Homeland Security, Emergency Management and the Economy

Implications of the economic crisis.

by / December 1, 2008

As I write this, the economy -- the financial markets, the stock market and what the future holds for business and families -- dominates the thoughts of most Americans.

What will a severe economic downturn mean for emergency management and homeland security? I'm not a futurist, but I'll take a crack at analyzing the outlook of emergency management.

Near Term: Last spring I recommended that companies and agencies fill personnel vacancies soon because a hiring freeze would come. That freeze has arrived in many parts of the nation. With revenues plummeting, budget cuts are here and one solution is to reduce staff costs by not filling vacancies.

People and organizations nationwide are finalizing their 2009 budgets. Vacancies may stay unfilled and positions lost. I know of at least one emergency management organization that was told to implement a 25 percent budget cut for 2009.

Agencies that remain as is or get slight increases for their programs should consider themselves lucky. For those facing cuts, now's a good time to re-evaluate your emergency management program. Have you established clear goals and priorities that support your vision and mission? Will your program keep the organization resilient no matter what disaster is ahead? These are important questions to ask as we downsize.

Mid Term: This is where the future gets fuzzy. How will the new president's administration and Congress react to the economic crisis? There are three possibilities. One is that funding will remain steady, without a wild fluctuation in the numbers and types of grants in place today.

An even larger amount of money might be pushed into the homeland security funding pipeline to stimulate the economy. If this happens, it'll be important to watch where the new administration's emphasis is. I expect an increased focus on volunteers and a call to mobilize Americans to serve their communities, the nation and the world. Emergency management will be expected to play a role.

The third possibility is a huge reduction in federal funding. The competing demands of social programs, defense and other government programs may leave homeland security with few grant programs and dollars.

Long Term: We may be entering an extended period of decreased economic resilience for our communities. Businesses will be less robust, and less able to resist and rebound from disasters.

Families will be less resilient. People struggling to put food on the table won't have money for a disaster supply kit and when tightening the family budget, insurance may be deemed expendable.

More emphasis on disaster recovery will be needed because more organizations and people will be less able to deal with an event with their own diminished resources.

In the End: Experience teaches us what to expect in the future. Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, 9/11, and the mass shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech are milestones in modern emergency management history that shaped how we prepare and react. Future disasters will define practices and funding priorities. It could be pandemic flu, global warming or even a bus bombing right here in the U.S.


Eric Holdeman Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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