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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

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Virtual Roundtable on Building Resilient Communities

August 31, 2020

August 31, 2020

Across the nation, America needs resilient communities with the capacity to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations. Extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, economic dislocations, unaffordable housing, and health epidemcs challenge the resiliency of the country's communities. Fellows, Patria de Lancer Julnes, Kay Goss, Stephen Hamill, and Director of Strategic Initiatives, Joseph Mitchell, discuss past, current, and potential efforts to combat these challenges.

What are the key precepts of resilient communities from the natural disaster area that can be incorporated as part of how we address such broader resilient issues as education, healthcare, and housing?

Joseph Mitchell

The Academy’s Election 2020 Working Group on Resilient Communities recently released a report with a series of important recommendations to address this Grand Challenge. The Working Group noted that resilience as an essential dimension of societal continuity is not a new idea. Universities, nonprofits, think tanks, and government agencies have conducted myriad projects and studies over many years to understand resilience. A credible body of research now points toward how communities can successfully anticipate, withstand, and recover from calamity. The United States needs to build upon this body of knowledge, much of it gathered from the natural disaster lessons learned, to develop a more comprehensive strategy that empowers communities to take advantage of what theory and practice show can be helpful.

To a large extent, the current national resilience agenda has been promulgated by FEMA, which has been reorienting itself more explicitly around resilience over the past decade.

Its Resilience organization includes the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, Grant Programs Directorate, National Continuity Programs, and National Preparedness Directorate, as well as other offices. FEMA Resilience works to fulfill FEMA’s vision of a prepared and resilient nation through its programs and partnerships. It aims to build a culture of preparedness through insurance, mitigation, continuity, preparedness programs and grants. This is an important foundation on which to build toward additional federal, state, and local coordinated actions; meaningful investments; and strengthened resilience across the country.

The Election 2020 Working Group recommended that the Administration in 2021 (whether reelected or newly elected) move a resilience agenda forward by:

  • Developing a comprehensive resilience strategy;
  • Establishing a National Resilience Director and National Resilience Office; and
  • Increasing critical capacity across the nation.
How can communities optimize and coordinate existing federal, state, and local resources to build resilience?

Kay Goss

Most federal agencies have some resources important to building resilience to make available to states, tribes, territories, and locals, and often to private and nonprofit sectors, including the public.

At FEMA, these resources are largely in the pre-disaster areas of preparedness and mitigation, for all hazards including natural, human induced, and fire disasters. Outreach and inclusion are major goals of FEMA and their website is full of opportunities for collaboration and consultation.

These vital programs include planning, training (in classroom and online), higher education collaboration (including over 600 degree and certificate programs), Independent Study Courses available on the FEMA Emergency Management Institute website, In-classroom on campus courses, exercises, technology, standards, certifications, accreditations, Community and Family Preparedness Program, Emergency Food and Shelter Program, Preparedness Grants, National Flood Insurance Program, Floodplain Maps, training, grant funding for communities and organizations:

  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program Grants
  • Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
  • Public Assistance Grant Program
  • Flood Mitigation Assistance Program
  • Mitigation Assessment Teams
  • Updated and enhanced version of FEMA’s previous Building Performance Assessment Team process
  • Field teams of investigators, from national, state, tribal, territorial, and local governments, as well as private and nonprofit sectors, to examine the potential performance of buildings in potential risks
  • These teams have been used in hurricanes, wildland fires, earthquakes, and tornadoes
  • Their findings are available through technical manuals, fact sheets, recovery advisories, handbooks, Internet, workshops, courses, field training.

US Department of Education has resilience resources for schools are available under Safe and Supportive Schools in the form of the so-called Readiness and Emergency Management Technical Assistance Center (REM) for Schools.

  • Planning for Events and Schedules During Covid-19 pandemic
  • Online Events
  • National Events
  • Research Studies
  • National Campaigns
  • Quick Links
  • Guidance
  • Resources
  • Training
  • Tools
  • Readiness
  • Preparedness
  • Protection
  • Response
  • Recovery

US Department of Health and Human Services, has an Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), and a Prepare for Emergencies Program, called Ready, Set, PrEP. These programs provide public information, technical assistance and information on vaccines, immunizations, nutrition and fitness, health screenings, mental health and substance abuse, environment and healthy life style.

