THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective: Pennsylvania

By Matthew Harwood

What kind of information is exchanged between PEMA and the business community?

PEMA exchanges information about continuity of operations. We’ll ask, “If you’re a business in a community and you’re flooded out, what have you done to prepare for that?” When we lose a business in the community, we lose not only tax revenue, but we lose people’s places of employment. By preparing on the front-end and trying to use an all-hazards approach—maybe there is floodproofing or maybe there are things that could be done with holding ponds or whatever—we build in resilience. So we exchange that kind of planning information with our businesses.

The other thing we try to work with the private sector on is for businesses to have their own disaster recovery plans so that they can get back up quickly. Getting a business up in a community really helps that community move toward recovery. If you can get the Wal-Mart or the K-Mart open, the community sees that as a sign of normalcy returning. Part of the planning process for the business community is to look towards your workers being able to secure their families and then come back in to get your business operational again as quickly as possible. You also have to plan for the recovery of your electronic resources, your files, your records. Where are your supplies kept? What happens if distribution routes are disrupted because of an earthquake? Part of the emergency management side of the house is to work with the private sector to get them to plan and look at continuity of operations and resilience on an all-hazards basis.

What keeps you up at night?

I think the thing that keeps me up at night is “Are we prepared to deal with whatever that thing is [that] I don’t know is coming?” There’s a philosophy in disaster and emergency response: if you’re going to save lives, you’ve got to go fast, and you’ve got to go big. If you try and wait until you’re in the middle of the event to do that, you’ve lost already: a rescue mission turns into a body recovery mission. We’re in the business of saving people’s lives.
 

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