CHDS’ PELP holds its first in-person sessions since March 2020

A joint Pacific Partnership Meeting (PPM) and topic-specific Pacific Executive Leaders Program (PELP cohort 2101) was conducted in-person from Monday, Aug. 9 to Wednesday, Aug. 11 at the Hawai’i Convention Center in Honolulu, HI on the island of O’ahu.

Officials representing a range of state, territory, and federal agencies based in Hawaii, California, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, participated in a three-day series of sessions focusing on a “Capacity Building” theme, including staff and resource building and grant access development. In all, 45 people participated in-person and several more experienced the seminar virtually. The program was the first PELP conducted in-person since March 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CHDS hosted both a Pacific Partnership Meeting and a Pacific Executive Leaders Program in early August.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Pacific Executive Leaders Program (PELP) conducted these joint events in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 9.

While event organizers faced several challenges, including shifting COVID-19 restrictions that required regular temperature checks and social distancing for participants, travel challenges, and even pre-packaged food service, PELP director David Fukutomi praised the commitment of organizers, staff, and participants alike and said he was glad the event went ahead.

“We did this against the backdrop of having to navigate the state and county response to Covid-19, and it required the (event organizer) team to be adaptable on an almost daily basis,” Fukutomi said, noting that the pandemic also prompted the decision to commingle and cut down the sessions from a week to three days. “In addition, all the participants were still responsible for responding to emergencies (during the event). It’s not just jumping on a plane but requires a real commitment to travel to Honolulu from across the Pacific.

“We waited for a window of opportunity and squeezed it in. I’m glad now that we did because of the (pandemic) surge. We were able to reap the benefits of in person education and collaboration that we missed during the pandemic.”

Fukutomi noted that American Sāmoa participants could not participate in person because the U.S. territory had no commercial air service available and had stricter COVID-19 rules.

In addition to the central “Capacity Building” theme, Fukutomi said the joint event also included sessions on equity and climate change.

“We crammed a lot into three days,” he said.

Held at the Hawai’i Convention Center, the joint sessions were attended by a range of Pacific region officials.

The goal of the joint event was to educate leaders of the Hawaiian Islands and Pacific Territories on preparedness priorities and available resources, and support the development of work plans. The program also offered an educational forum to address homeland security and emergency management-related challenges, develop critical thinking skills, and identify resources. All this was done while building networks among the Pacific region’s local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal government officials, and private sector, civic, and military leaders.

The joint event included presentations and panel discussions from the following subject matter experts and guest speakers: CHDS alum Donalyn Dela Cruz (Master’s, PELP1501 and PELP1505/1506), a Honolulu-based strategic and crisis communications consultant; CHDS alum Eulogio “Shawn” Gumataotao (PELP1802), a retired director of planning and community relations for the Judiciary of Guam; Chief Impact Officer Laura Kay Rand from the Hawaii Food Bank; Dr. Makena Coffman; and Dr. Charles “Chip” Fletcher from the University of Hawaii, as well as Steve Sharro, Peter Vaslow, and Fukutomi.

Fukutomi said Dela Cruz and Gumataotao, specifically, represent PELP’s continuing efforts to build a Pacific-based subject matter expert roster.

He said conducting the event under rapidly evolving circumstances “really tested the flexibility of our partnership with FEMA Region 9” and the other participating agencies and jurisdictions. But he added that the program “accomplished our objectives. We don’t just march through the agenda. It’s more Monterey-style (education) where we encourage robust dialogue and build relationships.

“Many (participants) say they get more out of the sessions in the months and years afterward, whether from what they learned or the relationships they formed.”