US Department of Energy provides programs for the public on areas related to resilience, such as:

  • Do-It-Yourself Energy Savings Projects
  • Energy Saver Guide
  • Incentives and Financing
  • Products and Services
  • Consumer Protections for Professional Installations

US Department of Commerce has numerous economic development and community development programs available. Its Economic Development Administration (EDA) fosters regional economic development efforts in communities. Through strategic investments that foster job creation and attract private investment, EDA supports development in economically distressed areas of the United States. EDA’s basic task one is empowering communities to develop and implement their own economic development and revitalization strategies, EDA makes grant investments that are clearly defined, timely, and linked to a long-term, sustainable community economic development strategy.

Stephen Hamill

The first step is recognizing the current intergovernmental headwinds in building resilience.

Peter Harkness in his July 2018 Governing commentary (Federalism is Broken. Can It Be Fixed?), stated: “Most everyone agrees that our intergovernmental democratic process is in shambles. It has become increasingly dysfunctional over the past two decades or more, but since the start of the current presidential administration it has gone into free fall.”

Urban experts Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak in their recent book, New Localism, How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, conclude that the current dysfunction and breakdown of the Federalism partnership is the result of “… the exceptional level of partisanship and the withdrawal of federal and state governments as reliable partners.”

The second step is defining a new and improved path forward that recognizes the shared leadership and responsibility in building community resilience.

Katz and Nowak see a clear path forward from broken federalism to new localism as an opportunity to more effectively address and resolve the most pressing public service challenges: “Power is drifting downward from the nation-state to cities and metropolitan communities, horizontally from government to networks of public, private and civic actors.”

New Localism engenders shared leadership among the various actors within these networks to drive and inspire each other to change and improve community resilience and public services overall.

The third step in building community resilience is addressing the current intergovernmental dysfunction in search of a coordinated national approach.

While locally based networks are by nature more open to new ideas, hybrid government solutions and a diversity of constituencies as compared to government acting alone, this approach is fragmented and requires more implementation time than a consensus national solution to building community resilience. Katz and Nowak recognize these time and fragmentation shortcomings concluding that the practical application of problem solving at the local level is infectious moving across artificial borders with solutions shared and adopted by other local communities migrating in the direction of a national solution over time.

In the era of the New Localism and the shared leadership revolution there is a new and more effective federalism partnership role as an active participant and supporter of local problem solving and community resilience.

The return of the federal government as an active and contributing intergovernmental partner would:

  • Promote shared leadership among public, private and civic actors;
  • Accelerate New Localism solutions and the migration of these solutions nationally; and
  • Reduce the time from solution to widespread adoption by other local communities.

How can we meet current infrastructure and housing needs?

Stephen Hamill

Government, acting alone, lacks the capacity and financial resources to address and resolve affordable housing, homelessness and infrastructure. Public, private, non-profit and other civic actors sharing leadership and responsibility for housing and infrastructure is a future trend to build infrastructure and housing resilience.

There are a number of recent and instructive examples of corporate actors and related foundations recognizing responsibility for the impact of their workforce on housing demand and affordability:

  • Seattle- In January 2019, Microsoft pledged $500 million to address homelessness and develop affordable housing in response to the Seattle region's widening affordability gap;
  • San Francisco- In November 2018, local voters approved a ballot measure, initiated and sponsored by Salesforce CEO, Mark Benioff, that raised taxes on large corporations to fund homelessness programs;
  • Bay Area Region- Facebook, Genentech, Google the San Francisco Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced plans to raise $500 million to build 8,000 homes in 5 Bay Area Counties;
  • California- The State has challenged corporations to match $500 million set aside for affordable middle-income housing to build a public-private fund of $1 billion.

The shared leadership and multi-sectoral approach to housing and infrastructure measurably improves the prospect, capacity and financial resources to build community resilience in housing and infrastructure and effectively addresses the incapacity of government incapacity acting alone.

What impact does the Covid-19 pandemic have on this Grand Challenge?

Patria de Lancer Julnes

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us three major lessons, each with a profound impact on this Grand Challenge:

  • Most fundamentally, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that building resilient communities requires addressing the social injustices resulting from public policies that have negatively influenced the social determinants of health. We have the means to improve the social determinants of health, which refer to the conditions in which people live, work, and play—and do so knowing that communities of color are particularly vulnerable.
  • We are all interconnected. Consequently, policies should be developed from a systems perspective in which (1) humans are seen in their totality and (2) we recognize that when one element of our societal system is broken, the consequences spread to cause real human suffering.
  • Our system of governance has contributed to this suffering by tolerating, accepting as normal, great social and health injustices.

