The megacommunity approach requires that major actors explicitly reexamine the traditional boundaries defining their roles and responsibilities, and that government agencies look beyond themselves to the private sector and civil groups for important resources, leadership, and activities. For public officials, this means opening up the planning process, making others full partners in decision making, and curbing the desire to unilaterally prescribe solutions. An effective megacommunity achieves its goals through collaboration among full partners. In Florida, Governor Jeb Bush had to surrender some of the state’s direct control over disaster preparation, but the state was ultimately rewarded with shared benefits
Despite its challenge to conventional thinking, the megacommunity approach is gaining ground among emergency management practitioners. Here are a few examples:
U.S. Northern Command (NorthCom). A joint Army–Navy–Air Force military organization established in 2002 to support civil authorities during emergencies, NorthCom aims to develop cooperative working relationships with governmental and nongovernmental preparedness organizations. NorthCom does not share a chain of command with civilian federal, state, and local agencies, and it cannot give orders to private-sector and nongovernmental organizations that participate in disaster relief and recovery. Yet when it is asked to deliver food, supplies, and other services in response to a disaster, it must work closely with these organizations. Consequently, NorthCom officials have declared that they are modifying the military’s traditional command-and-control leadership model — known as C2 — and adopting “collaboration and communication” instead.
Health and Human Services. HHS oversees the National Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program and awards about $500 million annually in grant aid to help hospitals and health-care systems prepare for and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. Recognizing that hospitals depend on a variety of organizations during a crisis, HHS has developed award criteria that emphasize collaboration. For example, during a bioterrorist attack, a hospital would have to coordinate with the police, fire departments, and other hospitals. In addition, hospital officials would work with the media to disseminate public information. During an extended crisis, the hospital might rely on members of the private sector, such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot, for extra supplies such as water and protective masks. In awarding grants, HHS rewards hospitals that not only list such partners in their plans but also demonstrate that they are collaborating and training with them to ensure smooth operations when an emergency occurs.
Multistate Coalitions. Medical centers and hospitals in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine have formed the Northern New England Metropolitan Medical Response System as a way to maximize available resources, especially in rural areas, when disaster strikes. Similarly, Iowa is leading a preparedness coalition with nine other states called the Multi-State Partnership for Security in Agriculture. Participating are state agriculture secretaries, homeland security advisors, emergency management directors, and state veterinarians. These and other examples suggest a new governance model in which states collectively address regional issues that transcend state borders.
Private-Sector Partnerships. Numerous corporations are forming partnerships with relief organizations and becoming involved in pre-disaster planning and preparation. For example, following the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, Coca-Cola quickly carried out a plan it had already coordinated for using the soft-drink production lines of local subsidiaries to bottle drinking water for the relief effort. Companies such as British Airways, UPS, FedEx, and DHL worked with established aid agency partners to provide free or subsidized transportation of relief supplies. Some companies pursue these relationships on their own, but others are creating multicompany partnerships or consortia that can help marshal enormous medical and emergency resources during a crisis.
Guideposts for Collaboration
A megacommunity is more than a public–private partnership or alliance. It is a carefully designed effort in which all the key actors are invited to collaborate with the understanding that they are comanaging the problem and the development of solutions. Here are a few guideposts that can help initiating groups — whether they are government agencies, private-sector corporations, or NGOs — begin a responsiveness-oriented megacommunity: