Looking back

Brian R. Usher
Director of Public Works and Engineering
City of Zion, Illinois
Chair, APWA Emergency Management Committee

Since the dawn of civilization mankind has relied on dedicated people like today's public works professionals to rebuild and repair their communities when natural or man-made calamities occurred. From rebuilding Pharaoh's drainage canals in ancient Egypt, to sustaining the canals of Venice, to rebuilding cities ravaged by war or earthquake, these silent folks have completed their tasks with little need for fanfare or attention. For the most part these people did their best to keep their communities vibrant and functioning without the need for personal glory or recognition.

The advent of mass media allowed people far outside the areas affected to learn about the damage done by floods, tornados, hurricanes and explosions. The invention of the telegraph allowed news of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (two of the earliest examples) to spread rapidly across the country. Even today the best fire, police and EMS departments cannot efficiently provide their services without the cooperation and support of the public works profession. Water must be pumped to fire scenes, roads must be maintained for emergency vehicle response, and vehicles and equipment must be maintained to ensure their availability when called to respond.

In the mid-1980s members of the American Public Works Association realized that through coordinated efforts and training with other agencies they could provide a very efficient and practical response to natural and man-made emergencies. In 1983 APWA created the Council on Emergency Management that was staffed by members interested in expanding the organization's knowledge and understanding of this important issue. One of several Councils within the association at that time, the Council on Emergency Management's original members included Hank Hulme of Arlington County, VA, Dave Rhodes of Redmond, WA, Jim Martin of Fresno, CA, Gene Neff of Baltimore County, MD, Gregg Varner of Charleston, SC, Al Lenzini of Oakland, CA, Mark McCain of Greenville, NC, Lambert Mimms of Mobile, AL, and Larry Lux of Barrington, IL.

This group initially developed and delivered two innovative industry training courses, "Emergency Management Awareness" and "Preparing an Agency Emergency Plan." These programs, as well as those which followed, were developed for direct delivery to active public works employees across North America and into the Caribbean. Links were also established with the United Nations and USAID to deliver courses outside of North America. In 1983 the APWA Education Foundation provided a grant to assist FEMA with the development of the public works components of their Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC).

In 1986 there was a growing interest in disaster management and the Council on Emergency Management. The Council was very active across the country providing seminars and training. The group partnered with FEMA's Emergency Management Institute on various training initiatives, and provided subject matter experts for training curricula and information documents. In the mid-90s, through a reorganization at APWA, Councils and Institutes (special interest groups within the association) became the Professional/Educational/Technical Committees, and finally the Technical Committees that exist today.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, the Emergency Management Committee saw a burst of interest from membership across the country. The committee also saw the fruition of earlier efforts when in September 2002 FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh signed a Memorandum of Understanding with APWA at the opening ceremony of the association's annual conference. In the ensuing two years APWA has been tasked with many requests for participation and input in national homeland security initiatives and advisory groups.

Currently, APWA members represent APWA and the public works industry on a variety of national work groups and committees. Judith Mueller, City of Charlottesville, VA: Emergency Response Senior Advisory Committee, Department of Homeland Security; Larry Nadeau, City of Port St. Lucie, FL: Resource Typing, National Mutual Aid and Resource Management Initiative, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security; Chris Yarnell, Cole County, MO: Model Intra-State Mutual Aid Agreement, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security; MaryAnn Marrocolo, representing the City of New York City: Workgroup Member, National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System; Larry Lux, Lux Advisors: National Homeland Security Committee; Brian Usher, Zion, IL: Legislative testimony, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.

It is clear that disaster planning, response and recovery have long been, and continue to be, an important part of the public works community. Your Emergency Management Committee members remain dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of public works emergency management for the members of APWA and many citizens that we serve every day.

Brian R. Usher can be reached at (847) 746-4064 or at brianu@zion.il.us.