FEMA Think Tank

Main Content

What is the FEMA Think Tank?

FEMA recognizes that the best solutions to the challenges we face are generated by the people and the communities who are closest to these challenges. It is essential that these partners are invited to the table to actively participate in thought-provoking discussions.

That is why we are reaching out to state, local, and tribal governments, and to all members of the public, including the private sector, the disability community, and volunteer community, to seek their input on how to improve the emergency management system. FEMA wants to hear your ideas and suggestions, to both explore best practices and generate new ideas. The FEMA Think Tank will help facilitate these conversations and encourage further discussion.

The FEMA Think Tank has two main components:

  • Online Forum: Submit your own ideas, comment on others, and participate in conversations meant to generate creative solutions. The forum is open to anyone who wants to discuss a variety of emergency management issues, such as how as we prepare for, respond to, recover from, or mitigate against all types of disasters, as well as ideas on how we can continue to integrate the whole community.
  • Discussion Sesions: Deputy Administrator Serino will conduct sessions to discuss some of the real-life solutions and ideas that are generated by this online forum. These sessions will be open to the general public and captioning for participants who are deaf or hard of hearing will be provided. The Deputy Administrator will travel to a different location each session to personally meet with members of the emergency management community.

When is the next FEMA Think Tank Session?

The next FEMA Think Tank Session is Wednesday, October 30 from 2:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time (5:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time) in Reno, Nevada.

Date: Wednesday, October 30

Time: 2:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time (5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time)

Location: Silver Legacy Hotel & Reno Events Center, Reno, Nevada   

Call in Number: 1-877-604-9670

Passcode: 6288892

Captioning: At the start of the event, please click here for access to live captioning.

We encourage you to Tweet during the call using #femathinktank.

The October 30 Think Tank session will focus on “Revolutionary Technology to Transform the Disaster Space.”

The event will provide the opportunity to listen, ask questions, and gain perspective as panelists share their stories on how they use innovative response technology to revolutionize disaster operations, with a particular focus on rescue robots that range from bomb detection to heartbeat detection.

During the call, panelists will share their stories about how they cultivated innovation in the white spaces of their organizations. Participants in the room and on the phone will have an opportunity to share their stories and comment on others.

May 28 Conference Call: Disaster Survivors and International Emergency Workers

The FEMA Think Tank conference call was held on May 28 from New York City. The call was held in partnership with UNICEF and focused on the stories of disaster survivors and international emergency workers. The key objective is to encourage a more disaster survivor centric approach to emergency management at every level, and draw on experience and lessons learned to strengthen preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.

Please click here for the audio and transcript from the call.

Innovation as Building Blocks—the Whole Community Discusses Innovative Solutions to Emergency Management from Sandy Response (Feb. 6)

In February, over 80 representatives of the whole community—from across government agencies, non-profit and international organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, and concerned citizens—gathered at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC to participate in the FEMA Think Tank conference call discussing innovative solutions to emergency management. With more than 800 people joining us over the phone and more participating in the conversation via Twitter, making #femathinktank the number four trending hashtag in the nation during the two hour conversation.

Throughout the conversation, participants reinforced the message that innovation is more than something meant for the tech or design world; it is a forward leaning solution oriented approach to challenges we face throughout emergency management and government.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, provided motivating and enthusiastic remarks about the FEMA Think Tank and the innovative efforts it has sparked across the Agency, including the use of new backup communications systems in disaster zones, discussion of electrical alternatives for individuals that use power dependent medical equipment, and collaboration on increasing the efficiency of evacuations. However, Secretary Napolitano also highlighted that the FEMA Think Tank is just part of the story of innovation at FEMA. Within the last year, FEMA has implemented the FEMA Corps, the DHS Surge Capacity Force, and the innovation teams which all hit the ground running in the response to Hurricane Sandy. This is only the beginning; we will continue to innovate and think through the challenges that face us in response to disasters.

Richard Reed, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, expanded upon Secretary Napolitano’s remarks and the use of innovation across government. The Executive Office of the President worked closely with FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on several novel approaches in the application of the Stafford Act to ensure a well-coordinated, aggressive, and comprehensive response. Mr. Reed explained that the world of innovation is really about how we leverage one another, how we innovate on the fly, and how we maintain true to our principles and core beliefs while maintaining some flexibility. It’s about what we can make with our tools, resources, and capabilities— building and creating different solutions out of the given supply, like building a dump truck or dinosaur out of building blocks depending on what is needed.  Our collective efforts to innovate in such a way are not only important to our National Security, but also to our resilience as a nation.