We can illustrate all of these issues by discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on our two largest minority populations, Hispanic and Black Americans, which are disproportionally affected by COVID-19 across the United States. One of the reasons for the devastating economic and health effects of the virus on these groups is that they are disproportionally employed in jobs with high risks of exposure but with little protection. These populations also have higher rates of prior chronic conditions, including diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and obesity, that make them vulnerable to the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. Blacks and Hispanics are also more likely than Whites to have multi-morbidities later in life. Thus, they are disproportionately at-risk of getting infected and dying of COVID-19.

Why are they so vulnerable? The reasons for these health disparities are not the result of health care alone or of biology and genetics, as some would like us to think. Rather, there is an interacting system of contributing factors, including choices made, and remade, by policy makers and health care providers. Indeed, the CDC has estimated that anywhere from 60-70 percent of a person’s health status is related to poor environment, behavior, and exposure—all of which are preventable—can be traced to “upstream” policies that lead to risk factors. These policies have consistently led to a dysfunctional system of problems, including housing insecurity, poverty, poor access to care, food insecurity, and inadequate built environment (social determinants of health), all resulting in health risks and poor health conditions for vulnerable communities of color.

Moreover, in the context of social injustice and the apparent disregard for the enormous contributions of immigrants, another group that needs to be addressed is “day laborers,” who are a truly essential part of the supply chain that makes communities resilient. For example, they work from the start of the food chain, beginning with planting and picking produce in farms, to the end, processing and delivering food. During this pandemic, they have been part of the front-line workers, those celebrated by our clapping outside our windows every night for months. Yet, they are not given the protections needed nor the benefits to which they should be entitled. One study detailed how they risk their health, most without access to healthcare but unable to stop working because they risk losing their jobs and housing. The study, conducted by the nonprofit National Day Laborer Organizing Network, also showed that many of these day laborers are undocumented; further, they have an average of 2.2 children living with them, many are American citizens.

Therefore, to build resilient communities, we need to focus on upstream policy solutions that will correct the social and health injustices that drive the social determinants of health. These policy solutions also need to address the work and social conditions of migrant workers and day laborers (not all of whom are migrants) so that our food and other supply chains have the resilience to bounce back from natural or manmade shocks. This system focus also highlights the interconnections between this Grand Challenge and the Grand Challenge to Foster Social Equity, and so calls for a coordinated effort to achieve our overarching goals.

Stephen Hamill

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted broken federalism and intergovernmental dysfunctional as key challenges in building community resilience.

The lack of a clear coordinated national Covid-19 approach and the fragmentation of individual states and localities acting independently has resulted in the failure to effectively control the virus, a prolonged economic downturn and the loss of precious time and lives.

The pandemic has also reinforced the need for the return of the federal government as an active and contributing intergovernmental partner in planning and preparing for future pandemics as a priority element of building community resilience.

Kay Goss

Emergency managers seek to be all hazards ready and resilient, through thorough preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery, geared to helping people and places, at every stage, regardless of the nature of the disaster - natural, human-induced, or technological. However, Covid-19 has tested the entire infrastructure of emergency management and disaster response.

For the first time ever, there is an emergency declared nationally in every state, tribe, and territory at the same time. So, the typical arrangement is to use Mutual Aid Assistance to coordinate resources between states and other jurisdictions having disasters and those having none. Now, everybody is in need!

Secondly, the National Defense Production Act was invoked but only in limited areas, while the Governors, Mayors, County Executives, Tribal Chiefs, Territorial Governors, needed Personal Protective Equipment for their healthcare workers, as well as their emergency managers, first responders, firefighters, EMTs, Police, Public Safety officials. Naturally, they started making acquisitions where they could and ended up bidding and competing against each other for equipment and personnel. Without strict national guidance and coordination, there were regional agreements and more of a feeling that every jurisdiction was on its own. Some of the issues which emergency management and public health preparedness had not faced before was unrestrained competition among local and state leaders.

Resilience requires a lot of sharing, coordination, and collaboration. The Covid-19 emergency/disaster has challenged those efforts. Lessons have been learned that will help with the next pandemic or national challenge, except in the unresolved issues such as testing and tracing, where there is still not a national consensus.

