January 3, 2007 By Jim McKay
When he's not riding his Harley or tending his garden, which was profiled in Sunset magazine, Eric Holdeman is doing "missionary work," though not in the traditional sense.
As director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management, Holdeman is the county's point man on emergency management. Arguably his biggest task toward creating his vision of "disaster-resistant and resilient communities" is promoting a regional approach.
"People ask me what I do, and I say I try to get people and organizations to work together, which is not always easy. It isn't always the technology; it's the inter-jurisdictional and jurisdictional stuff that takes a lot of hard work."
Holdeman said achieving a regional approach means changing behavior. "A lot of times I call it missionary work. Trying to find individuals first who will be supportive of not, 'What's in it for me,' but thinking about what's in it for us and seeing the value of collaboration."
He has made it work with both the public and private sectors. When a major storm knocked out power to 1.5 million locals, King County Emergency Management officials and Puget Sound Energy worked in tandem -- as they have been all along.
"Their manager has sometimes been in meetings with us two and three times a week," Holdeman said. "I've joked that we needed to get her a desk in our building since she spends so much time here."
In late 2006, the Seattle area withstood a record flood and a record windstorm, within 30 days of one another. Holdeman said the area mitigated those large-scale emergencies effectively, but a catastrophe such as a Seattle fault earthquake would require a great deal of resiliency on the part of the county and state.
"It's not enough to be resistant, we're going to have to be resilient and bounce back from those things," he said. "They'll hit us right in the nose and knock us to our knees. Having systems and processes in place before that happens will help us bounce back, go with the force, like a judo move." That's where the missionary work comes in.
"If you're not working together before an event happens, it doesn't all of a sudden magically happen post-event. That preparedness phase where you are working together lays the foundation for the resilient aspect to be able to come back and figure out, quickly, how you're going to respond and even do that during the response."
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