Leader “Buy In” Is Not Enough in Emergency Management

Too many elected leaders are not taking the leadership role in developing, reviewing, and implementing their emergency management programs. Many plans have been published by jurisdictions, only to be discarded when it is time to put those plans into action. During disasters, jurisdiction leaders are implementing ad-hoc plans that are not coordinated with their respective jurisdictions’ agencies and, too often, have disastrous results. This is indicative of jurisdiction officials delegating all aspects of planning to their emergency management agencies, without even being briefed on the plan, let alone taking ownership.

Of course, jurisdiction leaders have many priorities, but protection and care for the folks who elected them must be the top job priority. Elected officials must own their plans and gain enough confidence in those plans to execute them when disaster strikes. In some jurisdictions, there are mayors and governors who are truly the owners of their emergency management programs … and it shows. Another aspect of disaster preparedness responsibility lies with the citizenry. If citizens demand competency and true leadership from those they elect, they will eventually get it.  

For decades, emergency managers have been speaking about how important it is to get buy-in from their mayors and governors for their jurisdictions’ emergency plans and procedures. Mayors and governors face numerous and sometimes conflicting priorities each and every day. However, the primary duty of jurisdictional leaders is still the safety and security of all residents of their communities. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the federal government has shouldered the major burden of funding disaster preparedness and giving well-intentioned guidance on how states and cities could achieve a high degree of readiness for a wide spectrum of disasters.

The fact is, early on, state and local governments expected all emergency management activities and funding to be the responsibility of the federal government, with funding through federal agencies. It is the opinion of this writer that approach was wrong then, it is wrong now, and it will be wrong in the future. Local, state, and territorial leaders must take a “leadership” role in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from future disasters.



James M. Rush Sr.

James M. Rush Sr. has over 45 years of healthcare administration and community emergency management experience in the U.S. armed forces, the U.S. public-health community, and the nation’s civilian healthcare industry. He served as the Region III project officer for the National Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program, and the CDC’s National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, always dedicated to assisting healthcare and public health organizations prepare for “all hazards” events and incidents. He is author of, among other published works, the “Disaster Preparedness Manual for Healthcare Materials Management Professionals,” and a self-published book “Unprepared.”



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