The public health sector has learned a lot of lessons regarding the treatment of Covid-19 in the use of other breathing equipment beyond ventilators, such as C-PAP machines, as well as some over-the-counter supplements like Vitamin D, Famotidine, Vitamin C, blood thinners, hydration.

Agency Regional Offices have become more important than ever, as coordinators, outreach specialists, and advocates. New technologies are being discovered for distance communication, including meetings, classes, training, conferences, planning formats, exercise scenarios, collaborations. Home offices are being planned, arranged, and constructed.

Joseph Mitchell

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown why it is so important to build resilient communities. As noted in the Academy Election 2020 Working Group’s report, the gaps in resilience and the disconnects between the various governmental layers and organizations have been laid bare during this national crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly stressed the relationships between the federal, state, and local governments and highlighted existing gaps in trust and understanding. A patchwork of state and local lockdowns, testing and critical medical acquisition has proven to be a poor substitute for a collaborative federal, state, and local approach to a national crisis that knows no state and local boundaries.

In response to COVID-19, the CARES Act provided a number of agencies with additional funds for resilience-related activities, including:

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency received $45 billion to support states and localities with medical responses and the purchase of protective equipment. This appropriation also funded shelter and food services and enhanced sanitation at airport security checkpoints.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HHS received $150 billion to hospitals and healthcare providers and $50 billion for general fee-for-service Medicare providers and providers in particularly impacted communities.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture received $9.5 billion to provide financial support to farmers and ranchers impacted by the pandemic.
  • The Commodity Credit Corporation’s funding mechanism for agricultural programs dealing with income support, natural resources conservation, and disaster assistance was replenished.
  • The U.S. Department of Commerce received $1.5 billion to programs for planning the economic recovery, preparing technical assistance strategies to address economic dislocations, and preparing or updating resiliency plans to respond to future pandemics.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy received $30.9 billion for flexible funding directly to states, local school districts, and institutions of higher education to facilitate the transition to an online learning environment and to mitigate the damages to institutions and students in urgent need of support.

In the midst of the pandemic, governments at all levels have been forced to work together in new ways to address a serious, complex, and multi-faceted set of challenges. Moving forward, it will be important to (1) identify and strengthen what is working and (2) determine how these pandemic-related practices can be scaled-up to repair the breakdown in the federal, state, and local intergovernmental partnership.


Patria de Lancer Julnes. Professor of Public Administration, School of Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg; Director, School of Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg; Director, Graduate Program, Political Science, Utah State University; Professor of Public Administration, School of Public & International Affairs, University of Baltimore; Special Assistant to the Provost, University of Baltimore; Director, Doctor of Public Administration Program, School of Public & International Affairs, University of Baltimore; Associate Professor of Public Administration, School of Public & International Affairs, University of Baltimore; Associate Professor, Political Science, Utah State University; Assistant Department-Head, Political Science, Utah State University; Coordinator, Master of Social Science Program in Public Administration, Political Science, Utah State University; Assistant Professor of Political Science, Political Science, Utah State University; Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Doctor of Public Administration Program, University of Illinois at Springfield; Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Public Administration Institute, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Lecturer, Public Administration Institute, Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Kay Goss. CEM, President, World Disaster Management, LLC; Senior Associate for the Learning Team for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Booz Allen Hamilton; Senior Principal and Senior Advisor for Emergency Management and Continuity Programs, SRA International; Senior Advisor for Emergency Management, Homeland Security, and Business Security, EDS; Associate FEMA Director in charge of National Preparedness, Training, Higher Education, and Exercises; Senior Assistant to the Arkansas Governor for Intergovernmental Relations; Chief Deputy State Auditor; Research Director, Arkansas State Constitutional Convention; Project Director, Association of Arkansas Counties; Project Director, Educational Finance Study Commission, Arkansas Legislature.

Stephen Hamill. Principal and Founder, Shared Leadership Group, LLC; CEO and Founder, HB Capital Resources, Ltd. as Program Manager for U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance and California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA); Attorney, Hamill Law Offices; Assistant County Administrator, Alameda County, CA; CEO and Founder, Public Purchasing Exchange, LLC

Joseph P. Mitchell, III. Director of Strategic Initiatives and International Programs, National Academy of Public Administration; Member, National Science Foundation Business and Operations Advisory Committee; Associate Director, Office of Shared Services and Performance Improvement, General Services Administration; Director of Academy Programs, National Academy of Public Administration; Project Director, Senior Analyst, and Research Associate, National Academy of Public Administration.