The importance of effective information sharing

May 5th, 2010

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FEMA’s Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program (RCPG), not surprisingly, provides grant funding to selected urban areas across the country to improve catastrophic preparedness capabilities. CHHS is fortunate to be working on two RCPG projects for the National Capital Region (NCR), which, for this purpose, consists of Maryland, D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. For FY 2008, there are seven RCPG projects being developed for the NCR alone, with each state in the region taking the lead on a project (Maryland/CHHS is spearheading two). Outside the NCR, ten urban areas spanning Norfolk to Honolulu are developing RCPGP-funded projects. That’s a lot of catastrophic planning. Despite their geographic differences, the projects share a common goal: to improve catastrophic preparedness. And with common goals frequently come common challenges and, potentially, common solutions.

Recognizing this opportunity for collaboration, FEMA invited RCPG regional representatives, like CHHS, to its NPD National Planning Workshop last week in Coronado, CA. One of CHHS’ RCPGP projects seeks to facilitate partnerships between the public and private/non-profit sector to improve catastrophic preparedness. At the workshop, I participated in a panel discussion on private sector involvement in resource management and logistics at which the benefits of regional collaboration were on full display.

Take for example CHHS’ outreach efforts to the public sector. Before approaching potential private partners, CHHS consulted representatives from state government to identify their key resource needs and essential functions. This enabled us to target private/non-profit entities with specific capabilities in specific industries. Before I could say anything about it, someone from another RCPGP region raised the importance of identifying essential needs and functions prior to approaching possible private partners. Someone else noted how critical it is to avoid treating the “private sector” as a homogeneous or monolithic group. The ensuing discussion yielded some useful ideas like using table-top exercises to identify essential functions and involving “mom-and-pop” private operations to identify large regional wholesalers, whose logistical resources could prove valuable during an emergency response. While this summary captures maybe 10 minutes of a 90 minute discussion, it typifies the conversations that occurred over three days in 16 similar sessions, which covered topics like Community Preparedness, Mass Evacuation, Technical Assistance, and Grant Management.

I think most emergency managers agree that effective information sharing is critical to the work we do. Last week’s workshop reinforced this conclusion. It also served as a reminder that information sharing is only effective if you actually take the time to do it.

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