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Values-Based Emergency and Risk Management

Emergency and risk management are most effective when they are values-based. We place extraordinarily-high value on life and health when making risk decisions as individuals, but when we are considering risk for a community or a society we must also 'see the forest for the trees.' The lives and health of community members are paramount, but a community robbed of its culture, norms, goals, objectives, and vision likewise ceases to exist.

Advising the Lac du Flambeau Tribe on mitigation planning ranks among the most transformative projects of my career. The Tribe expanded the traditional consequence analysis beyond life, health, and property, thereby enabling a more holistic consideration that included those things represented community identity. Through this process, species loss rose to top risk ranking - above the traditional go-to hazards including floods, severe storms, and others we might consider to be the mitigation plan 'usual suspects'.

Through broad community engagement, we worked with the planning committee to validate the plan. FEMA certified our process and outcomes and approved the plan - to our knowledge, the first approved Mitigation Plan that placed Species Loss as a community's top hazard.

This was, by all measures, a success.

All communities benefit from risk processes that prioritize values. Yesterday, hearing of the Cherokee Nation's move to prioritize native language speakers, I'm reminded of why the emergency management practitioner community - whose job it is to bring all voices to the table - must be charged with managing crises like COVID over any other functional stakeholder (inclusive of public health).

Where we fail to understand what is most important to a community, beyond just life itself, we will never be able to adequately protect or preserve it.


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