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Partners and Collaborators for Emergency Preparedness and Response

Working with community partners and collaborators is a key component of a successful emergency preparedness and response program. Partners can contribute to all aspects of the emergency management cycle by supporting risk assessments, communication, and other response and recovery activities.

Typically, public health agencies lead response efforts during a public health emergency like an infectious disease outbreak. These agencies must also be prepared to coordinate with other agencies and partners in their communities. Subject matter experts advise that rural communities maintain a base of partners from which to grow and expand. This means finding ways to keep partner relationships somewhat active, even when not in an emergency response situation.

During the planning phase, local communities should come together with partners to assess the current state, determine strategies and activities, and develop preparedness plans. Rural communities should formalize partnerships, when needed, by establishing memoranda of understanding (MOUs) or mutual aid agreements. MOUs define and delineate the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of each partner during an emergency event.

Case Study

COVID-19 Community Task Force Utilizes Cross-Sector Response in Rural Greenbrier County, West Virginia
The Greenbrier County COVID-19 Task Force in West Virginia consisted of leaders in public health, emergency management, education, business, nonprofit, and government. They worked across sectors to plan for, respond to, and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force model was adaptable, and stakeholders from across sectors quickly mobilized resources.

The general framework of the emergency management system is that local governments and local communities are mostly responsible for their own safety, including managing first responders such as police forces and fire departments. Once an event is declared an emergency, state and federal agency personnel and resources may be brought in to support local emergency response efforts.

Local Partners

At the local level, the following individuals may have a role in emergency response:

  • Emergency managers
  • Emergency response coordinators
  • Epidemiologists
  • Medical officers/Nurses
  • Public information officers (PIOs)
  • Mental and behavioral health personnel

Examples of local partner agencies and organizations include:

  • Emergency medical services (EMS)
  • Medical, health, and behavioral care providers
  • Law enforcement
  • Fire service
  • Humanitarian organizations
  • Academic institutions (for example, schools of public health, medicine, nursing)
  • Medical Reserve Corps (MRC)
  • Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs)
  • Private businesses (for example, commercial labs, utility companies)
  • Faith-based organizations including houses of worship and nonprofits (for example, Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran Social Services)
  • Cooperative extension services and local extension offices
  • Public libraries
  • Other community-based organizations

When identifying potential partners, rural planners should look beyond just organizations with a health and safety mission. For example, universities and schools can be considered local partners, especially for education and messaging efforts. Rural communities have partnered with schools for screening and specimen collection for school-aged children, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic response. Other rural communities have partnered with schools to support crisis communication during an emergency response. Other non-traditional partners include libraries and local families and residents.

Local businesses can also support a local emergency response. For example, during COVID-19, local businesses made gowns, masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer for their communities, and hotels opened their doors for hospital employees who could not go home.

Case Study

Community Foundation of Grundy County
The Community Foundation of Grundy County, in Illinois, led community response and recovery efforts after a lithium battery fire forced evacuation of nearly 3,000 residents. Through their relationships with other community organizations and leaders, the foundation was able to provide cash assistance, living arrangements, and mental health support to affected community members.

Public-private partnerships are any collaboration between a public sector entity, like a government agency, and a private sector organization, like a business. Integrating partnerships across sectors can help support a more stable emergency management infrastructure. FEMA's resource, Building Public-Private Partnerships, provides guidance for jurisdictions looking to establish public-private partnerships as part of their emergency preparedness plans.

State Partners

Establishing local offices that are dedicated to building partnerships and maintaining positive relationships with the state government can help ensure that resources and personnel can be tapped in a timely manner during an emergency response. At the state level, FEMA's list of emergency management agencies can help communities identify their state emergency management agency. Other statewide entities can also be valuable partners, including:

Often, state governors will call in the state National Guard to support emergency and disaster response efforts.

National and Federal Partners

At the federal level, the following agencies may be involved in rural emergency preparedness and response:

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Incident Response Coordination Team (IRCT)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • National Disaster Medical System (NDMS)
  • National Guard Bureau
  • U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps Teams
  • Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Disaster Case Management (DCM)
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD)

In addition to federal agencies, other associations and organizations that can be resources at the national level include:

  • American Hospital Association (AHA)
  • Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)
  • National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
  • National Rural Health Association (NRHA)

In its Rural Disaster Health topic collection, the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) states: “Tribal communities (many of which are located in rural areas) have the autonomy to respond to and manage incidents that occur on their lands.” Nonetheless, it is important for relationships to be established between tribal communities and state and local governments to ensure access to data and information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list of emergency preparedness, response, and recovery resources specific to American Indian and Alaska Native communities, designed to help tribal communities and their partners work together effectively.

For more information about programs and services available to support rural preparedness, response, and recovery, see Programs and Services for Rural Communities to Support Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Resources to Learn More

Engaging Faith-based and Community Organizations: Planning Considerations for Emergency Managers
Provides guidance on engaging community-based and faith-based organizations as partners in emergency preparedness.
Organization(s): Department of Homeland Security
Date: 6/2018

Public Health Emergency Response Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Public Health Directors - Version 2.0
Assists public health department staff to train and prepare for emergencies and disasters.
Organization(s): Center for Preparedness and Response (CPR)
Date: 4/2011

Public Health Preparedness Resources
Offers an annotated list of strategic planning and preparedness resources for public health departments.
Organization(s): Center for Preparedness and Response, National Center for Environmental Health