Dear Colorado Emergency Managers,
Last year when I wrote the 2020 letter to you, we could not have imagined the year we would have. Nonetheless, we were not caught unprepared. We began a serious conversation about emergency management as part of a complex adaptive system at the Colorado Emergency Management Conference. Little did we know that shortly after the conference we would be thrust into exactly that environment as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Colorado. I am proud of the way our emergency management community has stepped up this year, often becoming the glue that held communities together. In the middle of the pandemic, we also responded to a challenging wildfire season which included Colorado’s three largest wildfires. As we begin the hard work of recovery, Governor Polis has asked the president to declare a major disaster for our state.
Like many of you, our state emergency operations center has been operating at an elevated level for over 300 days and we have spent nearly all of that in a unified command center with our partners at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But this is not the time to rest. We have to finish what we’ve started and get ready for what’s next. To that end, I plan to focus on three areas in 2021: stabilize our communities in the COVID-19 environment, get back to the basics, and recovery and mitigation.
Stabilize our communities in the COVID-19 environment: The fight to protect communities from COVID-19 and return to stable economic and social footing is far from over. We must continue to work with our public health partners to operationalize vaccine plans. We also have to continue to watch the hospitals and long-term care facilities in our communities for early warning signs of pressure. The pandemic has also exacerbated homelessness and food insecurity in our communities. As emergency managers, we need to assist, and in some cases, lead our community partners in the effort to manage these consequences of the pandemic.
Get back to the basics: COVID-19 has all but consumed Emergency Managers in 2020. Most of us were not able to execute our training and exercise plans the way we hoped to. Much of our traditional planning efforts had to be put on hold and coordination with some of our traditional partners lapsed as we built new ones driven by the pandemic. Additionally, many of us experienced turnover among our partners and elected officials. As a result, we must find time in 2021 to get back to the basic building blocks of good emergency management programs. Do your AARs and use them to update your critical plans, like alert and warning, evacuation or others, then schedule an exercise to test them. We cannot become complacent or “too tired” to prepare for the next incident. We must find the energy to plan and execute training and exercises that have the rigor to test us. Also, don't miss the opportunity to brief your newly elected officials on the importance of the emergency management program and their role in it. RFMs conduct the 402 class to newly elected officials so take advantage of that. Schedule time with partners that are new to your jurisdiction and get to know each other. One of the best ways to do this is to conduct a Colorado Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA). Your Regional Field Manager can help you schedule one.
Recovery and mitigation: Following this year’s wildfires, a number of our communities have a significant amount of recovery work to do. The multiagency State Recovery Task Force was activated early in 2020 and remains activated to assist communities affected by the fires. For those of you not directly affected by the fires, take some time to evaluate your recovery plans. We all know the recovery phase of emergency management begins before a disaster ever starts. Make sure your recovery plans help you answer some of the hard questions before having to execute them and share them with your partners. Recovery is a team effort.
Additionally, dedicate time to review your local mitigation plan early this year. Who is missing from your cooperating partner list? What pieces of critical infrastructure need “resilience fortification” through mitigation? 2020 was our first year under the new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and we received more than fifteen good BRIC applications. This is a good start and I look forward to continuing to build upon it to take advantage of the program as it builds in 2021.
Given the economic impact of COVID-19 to our jurisdictions, it’s easy to understand why some of our elected officials may be reluctant to invest the match to federal funds for mitigation. Please work with them to help them understand the return on investment for these projects that protect our infrastructure and communities.
2020 was a long year, but we must approach 2021 with the tireless determination to prepare for, respond to and recover from whatever is next. This is what defines us as emergency managers. As I have said throughout the past year, I am proud to be part of our profession in Colorado and grateful for the work you have done. I know we can count on each other in 2021 to continue to protect the people of Colorado and I look forward to continuing our work.
I’ll see you out there,
Director, Colorado Office of Emergency Management
Division of Homeland Security and Emergency