Monday, December 3, 2012

Public Works and Emergency Management

Hurricane Sandy has placed the intersection of public works and emergency management back on the map.  Engineering will play a key role in the development of climate change adaptation strategies.  One area of engineering responsibility will be in support of the expanding role of public works in emergency management.  Public works and transportation agencies will be increasingly taxed to provide the resources necessary in the new era of mega-climate induced disasters.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 of 2003 included public works as "emergency responders."  However, overall acceptance and recognition by primary responder disciplines as equals in emergency management are still lacking.  Dave Bergner and Kimberly Vasconez provided an excellent overview of the current public work + emergency management dilemma in Expanding Role of Public Works in Emergency Management (ASCE July 2012 Leadership and Management in Engineering).  They write the following:

"Public works is seriously deficient in other aspects of preparedness, including needs assessment, planning, and exercising.  As stated earlier. most attention is focused on the design, construction and the provision of certain essential services.  As budgets have gotten tighter in recent years, funding for staff and contractors has severely declined, but public expectations of service levels have not.  Reduced staffs have little time or money for planning and training for disasters and emergencies.  Managers who do conduct assessments to identify shortcomings find that their recommendations and requests cannot be implemented because of insufficient funding.  They have to advocate for these funds by emphasizing to elected officials and the public the vital functions they will be responsible for during emergencies.  It is also important to gain the support of police and fire departments as their endorsements will carry much weight."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a full training library - - many of the training modules are geared toward public works.  These include the following:
  • IS 552 - Public Works Role in Emergency Management
  • IS 554 - Emergency Planning for Public Works
  • IS 556 - Damage Assessment for Public Works
  • IS 558 - Public Works and Disaster Recovery
  • IS 559 - Local Damage Assessment
  • IS 632 - Introduction to Debris Operations

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