Policy Dialogues in DC: Emerging Trends in Emergency Management

One of the most fascinating aspects of public policy is that its effects can be felt in most areas of daily life.  On November 6, Jefferson Program students were given the opportunity to learn about the various aspects of emergency management during the second fall semester policy dialogue. 

This discussion was somewhat different than other policy dialogues, using a roundtable format with both panelists discussing their experiences simultaneously and engaging students on critical issues of importance in the emergency management field.  Stephanie Vallez (MPP ’10) was the principal organizer of the event, which combined her interest in public policy and emergency management by “…demonstrating how diverse a field emergency management is.  How this young field defines itself in the coming years will determine how we shape policy in a number of areas.”

Another unique aspect of the dialogue was the opportunity to examine emergency management from both macro and micro perspectives.  Jeffrey Stern (W&M ’92) gave an in-depth overview of the development of emergency management from its origins during the Revolution to its further evolution after the passage of the 1947 National Security Act.  A former White House Fellow who served at the U.S. Department of Interior in the Office of Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Management, he also served as deputy coordinator of emergency services at the Arlington Fire Department.  His discussion included both the strengths and weaknesses of our current system with regards to specific events, including Hurricane Katrina and the recent events at Ft. Hood.  

Furthermore, he discussed the current challenges facing preparation for and response to emergencies.  Definitional differences between national security, homeland security, and emergency management pose challenges to policymakers as they strive to implement the most effective systems for response. The combination of and relationships between federal, state, and local governments is never more apparent than during the coordination of emergency response. Anecdotal evidence from the response to Hurricane Katrina offered a prime example of the failures of governmental and inter-agency coordination and the need for further vertical integration.

Turning to emergency management on a more specialized scale, Dr. Conrad Estrada, Veterinary Attaché for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in Mexico City and former Veterinary Epidemiologist for APHIS’s National Center for Animal Health Emergency Management spoke on the processes the USDA engages in to prepare for and respond to foreign animal disease outbreaks.  His explanation of the current US infrastructure showed students how the USDA plans for the next outbreak and even responds to non-animal diseases, including H1N1.

While addressing current issues facing the field of emergency management, this policy dialogue gave students the opportunity to learn more about a growing policy area that could use the skill set gained in the Jefferson program to better prepare for emergency response.