Whole-of-Government/Whole-of-Community (Multi-sectoral Coordination) in Emergency Management: Domestic and International Strategies

In the wake of devastating events, such as the recent impact of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, I am reminded of the importance of a comprehensive national strategy for emergency preparedness and response. It is difficult for anyone to remain focused on the broader collaborative picture during any emergent situation, let alone a hurricane that resulted in days of flooding, destruction, and loss of life.  However, we have seen time and again that key sectors within government, industry, and relevant non-governmental organizations provide the most value when responding to an incident in a collaborative and coordinated manner. For example, soon after the Arkema chemical plant explosion was reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deployed one of their resources, an Airborne Spectral Photometric Environmental Collection Technology (ASPECT) aircraft, to Crosby, Texas to retrieve chemical information from the resulting smoke cloud to help inform the response efforts. In doing so, the EPA not only fulfilled their sector and agency specific requirements, but also concurrently enhanced the overall strategy and resources of the state and local first responders leading the response effort.

Events like these highlight that there must be a mutual understanding of the goals, requirements, and expertise of sector counterparts, in order to effectively work together. This is a crucial baseline for cohesive emergency preparedness and response planning. In the United States, we refer to this as Whole-of-Government/Whole-of-Community.  With our mission and country partners in Southeast Asia, we refer to this as multi-sectoral.   Regardless of the terminology, this approach is applicable to all forms of emergency incidents; may they be of natural or man-made origin, accidental or intentional, and across all hazard types.

Lessons Learned: United States

Over the years, the United States has accrued experience and lessons learned in multi-sectoral coordination from numerous events, such as the response to the 9/11 Attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These events of national concern highlight that coordination and collaboration among various sectors and entities, within and outside of government, is a crucial component of effective threat and hazard mitigation.

For strategy, the United States relies upon the National Response Framework (NRF), which is a document that provides guidance for all-hazard incident response in the United States. Preceded by the National Response Plan (NRP), the NRF was developed in part from lessons learned during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the London bombings, and national, state and local exercises.[i] It emphasizes multi-sectoral roles and responsibilities during an incident response. The NRF delineates an approach to government and private sector integration for emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts, and it advances the notion that governments at all levels, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individual citizens share responsibility in incident response.[ii] The NRF relies upon the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to coordinate all phases of emergency management activities among all levels of government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.[iii]

An example of U.S. multi-sectoral coordination in practice can be found in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Joint Criminal and Epidemiological Investigations (CrimEpi) Program. This program was developed to enable communication, collaboration and coordination between law enforcement and public health communities during a response to a potential biological threat.

Lessons Learned: Malaysia

In Malaysia, national concern regarding multi-sectoral coordination during an emergency response was also prompted by experiences and lessons learned. Various disasters including mudslides, landslides, tropical storm Greg in 1996, and the collapse of the Highland Towers Condominium in 1993 drove the creation of an integrated all-hazard disaster management system in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s National Security (NSC) Directive No. 20 is the mechanism for integrative management of major land all-hazard disasters and incidents. This policy determines the roles and responsibilities of the various stake-holding agencies involved in a disaster response. Through NSC Directive No. 20, a Disaster Management and Relief Committee (DMRC) is established at the national, state and district levels. Each DMRC consists of an interagency and inter-sectoral group of stake-holders. The federal level DRMC formulates policies and strategies, and the state and district level DMRCs implement the national disaster management procedures.  NSC Directive No. 20 also requires all government agencies to develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for disaster prevention, which includes a review and update of their Emergency Response Plans (ERPs).[iv]

An example of a Malaysian multi-sectoral coordination activity is the Biological Incident Response Training and Evaluation (BRITE) program, which was sponsored by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP). The BRITE program was developed based off the aforementioned U.S. CrimEpi program, and was tailored to improve the ability of Malaysia’s law enforcement, public health, animal health and community stakeholders in bioincident response efforts. Global Systems Engineering assisted in the implementation of the BRITE program in Malaysia.

A Global Issue

The importance of multi-sectoral coordination in emergency preparedness and response is not an issue specific to one country.  Collaborative national emergency management strategy is an issue of global concern. Different countries often experience a diversity of hazard and threat variables due to their specific societal, economical and geographical specificities.  While coordination efforts must be tailored to the characteristics of a particular country, the need for a multi-sectoral approach and strategy to all-hazards response efforts remains across international boundaries. For example, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, and various international Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) outbreaks over the years, have emphasized the need for strong multi-sectoral coordination in emergency response efforts.

Unanticipated hazards will arise in the future. As of this post, and just as the Hurricane Harvey response moves into the recovery phase, another hurricane is on the not-so-distant horizon. This Hurricane, “Irma,” has already turned into a category five hurricane, and is headed towards Florida at a steady pace. We continue to see that hazards and threats are almost always unpredictable in timing, scope, and severity. This only serves to further highlight how imperative it is that national multi-sectoral coordination strategies for emergency response must remain flexible, inclusive, and adaptable to emerging unprecedented threats.

Written by Caitlin Devaney caitlin.devaney@globalsyseng.com

[i] https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/NRFRolloutBriefingNotes.pdf

[ii] https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-core.pdf

[iii] https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/NIMS_core.pdf

[iv] http://www.adrc.asia/management/MYS/Directives_National_Security_Council.html?Fr

Image Credit: Aivaro Blanco/EPA

As posted on ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricanes-harvey-irma-cost-us-economy-290-billion/story?id=49761970


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