Sector Email Updates to develop a Big Business – Small Business Mentorship Program. I spoke about the need to connect the dots, especially in a disaster, and how an existing framework could make the difference for small businesses struggling to survive.

It did not take long for me to hear back. I am extremely pleased to recognize that the National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has partnered with the International Association of Emergency Managers to launch the Big Business – Small Business Emergency Management Mentorship Program this week to strengthen small business disaster preparedness by engaging willing and able big businesses as mentors.

I am equally pleased to recognize that the Walt Disney Company, Verizon, Lowe’s Companies Inc., LEAM Drilling Systems Inc., Walmart Stores Inc., and Sam’s Club, among others, have signed on as potential mentors, protégés or sponsors.

They are leading the way and ensuring a better path forward. NIMSAT and IAEM established the foundation for success. These businesses are the pillars of progress. The mentorship relationships that build from this structure will ensure more resilient communities in the face of the next disaster.

Today, I would like to extend and further the challenge for the rest of you to participate. Become a mentor or protégé. Read the Mentorship Guide and Register at The process takes only a few minutes. The difference you make could last a lifetime.

At FEMA, we have also launched a campaign called Small Business is Big. We recognize the value of small businesses. On this page we have gathered tools, links and resources to make preparedness easier and more effective for small businesses. And we welcome your input to make it better.

Finally, Ready Business asks companies to take three simple steps: plan to stay in business; encourage your people to become Ready and protect your investment. Ready Business, an extension of the Ready Campaign, helps business owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses prepare their employees, operations and assets in the event of an emergency. The Business section of contains vital information for businesses on how to get started preparing their business and their unique needs during an emergency.

Join the mentorship program. Use the tools. Be Ready. Make a difference.

The Waffle House Plan - Show Up


Editor's Note: The views expressed by Walt Ehmer do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

Preparation is a big part of our job at Waffle House® Restaurants. Since we never close, being prepared for the unexpected is as big a part of our job as is cooking hashbrowns, waffles and eggs. When running a 24/7 restaurant if you don’t plan well, then every day will be an emergency.

This culture of planning for everyday activities is well suited for when an emergency presents itself. Over the last two years, our company has responded to many emergencies - the ice storm in Atlanta, the tornadoes in Missouri, Alabama and north Georgia and Hurricane Irene in the Carolinas. The main part of our plan is what we call “Show Up.” We show up to the area, determine what is needed to get the restaurants open and then do it.

There is logistics planning in staging and getting additional supplies and manpower into an affected area right after a storm, however it’s our show up that sets us apart from other companies. Our planning gets us ready for the storm and so once it has passed our managers can see what’s going on in the area and respond right after an emergency.

We put our leadership on the ground right after the storm to make the decisions needed on where to send the supplies and manpower. Within hours of Hurricane Irene making landfall, our Chairman & CEO, two Executive Vice Presidents, a subsidiary President, our CFO and I were all on site managing the emergency from the front lines.

We had staged some supplies and sent additional manpower into the area. However it was the management on the ground making the decisions about what needed to go where – not someone back in our corporate office in Georgia. This allowed us to quickly respond to the issues at our restaurants.

After each emergency, we look at our planning to decide what worked well and what needs to be tweaked. But the biggest part of our planning is to show up and decide what is needed to keep the restaurants open.

And that’s the big take away for other businesses and individuals. You need to plan ahead and then when the emergency occurs, be ready to be flexible and address the most important issues in front of you. And over time, it simply becomes part of your company’s or home’s culture.

Supporting NATO Activities through Planning and Collaboration

As you may already know, the NATO summit concluded in Chicago, Ill., last Monday, May 22. With the delegations departing to their home countries after two days of important discussion, the interagency support for the summit also comes to a close.

Since learning about the event in November 2011, FEMA through our regional office in Chicago has worked hard with our federal partners to ensure that the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago were well supported before, during and after this high-level event.

FEMA works with the Secret Service, FBI and our other federal partners whenever an event is designated as a National Special Security Event, such as this NATO Summit. FEMA is the lead federal agency for consequence management in the event of a large-scale response to a natural or man-made disaster. This involves coordinating the federal response to and recovery from a major incident.

As co-chair of the Training and Exercise sub-committee, we've helped to facilitate the delivery of specialized training for emergency responders and decision makers and conducted exercises focusing on crisis and consequence management.

In anticipation of any potential federal support, FEMA activated and co-located staff with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency at a Forward Operating Base, in DuPage County, Illinois. FEMA Region V was supported by all Emergency Support Functions, a Defense Coordinating Element, FEMA’s Denver Mobile Emergency Response System, and two Incident Management Assistance Teams.

The College of DuPage, in Chicago’s western suburbs served as an excellent host for our joint operations with the state of Illinois. Their new Homeland Security Education Center, is the regular home to the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, Criminal Justice and Fire Science/Emergency Medical Services training programs. The facility is complete with an Immersive Training Lab, which provides realistic environmental space for training on many emergency management missions. During the NATO summit, FEMA utilized the space as it was intended – a fully functional Emergency Operations Center.

Here’s a quick video highlighting our unique work at College of DuPage:

Flat Stanley Helps FEMA Prepare for Hurricane Season


Back in early April we blogged about a special visitor to FEMA.  At the time, Flat Stanley was making the rounds in Washington, DC and dropped in at FEMA headquarters to spend a little time with me.  Take a look at the latest meeting I had with Flat Stanley and what we have in mind for helping prepare everyone for hurricane season.

FEMA, through our Ready Campaign, is working in collaboration with Flatter World and the Flat Stanley Project to bring awareness to school aged children about the need to be prepared for emergencies and disasters and what they can do to help their families and loved ones to build more resilient households.

Children and their parents will soon be able to build their own FEMA Flat Stanley and share with their friends and classmates the steps they have taken to support preparedness throughout their homes, schools and communities.

Stay tuned for more information as Flat Stanley gets more and more involved.  And in the mean time, kids can find fun preparedness games and activities like word searches, crossword puzzles, comic strips and more at


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