A Whole-Community Approach to All-Hazards Planning

With the change of presidential administration, it’s fair to now look at the last eight years and marvel at the quiet steadfastness of immediate past FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. He managed to stay relatively off the radar, despite major disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the unprecedented 99 federally declared disasters of 2011. One of Administrator Fugate’s strongest legacies will be his promotion of a whole-community approach to emergency management.

Whole-community planning positions public-safety officials to develop and analyze plans that serve the needs of those within their response areas. This includes identifying culturally isolated populations and those who speak a first language other than English, as well as ensuring that those with disabilities and others with access and functional needs are engaged along with businesses, nonprofit wrap-around service providers, faith communities and local civic associations.

Fugate has stated that the main goal of a public agency should be to lead the community toward a risk scenario that includes residents more thoroughly in disaster response and recovery efforts. The whole-community approach improves collaboration with all levels of government and external partners.

“It often comes down to vocabulary,” Administrator Fugate said at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in February 2016, as part of a Natural Hazards Resilience Speakers series. “Weather-related events are natural hazards, not disasters. The public is a resource, not a liability. After the storm, they are survivors, not victims.”

What Is a Whole-Community Approach?

According to the 2011 FEMA document A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action, whole-community benefits include:

  • Shared understanding of community needs and capabilities
  • Greater empowerment and integration of resources from across the community
  • Stronger social infrastructure
  • Establishment of relationships that facilitate more-effective prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery activities
  • Increased individual and collective preparedness
  • Greater resiliency at both the community and national levels

There are three principles and six strategic themes for building a whole-community approach:

  • Principles:
    • Understand and meet the actual needs of the whole community.
    • Engage and empower all parts of the community.
    • Strengthen what works well in communities on a daily basis.
  • Strategic Themes:
    • Understand community complexity.
    • Recognize community capabilities and needs.
    • Foster relationships with community leaders.
    • Build and maintain partnerships.
    • Empower local action.
    • Leverage and strengthen social infrastructure, networks and assets.

How Does This Relate to Fire Departments?

Fire departments have been reaching out and engaging neighborhoods and community groups in prevention for decades. A whole-community approach toward all-hazards planning can further ensure that we’re each planning for everyone to build an even deeper resiliency of our jurisdictions.

Departments can ask themselves:

  • Are we including the right community leaders to get a true sense of the needs and issues of our entire community? Who is missing from the table?
  • Have we planned for our community, or have we planned with our community? Are there elements of these plans that our community residents can lead for and with us?
  • Do our citizens share our expectations for success?

Beginning in early 2017, the IAFC started bringing A Whole Community Approach to Disaster Planning to 20 communities across the country. This blended learning includes web-based training as well as a full day of instruction. For more information, contact Chuck Hawkins, program manager in the IAFC’s Learning Center.

“Plan for the communities you live in, not what fits your plan,” Fugate said.

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