What does innovation mean for FEMA, for the whole community? Three panelists—Brian Forde, Senior Advisor with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; William Bryan, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy; Dr. Leonard Marcus, the Director of the National Preparedness Leadership Institute at Harvard—shared their ideas about innovation. Mr. Forde discussed technology innovation fellows at the White House and their collaboration with the technology community to collect, map, and analyze data from Twitter for real time response and recovery solutions during Hurricane Sandy.  Mr. Bryan discussed innovation as lessons learned to enhance preparedness and situational awareness through improved communication tools and technology.  Dr. Marcus dissected the question on why innovation occurred during the Sandy response intro three factors: adaptive flexible organization, transformative leadership, and motivation.

Soon after Sandy made landfall, FEMA collaborated with an innovation team: a multi-sector cross-functional group with a mission of working with the whole of community—government, nonprofit, international organizations, volunteer groups, businesses, and concerned citizens. At the most basic level the Innovation Team is all about creatively solving problems by receiving individual input and connecting resources from a diverse spectrum of stakeholders. So in other words, it's bringing a lot of you together.   Some members of the Innovation Team—Jonathan Baldwin, the Open Technology Institute, Steve Birnbaum, the Global VSAT Forum, and Frank Sanborn, the FEMA/HHS Innovation Fellow—highlighted some of the work they did with providing communications and internet connectivity through mesh networks to some impacted areas in New York. Some of the key takeaways from their experience were the importance of getting started before the disaster hits and to start response efforts by listening to what the community is already doing and tap into those informal communication networks that already exist.

Christy Wilson, Splunk, discussed how the innovation team also took social media to another level through analysis of social media data. Dino Sanchez, Associate Creative Director at Frog Design, presented the results of a creative exercise on how we approach our disaster recovery centers in the community—empowering communities to expedite their own DRCs as efficiently and immediately as possible after a disaster strikes so informal needs could be addressed prior to FEMA’s arrival. Deborah Ingram, Assistant Administrator of Recovery at FEMA, discussed incorporating non-traditional methods into DRCs such as bringing our services to the survivor instead of them coming to us.  

On the federal side, FEMA launched FEMA Rumor Control Initiative, an initiative to monitor and identify rumors and misinformation in social media traffic and validate what was true; Dr. Nicole Lurie, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS, discussed mobilizing tech-savvy youth to reach non-English speaking communities through social media; and Ben Barron, Team Lead for FEMA Corps, continued the conversation about non-traditional DRCs-- the introduction of tablets made mobile DRCs even more mobile by enabling door-to-door registration.  The New York State designated Federal Coordinating Officer, Mike Byrne, discussed the importance of FEMA Corps and throughout the response, truly demonstrated that leadership support will enhance the impact of innovation teams.

This conference call demonstrated that we are really starting to scratch the surface on innovation.  We need to keep the conversation moving—how can we go further, faster, better, smarter, next time? How can we use the tools we have to build new and better solutions? What shape should our building blocks take next time?

We encourage you to continue the conversation about innovative solutions for disaster survivors with your colleagues and friends on the Online Forum.

We look forward to the continued innovation and creativity that you all bring to this effort—we can’t wait to see what you make with your building blocks!

The FEMA Think Tank will continue to host national calls to discuss and develop innovative solutions in emergency management.

Frequently Asked Questions

What ideas will be discussed during the monthly conference call?
Deputy Administrator Serino will select three to four ideas on improving emergency management at the federal level to discuss during the conference call. The individuals that submitted these ideas will have the opportunity to brief the Deputy Administrator during the call. The call will then be opened for questions and further discussion.

Who can participate?
Anyone can participate in the FEMA Think Tank. If you have an idea or suggestion on how to improve the emergency management system, you can submit that idea to the online forum or comment, comment on another’s idea, and listen to the monthly calls with Deputy Administrator Serino.

How do I participate?
Visit FEMA's online collaboration platform to participate in an open dialogue and discussion and join the monthly conference calls.

How can I find information from previous FEMA Think Tank calls?
Visit FEMA's Think Thank conference call archives page to hear recorded audio or read the transcript of the previous FEMA Think Tank Calls.

We look forward to a productive conversation that will generate innovative solutions and move us forward as a team.

Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Disclaimer

FEMA recognizes that the best solutions to the challenges we face are generated by the people and communities who are closest to these challenges.  The goal of these monthly conference calls is to listen to and discuss ideas generated by individual members of the community.  FEMA is not looking for and will not accept group or consensus recommendations from FEMA Conference Call participants.  Also, FEMA will not be making any decisions on Agency positions or policy during the call.  Instead, the Agency is seeking individual viewpoints from a broad and diverse spectrum of stakeholders.  Everyone’s input is valued and we thank you for participating in this call.  FEMA does not endorse any non-government entities, organizations, or services.

Last Updated: 
10/28/2013 - 15:26
Back to Top