FEMA: Building Cultures of Preparedness

Download the report in PDF format here.

I. Executive Summary
The first goal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) 2018–2022 Strategic Plan is to Build a Culture of Preparedness. Preparedness strategies to date have increased first responder and government capabilities, but individual and community progress towards enhanced levels of preparedness has been limited. Achieving the 2018–2022 Strategic Plan’s vision of enhanced preparedness requires a bottom-up approach to close these gaps.
This report highlights the vast diversity of American communities and households, indicating that a one-size-fits-all strategy is not well-suited to the specific demands of variable and distinctive environments – our Culture of Preparedness will have to be built one community at a time. Preparedness is a local matter, requiring solutions tailored to different cultural contexts and embraced by communities. Supporting the vision of a resilient nation in the Strategic Plan requires us to think in the plural, in terms of building “Culture(s) of Preparedness.”

Prior to the publication of this report, FEMA’s Higher Education Program held a workshop focused on the implication of “culture” in FEMA’s new strategic priority, sustainable preparedness choices, and why past efforts to build a Culture of Preparedness were not met with desired levels of success.

This report presents a culture-based approach to the preparedness goals laid out in the Strategic Plan. It lays out four Guiding Principles for building Cultures of Preparedness, followed by practical strategies and examples that demonstrate successful outcomes in real-world settings:
1. Trust – Develop trust by understanding the culture, context, and history of communities outside of disaster, as well as when an event occurs.
2. Inclusion – Bring the cultural perspectives of all stakeholders to the table.
3. Cross-cultural communication – Design communication efforts as cross-cultural encounters.
4. Support local practices and successes – Learn about the ways people are already prepared and enhance these efforts using culturally aware strategies.
To operationalize the four Guiding Principles that underlie this culture-based approach to preparedness, we recommend a novel methodology: the use of Culture Brokers.

Culture Brokers for Disaster Preparedness are people with local knowledge and the trust of community members. They are capable of bridging gaps, are willing to help, and would be trained to use the four Guiding Principles to enhance local levels of preparedness. Recruiting these individuals can help outside organizations and local communities connect, build trust, and share knowledge. Such a methodology has been proven effective in educational, medical, and public health environments and holds great promise for helping FEMA and its state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners achieve new preparedness targets among the Nation’s diverse communities and hard to reach cultural groups.

Finally, the report notes that institutions of higher learning can make unique contributions to building Cultures of Preparedness. Their research and innovation capacity can help generate new approaches to enhanced preparedness, while social scientists well-versed in local histories, cultures, and culturally appropriate methods of community engagement can help emergency management professionals extend their reach and meet critical preparedness objectives.

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