THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective - Cleveland

By Joseph Straw

 

How would you characterize your region’s relationship with its federal partners? What would you change, if anything?

Most of the UASI funding obviously trickles down through the state to us, so we really deal with the state on the day-to-day money spending items. But there is a regular contact that both we and the county have with our federal partners. And that relationship tends to go pretty well. We don’t have to deal with them often unless there are some questions or some guidance that we need related to some policy issues, but on the city side we also have some direct links with the federal government, whether it’s related to our critical infrastructure and their infrastructure specialist that they have on staff, or whether it’s related to the federal Buffer Zone Protection Program (BZPP) grants or their medical response grants. I believe the relationship is a very good one.

I think that there are some things that I would like to see, and I’m not sure really how this would be accomplished, but some of those funds would tend to work better if they came directly to the local municipality. As an example, right now we’re just getting ready to spend 2009 federal grant funds even though we’re in 2010. We traditionally tend to be a year behind on spending because by the time the money comes from the feds down to the state and down to the city, you’re at least a year behind. Everyone has their own legislative procedure that they need to go through in order to pass down the funding. So that’s one of the things that still needs to be ironed out in the future: how do we streamline the process of funding?

Does your office engage the private sector in its mission? If so, how?

Not nearly as much as we probably should or need to. That’s one of the areas that we just recently started focusing on, probably in the last 12 months. The first few years we really had to get the hang of this preparedness effort at the level that we’re doing it today, and so we’ve really been spending a lot of the time internally with our EOC and our EOP. The BZPP really was our first opportunity to go out there and meet with our private sector partners. We’ve had several BZPP sites within the city and that was the first opportunity for us to actually get out into the community and meet some of these building managers, these building owners, and these security specialists at these buildings, and I think one of the things that we learned right away in doing that is that their skill level and the things that they can bring to the table definitely offer some advantages to us within the city. Obviously with shrinking budgets we don’t get the opportunity to send our staffs out to stay up and current on some of the security infrastructure training that’s out there, but these private businesses really have people that are out there with a wealth of education and a wealth of knowledge, and frankly a different perspective than the one we have in the government sector. So working with them, talking with them, and frankly learning from them has been a big advance that we’ve gotten through the BZPP.

Over the last 12 months, like I’ve said, we’ve been focusing our effort clearly on the infrastructure side through our state fusion center. We’ve been trying to engage some of these businesses that we identify as critical in the county, and doing some site assessments and educating them on some of the things that we’re able to provide to them.

More specifically one of the new initiatives driven by banks in the downtown is formation of a public-private partnership, under the regional planning council model created in Chicago by ChicagoFIRST (Fostering Industry Resilience and Security through Teamwork). We’re going to use that as an effort to share some of our training, some of our knowledge, some of our training and resources so that we, the city can do a better job in relaying where we stand with our preparedness efforts and how we can help each other. Right now it’s planned to consist only of banking organizations but it’s eventually going to be open to all of the building owners and managers that reside within the county, so that we can have a platform where we can really have the concerns of the private entities voiced at these meetings, and I think that’s what we’re heading toward.

Has the region gained any valuable lessons from recent exercises or responses?

We exercise on a regular basis. Most recently we had an exercise with our federal and state partners on the transit side of the house, and that was a functional exercise in which we had some improvised explosive devices at several transit locations throughout the city. That was the most recent, but whether it’s a public-health related exercise or a terrorism-related exercise, there tend to be a few a year. We always learn from them. And frankly we always take the opportunity to learn from some of these real-life events that happen throughout the country and throughout the world, and we constantly update our plans to reflect on those lessons learned.

One of the clear lessons learned for us within this region is that of communication. We realized quickly that there needs to be a better solution for us to communicate with all those first responders within Cuyahoga County, within the region and within the state, both in terms of technology and protocols. Once we iron out the frequency spectrum allocation piece, immediately then it’s going to be more a matter of policy and procedure—how to use the radio, how to establish talk groups, etc. It’s a combination of both. I think that is clearly the number one area where we need to get some work done, and part of the work is going to require a more robust infrastructure and training associated with that infrastructure.

The other issue is communication on the press/joint information side, which is probably our second-biggest lesson learned from these exercises. We’ve got to be able to push out messaging immediately and then constantly after an incident arises. And then we’ve got to understand who our audience is when we push that message out. There’s a message obviously for the citizenry and some of the concerns that they have, but there’s also messages for those business and property owners, where if we vacate downtown for any particular region, the message for the citizens that live downtown may be a different message than for those business owners and security personnel who have to manage their property. That’s the second part where we learn a lot in those exercises.

What are your office’s major goals going forward?

We have a few. The first one is to continue working on the interoperable communications challenge, and I would take it a step further and call it an operability challenge that we have within the city and the county, and then the interoperability challenges. I think there clearly is a radio infrastructure void within this region that I think we’re working on identifying some resolutions to that. Secondly, I think we need to expand the role of the private sector within our preparedness efforts. I think we’re going to have an opportunity to do that here with the release of an evacuation plan that we’re working on citywide. We have to identify what the responsibilities are because private companies clearly have things to offer us but we clearly need to know what they would like to hear from us as it relates to our overall planning strategies. Even with what we’re doing with the banking community, there are a lot more private partners that I think we need to do a better job of reaching out to. Then the last goal is to release a community education process. We need to really get the community engaged and to really take some responsibility for preparing themselves and their families should an incident arise. I think those three are really what we need to focus on in the future.

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