Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

FEMA’s Community Lifelines – Transforming Preparedness Practice

Every September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes National Preparedness Month (NPM), an opportunity for reflection on preparing for emergencies and disasters in the United States and promoting personal and family preparedness. At the beginning of this month, our country was humbly reminded of the importance of emergency preparedness when Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane. Hurricane Dorian also made landfall in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, causing an historic seven-foot storm surge that flooded Ocracoke Island and caused widespread destruction of property. Currently in the heart of Atlantic hurricane season, we continue to monitor the potential development of additional tropical disturbances and storms. 

As we reflect on the state of preparedness across the nation, Hagerty will examine recent evolutions in the emergency preparedness field that are shaping the future of emergency and disaster response and recovery. In this post, we will examine FEMA’s Community Lifelines construct in more detail, expanding on recent discussions on Disaster Discourse regarding lessons learned from response to Hurricane Irma and considerations for DorianThe implementation of the Community Lifelines marks a transformation across the emergency management field by creating unity of effort in all phases of emergency management to optimize enhancement of community resilience. 

Description of the FEMA Community Lifeline Concept (FEMA, 2019).

The Community Lifelines concept was born as a result of the numerous unprecedented multibillion-dollar disasters that occurred in 2017 and 2018. The Community Lifelines concept is a framework for incident management that provides emergency managers with a reporting structure for establishing incident stabilization. Introducing the Community Lifelines at the federal level was a necessary change, as it allows for FEMA to clearly visualize where to simultaneously deploy its limited resources to multiple entities, including states, tribal nations, and island territories.  

FEMA has identified seven Community Lifelines that include: 

  • Safety and Security;  
  • Health and Medical;  
  • Communications;  
  • Hazardous Materials;  
  • Food, Water, Sheltering;  
  • Energy (Power & Fuel); and  
  • Transportation.  

The number of lifelines could grow in the future as the concept evolves. If any of the Community Lifelines are down as a result of an emergency or disaster, it is an indicator that lives are in jeopardy and/or life routine and supply chains are disrupted. Originally, Community Lifelines were created to ensure unity of effort during the response phase, but as the Community Lifelines concept is integrated into practice, emergency managers can apply this concept to both response and recovery efforts after a disaster. 

The introduction of FEMA’s Community Lifelines concept signifies transformation in preparedness practiceImplementation of the Community Lifelines concept will require rethinking preparedness planningFor example, much of current preparedness efforts center around the use of the 32 Core Capabilities as a model for understanding and implementing preparedness and resilience techniques. However, the Community Lifelines more appropriately identify the core pillars for supporting community resilience in a way that is common to all phases of the emergency management cycle. Therefore, integrating Community Lifelines into preparedness practice will help to reduce and simplify the capabilities that communities focus on building.   

The Community Lifelines concept supports comprehensive unity of effort by promoting coordination across the Whole Community to achieve a common goal. Community Lifelines not only support unity of effort in restoring indispensable services during the response phase, but also support preparing for and recovering from disastersComprehensive unity of effort throughout the emergency management cycle has been challenging due to competing priorities that can limit motivationresourcesand engagement in achieving common goals. This can make establishing critical partnerships, such as public-private partnerships, more difficultThe Community Lifelines concept introduces an accessiblefamiliar, and common language that can improve coordination between typical emergency management partners and newer partners at all levels of government. 

Hagerty’s NPM Blog Series presents additional reflections on transitions in the emergency management field. Over the next several weeks throughout NPM, members of the Hagerty Preparedness team will discuss transition and innovation in our preparedness practice through our work related to hazard mitigation planning and recovery planning. These reflections will comment not only on the current state of preparedness practice, but also the future direction of the field.  

Brock Long is Hagerty Consulting’s Executive Chairman. Brock is a former Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Management (FEMA) and Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and has more than 20 years of experience assisting and supporting local, state, and federal governments. In his role as director of FEMA, Brock oversaw the federal government’s response to more than 220 natural disasters and managed nearly $44 billion in disaster relief assistance.  

Michelle Bohrson is a Preparedness Associate at Hagerty Consulting. Michelle primarily supports pre-disaster recovery planning and hazard mitigation planning projects. Michelle earned her Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) from the University of Michigan and is based out of the Austin, TX office.