Strategic Foresight I: A Pathway to National Resilience

Emergency Management Once Removed

June 7, 2024

By Jim Mullen

The non-partisan federal Government Accountability Office (GAO ) is entrusted with responsibility “to investigate and oversee the activities of the executive branch, to control the use of federal funds….” Housed within GAO, the Center for Strategic Foresight analyzes trends that will likely impact the federal government and society in the next 5-15 years.

So why aren’t similar units at work in cities, counties, and states? There is a myriad of plausible, identifiable capability gaps to assess, and looming crises that require advance planning, preparation, funding. Among them, predicable outcomes to a city, county, and state after a major earthquake. Likewise severe flooding and wind – driven wildfires evoke images of homeless citizens, disrupted commerce, and severe environmental impacts. State and local jurisdictions might profit from a continuing strategic review of their assets and liabilities in confronting possible disruptions to stability.

The impending 2024 election may present a specific set of unique challenges.

I’ve worked in the administrations of five mayors and six governors in over 30 years of government. Most elected officials, and their staff recoil from searching for more problems than they already have in front of them! Contemplating a potential problem that might arise 10 years down the road is counter to their short-term objective to “survive” this week’s issues politically unscathed. The private sector often exhibits a similar reluctance : “ Maybe it won’t happen on our watch” is a pretty standard reaction in industry as well as in government.

That must change. The lessons from too many disasters suggest waiting until something bad happens, particularly one clearly well within the realm of possibility, is a prescription for a second, preventable disaster – the failure to anticipate and establish a framework for decisive action. A little strategic foresight might avert unnecessary disruption; it might even facilitate a speedier recovery. And people might just start to believe in their government again, a thought that should serve as motivation those who purport to be serious public servants.

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.