The pulse of our communities

Bob Freudenthal
APWA President

Public works professionals across the country play a key role in the nation's emergency management and disaster response efforts. We are the pulse of the local communities our citizens call "home," and public safety is our priority at all times. Public works professionals manage the design, planning, and operation of our communities' critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and water systems. We are responsible for clearing, removing and disposing of debris, restoring utility services, managing emergency traffic, and many other critical services to our communities.

During the recent catastrophe resulting from Hurricane Katrina, public works officials were called to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Our people were and continue to be on the streets clearing debris, providing clean water and inspecting public buildings to ensure the safety of their occupants.

This month's APWA Reporter focuses on emergency management in public works. Several authors have provided excellent educational articles that will assist you in performing your jobs during emergencies. One article details the deployment of two public works teams to Waveland, MS following Katrina. They were deployed through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact to assist with the restoration of water and sewer services. It vividly captures public works in action. The men and women in the public works community have responded, and continue to respond, to our nation's record-setting hurricane season in a manner that makes us all very proud.

In October I had the privilege of representing the public works community in testimony before Congress. The hearing addressed "Incident Command, Control and Communications During Catastrophic Events." Among the issues discussed, all agreed that a critical need continues for interoperable communications among responder groups, and cross-disciplinary training to ensure that we can provide the most efficient and effective response to our communities.

Hurricane Katrina has taught us that there is much work to be accomplished in the development of effective response plans for catastrophic events. As the enormous amount of work continues along the Gulf Coast there is an in-depth review underway in congressional hearings and committees in Washington. It is clear that change is underway.

Providing tremendous support for these national issues is the APWA Emergency Management Technical Committee and our staff in Washington. Through the efforts of these key resources, APWA and public works have had extensive involvement in homeland security issues. We have provided input through a series of "working groups" organized by the Department of Homeland Security to implement the National Response Plan (NRP) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). APWA is well known and understood in Washington because of the efforts of these groups.

APWA is also serving as the review team for the Department of Homeland Security's incident command curriculum development. The new online course, which is required for NIMS compliance, is now available at the Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Look for the article by Brian Usher in this issue which further explains the importance of public works officials enrolling in and completing this course.

The association's members and staff are currently participating in credentialing working groups at the National Fire Protection Association and FEMA, developing federal comments for the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, exploring joint initiatives with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and recently conducted a Click, Listen & Learn program on public works compliance requirements for NIMS.

These efforts are paying big dividends and will have a positive effect on our future ability to respond to national disasters. To successfully combat the threat of terrorism and prepare for an all-hazards approach, disciplines must work together during prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery operations. Interagency coordination, communication, and collaboration are vital to achieve the most effective and efficient response possible. No single discipline functions independently. We must continue integrating the public works team into emergency response to ensure that our nation can prevent, prepare for, respond to, or recover from any disaster as quickly and efficiently as possible.