The Art of Collaboration

Every evolving, complex incident has a potential to outpace resources and overwhelm a local jurisdiction; disasters don’t stop at a jurisdiction’s borders. This has placed increasing importance on collaboration not only between jurisdictions but also between traditional and nontraditional responder disciplines.

Regional collaboration is increasingly used across a number of industries and efforts. Often, these efforts are made for their cost-effective and efficient use of resources. At the local level, this may be seen in using regional collaboration to increase educational opportunities for students and for the development of teachers.

Emphasis on collaboration doesn’t stop at the local level; federal guidance for grants and other funding initiatives is placing greater emphasis on building regional assets that can be used by multiple agencies. As this emphasis continues, jurisdictions will be required more and more to work with their regional and disciplinary partners to seek and manage their grant dollars.

Collaboration is more than cooperating or coordinating efforts with local jurisdictions and response partners. Collaborative efforts call for a proactive and concerted approach from all partners.

Collaborative partners must recognize the need for collaboration and establish strong and committed leadership that fosters a collaborative culture. Appointed liaisons or representatives from each agency must have the authority to get things done.

Agencies should become familiar with each other’s work, culture, response approaches and ways of communicating as a way to establish mutual respect. Multidisciplinary response requires all partners be included in a response; therefore, multidisciplinary participation, including from the private sector, is essential in planning meetings.

Lastly, partners must develop clear communication with one another and establish a process for achieving results.

There’s no one set of approaches that will work for every collaborative effort. Considering general guidelines for successful collaboration, partners must be careful to realize potential barriers and pitfalls that may exist.

The barriers and pitfalls to successful collaboration include but aren’t limited to

  • A lack of personal relationships
  • Infrequency of multidisciplinary response
  • Uncommitted leadership
  • Distrust or misunderstanding of other emergency response cultures
  • Poor communication skills
  • Egos

One example of effective local collaboration is the partnership between the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County, Minn. This collaboration proved successful during the I-35 highway bridge collapse in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007. Unified command was established within minutes of the collapse; it included the Minnesota State Patrol, Minneapolis Police And Fire Departments, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Hennepin County Medical Center, as well as others. Each agency understood what role they had to play during the emergency because of previous collaboration.

Another example of successful collaboration is the National Capitol Region (NCR). Since its creation, the NCR has expanded its collaborative efforts to regional public-safety partners that include the state of Maryland, Commonwealth of Virginia, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro Washington Airports Authority, more than 30 federal law enforcement agencies and many more. It’s one of the most complex and effective collaborative networks.

To be successful, collaboration must follow these guidelines:

  • Recognize the need for collaboration.
  • Establish leadership that is committed to collaboration.
  • Develop clear communication with partners.
  • Ensure transparency in the decision-making process.
  • Establish regular meetings with all partners.

Collaboration at any level isn’t easy; it requires time, energy and effort. However, the payoff for your agency and local community is immense in the long term.

By increasing collaboration with other jurisdictions and response disciplines, local responders are able to identify and fill existing resource gaps, strengthening and better preparing their regions. Collaboration is an important tool for the efficient delivery of public-safety services during crises and catastrophic events at all levels.

Melissa Hebert is the program manager for the IAFC’s TReC program.

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