My colleague, Ellis Stanley, is a strong advocate for the role of communications in disaster planning and mitigation. As chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ Disasters Roundtable, Ellis writes and speaks frequently about the need for effective communications locally, nationally, and internationally—and about sharing ideas and experiences so that every community can become more resilient to both natural and human-caused disasters.

This perspective is in line with FEMA’s Whole Community approach to emergency management. FEMA’s website states, “The Whole Community approach is based on the recognition that it takes all aspects of a community to effectively prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against any disaster. This includes the whole spectrum of emergency management partners, such as traditional and nontraditional, including volunteer, faith, and community-based organizations; the private sector; and the public, including survivors themselves.” It is crucial that we, as professionals, do our part to reach out and facilitate dialogues, with all members of our communities.

In California, where Ellis and I are based, the state is demonstrating leadership and momentum on this important issue. The State Hazard Mitigation Team, which is responsible for implementation and monitoring of the State Hazard Mitigation Plan (SHMP), includes four Strategic Work Groups. The groups focus on GIS technology, land use-based hazard mitigation, mitigation monitoring at the local and state level, and cross-sector communications.

The Cross-Sector Communications Work Group promotes mitigation communications between the public and private sectors, at both the local and state levels. I have been fortunate to lead this group over the past year, coordinating quarterly meetings and assisting in communications outreach aimed at improving awareness of the SHMP and hazard mitigation in general. Our purpose is clear: to build collaboration between local and state governments, business associations, and other private-sector organizations to increase California’s long-term resiliency.

With this purpose in mind, our group has focused on several objectives, including identification of stakeholder groups, message development, and the establishment of new communications channels for outreach and building public awareness. Over the past year, we have reached out to communities via YouTube, email blasts, online and print articles, and conference presentations. Next month, Ken Worman, the State Hazard Mitigation Officer, will give a presentation to the County Public Works Directors titled “Ensuring Resilient Local Infrastructure through Hazard Mitigation.”

Throughout the year, we have generated and implemented many ideas to build a robust communications effort in support of California’s SHMP. Our progress here may be beneficial to other states as they also look to improve communications with local governments, the private sector, and the general public.

For more information on California’s SHMP, here is an overview. For an example of a recent outreach activity, here is an article from California’s Western Cities magazine.