Conference Brings Together Public, Private Partners For Disaster Response

By Stacey Knott | NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | July 31, 2012

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - People across the U.S. faced a variety of disasters during the past year, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, drought and more. In most cases, if a person reached out for help they didn’t face that disaster alone. Family, friends, neighbors, the government and other public and private organizations all provided assistance, but perhaps not as commonly known, they also received help from local and national private businesses.

U.S. Northern Command hosted the second annual “Building Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships” Conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23-24. The event was co-sponsored by NORTHCOM, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as an opportunity for various federal agencies to build relationships with private sector partners from across the country. These groups also learned how they can combine their expertise for disaster preparedness and response operations.

“We find it so important to bring in both private and public partners and discuss the tough issues out there today,” Lt. Gen. Frank Grass, USNORTHCOM Deputy Commander, told the audience.

A variety of private organizations and companies attended the conference, including faith-based and community organizations, voluntary non-profits, large chain retail stores, packing and shipping companies, communications providers, and many others; these were in addition to the various government agencies and emergency coordinators from cities and states.

General Grass discussed NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s missions and the importance the commands place on partnerships to achieve those missions. He also highlighted the point that building relationships between public and private partners before disasters strike helps ensure the best communication, collaboration and coordination between those groups during response efforts.

Other conference sessions included preparing for future disasters and looking at lessons learned from past events like Hurricane Irene. Discussions touched on nearly every aspect of the relationship between the public and private sectors, including how to work together during international disaster response, like the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Richard Serino, FEMA Deputy Administrator and a keynote speaker at the conference, discussed the importance of why federal agencies needed to partner with businesses, especially when it came to disasters.

“Because they can do some things better than we can, they have expertise that we don’t have, and we have some they don’t have,” Mr. Serino said. “Having conversations and having those relationships is absolutely key.”

Conference presenters gave multiple examples of how local businesses and national companies provided goods and services to people affected by disasters. A majority of these businesses provided their services for free or discounted prices, because they felt it was the right thing to do for their communities. Although it was not an official theme of the conference, nearly every speaker made it clear that disaster response operations were about doing the best they could for disaster survivors.

Two highlights of the conference were a welcome by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and closing remarks by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Mayor Bach talked about the coordinated response during the Waldo Canyon Fire in June, which destroyed 346 homes and killed two people in Colorado Springs. Governor Hickenlooper spoke about the recent movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Both men touched on the courage of firefighters and police officers who responded to those events, and the importance of a community-centric approach for disaster response.

The conference also included an announcement about a new initiative by FEMA to further coordination between public and private partners during disasters. Mr. Serino revealed the formation of the National Business Emergency Operations Center. According to FEMA, the NBEOC is envisioned as a “virtual organization that serves as FEMA’s clearinghouse for two-way information sharing between public and private sector stakeholders in preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters.”

FEMA will provide more information on the NBEOC in the coming weeks, but businesses and private organizations can learn more at FEMA’s Private Sector website and the NBEOC factsheet.

The 2013 Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference will be held at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina. For more information, please contact the DHS Private Sector Office at privatesector@hq.dhs.gov or 202-282-8484.