When a major national-scale disaster strikes, neither the public sector – or the private sector – can go it alone. For a private sector organization though, how do you make that first leap into public/private partnerships? Do they really work? How can you get started?
In this episode, Bryghtpath Principal & CEO Bryan Strawser shares his experiences with public/private partnerships in emergency management as a private-sector emergency management leader. Topics discussed include Hurricane Dorian, Hurricane Sandy, United States Northern Command’s public/private sector office, FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operations Center, and more.
Related Blog Posts & Episodes
- Blog Post: Public/Private Partnerships – An Overview
- Blog post: Resilient Communities need Public/Private Partnerships to Survive
- Episode #17: Lessons Learned from the 2017 Hurricane Season
Bryan Strawser : Hello, and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, principal and CEO at Bryghtpath and I’m recording this episode just before Hurricane Dorian approaches the United States East Coast and begins to scrape really North Eastern Florida up into Georgia, South Carolina, and potentially making landfall in North Carolina. So one thing that’s on my mind right now is the whole concept of public-private partnerships, particularly in the area of emergency management. But this area of public-private partnerships that I’m going to talk about is just as applicable to law enforcement at the local, county, state, and federal level. It’s relevant to the fire service. It’s relevant to emergency medical services. It’s relevant in other countries because what we’re talking about here is that sharing of information openly between the public and private sectors to achieve a more resilient community.
Bryan Strawser : And I’ve thought about this a lot in the last couple of days with Hurricane Dorian I was reminded of and I was sharing in some of our previous podcasts and videos something I’d learned a while ago that’s actually on a challenge coin from the United States Northern Command that supports emergency management response in the United States. And on the outer ring of this challenge coin, and we’ll post a picture in the show notes, it says, “When you need a friend, it’s too late to make one.” And the lesson here is that the time to make and establish those relationships for strong public-private partnerships is long before the disaster hits. It’s long before the active shooter situation hits your corporate headquarters. It’s long before the significant investigation where you need to work hand in hand with a cross-jurisdictional task force for a cybersecurity issue. It’s long before any of these bad things happen. It’s about forming these relationships upfront.
Bryan Strawser : So I want to go back to something that had happened seven years ago, almost seven years ago with Hurricane Sandy. At the time I was the head of global crisis management and business continuity and intelligence for one of the world’s largest retailers, and if you remember Hurricane Sandy, it came ashore as a category one hurricane on October 29th, 2012 in New Jersey. It was a slow, strong, slow-moving category one hurricane and in Sandy’s path that day were more than 200 retail stores, multiple distribution centers in two data centers that powered the E-commerce site for my employer. All were in harm’s way. And more importantly to me, more importantly to my employer, tens of thousands of our employees were in harm’s way as the storm came ashore. But I knew going into that day that I was not in that fight by myself and I knew that we as a company, we’re not in that fight alone because we had spent the last decade coming to the realization that for our community to truly be resilient against a natural disaster that public and private sector entities must work together and share information in a collaborative and transparent manner.
Bryan Strawser : In fact for three years or so leading up to Hurricane Sandy, starting back in about 2009 local state and federal emergency management agencies across the country had really embraced this idea of outreach and joint planning with the private sector. In fact, the private sector, particularly retail and utility and communication sectors had really embraced this approach with open arms. The results of that had been this strong set of partnerships between the public and private sector that was apparent throughout the preparation, response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy. For example, several days prior to Sandy’s landfall public and private sector entities were exchanging information through channels that had been predefined. Emergency management agencies were sharing things like situational updates, storm path updates, forecasts, plans for road closures and evacuations long before landfall, which enabled the private sector to have better planning. The private sector were sharing their plans for a facility closure, how their employees were evacuating, the positioning of their recovery supplies and their post-landfall response plans.
Bryan Strawser : So this collaborative and transparent approach gave broader situational clarity for both sectors, the public sector in the private sector and it helped avoid confusion later during the very chaotic response phase of Hurricane Sandy. As Sandy began to dissipate and its impact in New Jersey, in New York and other states became clearer public and private sector entities remained in close contact. The federal emergency management agency, or FEMA, had activated their National Business Emergency Operations Center, which was new at the time. It was radically new. So it operated as a component as it does today within FEMA’s National Response and Coordination Center or NRCC. The NRCC consolidated a lot of federal and state agency reports into a simple easy to read report for the private sector to digest. At the same time, private sector entities were sending their information to the national business EOC. That was consolidated by that team and then shared at the highest level of state and federal government.
Bryan Strawser : That information helped provide an understanding of the storm’s impact on the private sector in New York, New Jersey, and adjacent states. I think more importantly that information helped FEMA and other public sector emergency management agencies make decisions for the distribution of their supplies and resources because thinking about it for a minute. If you’re an impacted city in the state of New Jersey at Hurricane Sandy, but your Walmart and Target are open and they’re able to supply food and water. Does FEMA really need to bring in disaster pods to provide food and water or are those resources best prioritized for somewhere else? And again, some of this is situationally dependent but that gives I think some perspective on that.
Bryan Strawser : As a major retailer my employer at the time was able to quickly bring in significant amounts of ice, water, recovery supplies for donations and for sale at those 200 locations within about 24 to 48 hours after landfall. Emergency management agencies could then prioritize and distribute supplies elsewhere strategically with that information in hand knowing that the needed supplies were available at other locations. That made for more efficient decision making and a more coordinated response process. It also contributed to interesting situational awareness that wasn’t there previously because FEMA, for example, was able to brief the secretary of Homeland Security who could then inform The President of real on the ground context for what was happening between retail, power, telecommunications, and the other private sectors. Because that information was being communicated and shared transparently within the industry and with government partners like FEMA. This close coordination between the public and private sectors throughout all phases of business continuity and crisis management were really shown to be effective during the Hurricane Sandy response.
Bryan Strawser : And that approach allowed for a significantly faster and more efficient response in recovery of the private sector capabilities helping ease the burden on emergency management agencies in the public sector, and I think leads to faster economic recovery in those impacted areas. While opportunities do exist to continue to mature the interaction between the public and private sector entities this close coordination and transparent communication is really now viewed as a requirement to build resilient communities, companies, and nations. Some of that was taken from on a magazine article that we wrote in July 2014 reflecting on Hurricane Sandy, but as Dorian approaches Florida and the US South Eastern Coast it reminds me of what I thought was the most important lesson out all of all of this, which is that when you need a friend, it’s too late to make one. Now is the time to build those partnerships and relationships with law enforcement, emergency management, the fire service, emergency medical services, and other entities so that when the disaster does hit, when the critical moment does happen that the relationships are there and you’re able to share information in an open and transparent manner which will benefit both the public and private sectors.
Bryan Strawser : That’s it for this edition of The Managing Uncertainty Podcast. We’ll be back next week with a new episode. Thanks for listening.