HAP Blog

The Sprint and Marathon of Emergency Management

FEMA’s National Preparedness Report highlights how DEI fits into preparedness

January 17, 2023

There’s the old adage that I’m sure you’ve heard before: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

When someone says this, they’re reminding you to see the big picture. We can’t just react to the challenges in front of us, but also the ones in the distance.

In emergency management, I’ve learned our preparedness needs to have the endurance of a marathoner and the speed of a sprinter. Our readiness blends the fast-twitch reaction to no-notice emergencies (such as an active shooter threat) and the more chronic and ever-present hazards that come after a lengthier warning period (think winter storms).

An all-hazards approach to emergency management and planning—when successful—is a merger of these skillsets, with abilities developed to sustain operations in the face of looming threats and the training and proficiency to react quickly to events we may not see coming.

Recently, I was reviewing the FEMA National Preparedness Report, which discusses the nation’s changing threat and hazard landscape. The report offered another reminder of the layers of complexity that come with managing emergencies and the ways our preparedness must change to support our communities.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

  1. The risks at hand

The report notes that there are three main elements of risk: the threat itself, our vulnerability, and the potential consequences from those threats. It highlights three main risk areas, including:

  • Climate change and weather-related hazards
  • Risks to critical infrastructure and cybersecurity
  • Equity, social vulnerability, and risk exposure

Understanding risk is a central tenant of emergency management, and we are using a new framework that goes beyond just managing physical threats like fires and cyber emergencies.

  1. How equity fits into preparedness

As we think about improving preparedness, we have to focus on the unique needs of our communities.

We are entering an era where our planning conversations begin with the recognition that not all populations are able to undertake this preparedness journey equally. That means thinking about how language barriers, access to technology, and availability of funding affect preparedness. When we account for these variables, we become better at managing emergencies in our communities.

  1. Steps forward

More and more, we’re seeing an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our preparedness planning.

FEMA’s 2022–2026 Strategic Plan directs the agency to work to “instill equity as a foundation of emergency management” and “lead whole of community in climate resilience.” The national preparedness report builds off this work and challenges us to understand the social vulnerabilities in our communities.

The reimagining of commonly held emergency management practices asks us to leverage data from DEI assessment tools to become better at preparing for emergencies. It is incumbent upon all those with responsibilities for protecting and providing services to socially vulnerable populations, as well as those individuals coming from underserved communities, to enter into our planning conversations with that reality understood.

This emphasis on social vulnerability and DEI adds another layer of complexity to our planning and preparedness and provides another reminder that we have to consider our short-term needs and a bigger picture.

This shift forces us to think of ways we can be better, and I know we are ready for the challenge. After all, we are well-trained for both the marathon and the sprint.

If you are interested in learning more about DEI in emergency management, contact Tom Kitchen, Jr., MECM, HAP’s manager, emergency management.


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