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Community Empowerment through Incident Command

September 5, 2014 - Blog -

There are various models to follow when seeking to foster resiliency in a community. The Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, is a program made available by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to educate and train citizens in basic disaster preparedness and response. CERT programs need to be sponsored by a local agency and are funded in part through the Stafford Act. These teams are designed to augment response to an emergency and assist in preparedness activities during steady state. They are integrated into the Incident Command Structure and react to the incident, but are not a communication tool for use by the affected populace during the incident itself.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities approaches resiliency by recognizing cities that display the ability to “bounce back stronger after tough times, and live better in good times.” This can be accomplished through legislation, purposeful taxes, or other environmental plans, programs, and frameworks. For example, Boulder, CO received its induction for its leadership on preparing for climate change. After receiving “Biblical flooding” in 2013, the city rapidly recovered through its careful city planning and land management. Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities is an excellent concept, but is not designed to specifically provide a channel for disaster stricken communities to communicate with Incident Command.

A model that gets us closer to the solution proposed in this article is Seattle’s Neighborhoods Actively Prepare (SNAP) program. The Washington Office of Emergency Management has created an on-line tool kit to help communities prepare before an emergency strikes. It has templates, guides, signage, and tips for how to advertise, coordinate, and run community meetings. The desired result is to “Get Together,” “Get Organized,” and “Get Confident.” This well-constructed design takes a community step-by-step from initial preparations to running disaster scenario drills. However, it still falls short of having an existing platform that ensures direct communication between affected neighborhoods and the management body that responds to emergencies.

Solution: Implement a Community Resiliency Board with Liaison Officer into the Incident Command Structure

The Incident Command Structure is a proven method that does well when focusing on its primary objectives. However, it is equally important to consider information needs of the community. Populations need their voices heard, specifically by Incident Command, who by nature maintains strict focus on response efforts. After a disaster strikes, recovery would be easier by having a Community Resiliency Board with an appointed Liaison Officer. The Community Resiliency Board is small crew of community members who are formed with the purpose of increasing resiliency before, during, and after disasters strike. Jurisdictions have the control over how many individuals will be on the Board and will vote members in their positions. Once a Board is formed, Board members designate one person to act as Liaison Officer. The Liaison Officer will be the initial point-of-contact integrating with the Incident Command Post (ICP).  The Incident Commander will appoint the Liaison Officer to work with a specific branch in the ICP, depending on the disaster.

The Community Resiliency Board will be responsible for communicating with impacted residents in disaster-affected jurisdictions. The communication flow between the affected populace and the Incident Command becomes more effective and timely. The needs of the community members can be heard, recorded, and shared with Incident Command. Incident Command’s subsequent actions and decisions regarding such concerns will be shared back to the residents via the Liaison Officer and the Board. This group empowers communities by giving them a voice and a line of communication.

Responsibilities during steady-state may include being present at Emergency Management meetings, training sessions, conferences, summits, or other important events where the community needs to have a representative “at the table.” Information about meetings, training events, or conferences is disseminated to the community as part of an open-dialogue concept. The purpose of this information sharing is to promote resiliency.

These elected positions need to be identifiable so that those responding to an incident can quickly access them. It is also the responsibility of each jurisdiction to pay for these positions. Pay will be dependent on how each jurisdiction forms the Board. Alternatively, this position can be an additional duty for existing non-partisan council positions, which include Assessor, Auditor, Sheriff, Clerk, and Treasurer. Those applying for this role should meet certain requirements, such as being a CERT member, previous experience working in emergencies, and/or need to complete basic Incident Command Structure courses.

FIT has shared this idea with Washington Governor Inslee’s office and we will be working with the Governor’s office to explore the idea. Updates about this concept’s progress will be shared through our social media channels.