July 27, 2021
Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Throughout 2020 and amidst the pandemic, all of humanity, individuals and organizations alike, learned the importance of being resilient. This was especially true for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which helped cities across the country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing resources to hotspots and getting vaccines to disenfranchised communities.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 10th annual Building Resilience Through Private-Public Partnerships Conference, Deanne Criswell, a FEMA administrator, recently explained how the pandemic made the agency more resilient and how they’ll adopt those lessons for future emergencies.
COVID-19 Exposed Our National Readiness
The unexpected arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the United States’ and FEMA's readiness to handle a viral outbreak. The pandemic taught us how to leverage the capacity to respond to this type of national emergency across all sectors in order to promote sound decision-making before, during, and after disasters.
“We must work closer with the private sector, especially in supply chain management and logistics,” Criswell said. “We must also work closer within a broad range of nonprofit organizations beyond those that we traditionally partner with.”
“We must use different data-driven approaches to close the capability gaps that we've seen, especially those related to national security, continuity, and this new wildland-urban interface fire threats that we're seeing right now,” she continued. “We must improve and standardize our disaster program delivery to ensure consistency across all of our regions and our states.”
Resilience Starts Within a Community
When adversity hits, it's best to find resolution with those affected rather than go at it alone. The strength of a community isn't measurable, no matter the size. It can be from a neighborhood block to an entire city. When people work together to solve a problem and support one another, there's no limit to what they can get done.
“We learned that resilience isn't just a buzzword,” said Criswell. “True resilience comes from deep within a community, deep within its economy, its services and the bonds people share with each other.”
Criswell added that she saw this firsthand last year when serving as the emergency management commissioner in New York City, working with private companies to help support the PPE supply chain.
“We must continue to open this aperture toward a broader concept of community resilience,” she continued. “This is the only way that we're going to be successful at navigating future disasters.”
We Must End Systematic Disadvantages for Community Resources
COVID-19 showed us that disasters disproportionately affect underserved communities. In order to build resilience, we must improve access to the resources for such marginalized groups, so that no population is harmed more than another.
“If we're going to invest in our communities, we must invest in the whole community, not just those who can afford it and live without real systemic barriers,” said Criswell.
“During the COVID-19 vaccine mission, we oriented our community vaccination centers toward advancing equity,” she continued. “The center locations were strategically chosen, and our outreach was tailored toward the underserved. As a result, more than 58% of all doses administered at the federal pilot sites went to communities of color, which is much higher than the national average of nonwhite vaccination rates.”
“The lesson that we learned was that advancing equity means intentional decision-making,” Criswell added. “It means planning for the future with a deliberate focus on turning equity ideas into action.”