We fully recognize that a government-centric approach to emergency management is not enough to meet the challenges posed by a catastrophic incident. Whole Community is an approach to emergency management that reinforces the fact that FEMA is only one part of our nation’s emergency management team; that we must leverage all of the resources of our collective team in preparing for, protecting against, responding to, recovering from and mitigating against all hazards; and that collectively we must meet the needs of the entire community in each of these areas. This larger collective emergency management team includes, not only FEMA and its partners at the federal level, but also local, tribal, state and territorial partners; non-governmental organizations like faith-based and non-profit groups and private sector industry; to individuals, families and communities, who continue to be the nation’s most important assets as first responders during a disaster. Both the composition of the community and the individual needs of community members, regardless of age, economics, or accessibility requirements, must be accounted for when planning and implementing disaster strategies.
When the community is engaged in an authentic dialogue, it becomes empowered to identify its needs and the existing resources that may be used to address them. Collectively, we can determine the best ways to organize and strengthen community assets, capacities, and interests. This allows us, as a nation, to expand our reach and deliver services more efficiently and cost effectively to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
As an ongoing component of the nation’s larger, coordinated effort to enhance emergency planning and strengthen the nation’s overall level of preparedness, FEMA engaged many of its emergency management partners – including local, tribal, state, territorial, and Federal representatives; academia; nongovernmental organizations; community members; and the private sector – in a national dialogue on a Whole Community approach to emergency management. Through this dialogue, three principles emerged that represent the foundation for Whole Community:
- Understand and meet the actual needs of the whole community. Community engagement can lead to a deeper understanding of the unique and diverse needs of a population, including its demographics, values, norms, community structures, networks, and relationships. The more we know about our communities, the better we can understand their real-life safety and sustaining needs and their motivations to participate in emergency management-related activities prior to an event.
- Engage and empower all parts of the community. Engaging the whole community and empowering local action will better position stakeholders to plan for and meet the actual needs of a community and strengthen the local capacity to deal with the consequences of all threats and hazards. This requires all members of the community to be part of the emergency management team, which should include diverse community members, social and community service groups and institutions, faith-based and disability groups, academia, professional associations, and the private and nonprofit sectors, while including government agencies who may not traditionally have been directly involved in emergency management. When the community is engaged in an authentic dialogue, it becomes empowered to identify its needs and the existing resources that may be used to address them.
- Strengthen what works well in communities on a daily basis. A Whole Community approach to building community resilience requires finding ways to support and strengthen the institutions, assets, and networks that already work well in communities and are working to address issues that are important to community members on a daily basis. Existing structures and relationships that are present in the daily lives of individuals, families, businesses, and organizations before an incident occurs can be leveraged and empowered to act effectively during and after a disaster strikes.
Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
In the document titled A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action
(PDF 1.4MB), FEMA synthesized what was learned through the National Dialogue to reflect some of the successes of a Whole Community approach across the country.