William A. Verkest

Question, think and plan

William A. Verkest, P.E.
APWA President

Each year emergency management, unfortunately, becomes the most important concern of many communities. Often we seem to hold out hope the community will not be ours. From the western wildfires last summer to flooding in the northwest in the fall, to the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005; from the horrors of terrorism in Oklahoma City, New York and at the Pentagon to a nameless cornfield in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, we never know what it will be or when it will happen—just that the odds are something will. It is just a matter of scale.

For over 25 years APWA has enjoyed the dedication and services of members who continue to address this important component of every community, agency and department. From its founding as the Council on Emergency Management to the current Emergency Management Committee, these members have written countless articles, provided congressional testimony, made presentations at numerous national conferences, and provided subject matter experts to sit on working groups, national interest committees, and consortiums.

This month's APWA Reporter presents a number of emergency management-related articles designed to encourage you to question, think and plan. That is what we, as public works professionals, do best. We should routinely think about our communities, the risks they face and how we can mitigate those risks to reduce their consequences. We must question our risk and mitigation assumptions to ensure that we have thought them through. Does our emergency planning look at the actual risk, or the "efficient" risk? Are we caught up in only planning for the cost-effective disaster? Not to delve into political issues, but you have to ask: What would have been less expensive—planning and improving a series of levees, or rebuilding an entire city?

Let me encourage each of you to take time to become more familiar with this highly visible and sensitive area of public works. We sometimes get comfortable in our place in the organization and do not venture into an area we do not understand, lack familiarity with, or do not directly control. That said, everyone affiliated with local government must become, at the very least, conversant in the issues of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the principles behind the Incident Command System (ICS).

APWA has been involved through member representatives in many Department of Homeland Security initiatives. Your fellow members have provided their time and expertise on the Resource Typing Project, National Credentialing Project, Infrastructure Protection Task Group, NFPA ICS Professional Qualifications Committee, EMAC Advisory Committee, the Homeland Security Advisory Committee and many more. These dedicated public works veterans have ensured that the needs and concerns of the public works profession have been heard and considered as governmental and agency policies and regulations are drafted.

Moreover, the APWA staff in Washington, D.C. has been very active in communicating with federal agency staff, congressional staff and the members of Congress on what APWA members can do to help the national effort and what APWA members and their communities continue to do to protect and respond in their jurisdictions.

In the November issue I wrote about making APWA a "WOW" organization. In this issue APWA and the Emergency Management Committee trust the information that is included will help you make your organization a "WOW" organization—not an "OWW" organization—when the time comes to meet your first responder mandate.

I have no doubt that all APWA members work tirelessly to provide their communities with safe, efficient services, and quick, well-planned responses to emergencies and disasters. Through you, our members, APWA will continue to work to ensure that the emergency management needs of all public works agencies are heard at the local, state and federal levels.

Thank you for what you do to keep your communities ready to respond to whatever emergency situation we may face.