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National Politics Do Influence Emergency Management

Sad but true, it is just something we need to deal with.

For 2023 we have seen political turmoil at the national level. Sometimes it "bubbles down" to state and local, but the predominant story of national politics in the United States has been one of chaos.

See my December International Association of Emergency Managers Disaster Zone column, my last for 2023 — and next to last, period.

Political Turmoil Does Influence Emergency Management

While this is being published in December, I’m writing it in October. I may be wildly impressed by radical changes in what is happening in our national political system—but I’m betting that the turmoil we have seen throughout 2023 will continue for the next 90 days to finish out the year.

There is no way to forecast the twists and turns that will happen before the end of the year. It is not just the record warm temperatures that are setting never before seen events in 2023. How about the ouster of the Speaker of the House that happened the first week of October?

While we emergency managers may enjoy some political separation from national politics, what happens in Washington D.C. does matter. First there was the threat of a government shutdown. Some might be furloughed, and many others would have to work without pay and some could work with pay. The differences based on the source of funding for their positions and if they are essential workers, for instance, air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.

That is the direct impact to individuals who function as employees, but then there are things like disaster relief funding that needs to be funded or recovery efforts across the nation would have ground to a halt.

This latest “threat of a shutdown” was another example of a huge waste of time. Every federal agency has to develop a plan for which functions will continue, which will be paused or stopped completely. Staff have to be informed and all the plans in place—should the shutdown actually happen. The latest threatened shutdown was averted at the last possible moment, but the plans had to be in place and ready if a resolution had not happened.

Compounding all of this is the fact that this is not the first time a government shutdown was threatened in 2023. “Shutdown” fever has been a tactic we saw earlier in the year as a budget deal was being brokered between the two national political parties.

I guess one positive of the above is that like anything, with more practice we get more efficient at the task. When these events happen back-to-back, the same people are likely in place and when it comes time to execute “again” there isn’t the learning curve that might be required if more time between threatened shutdowns occurs.

One of the things that children and adults need is certainty in their lives. Kids need consistent and predictable parenting, and as adults we would appreciate if our political leaders functioned as “adults” and worked out their differences like most reasonable and mature people—who we want to be our leaders.

The last resolution to a shutdown in October was a continuing resolution that only “kicked the can” down the calendar to November. Will the “shutdown dance” happen again in November? Hard to predict. One thing I do know, for the climate, temperatures will continue to rise and it is likely that more political storms are in our emergency management futures in 2024.


by Eric E. Holdeman, Senior Fellow, Emergency Management Magazine
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.