New York State preparedness program reflects CHDS values

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) was recently honored for a statewide emergency preparedness program that draws on Center for Homeland Defense and Security classroom concepts.

“New York State has developed an innovative program inspired by CHDS that is changing how we look at preparedness,” said Terry Hastings, DHSES Senior Policy Advisor and alumnus of the Center’s Executive Leaders Program. “We’re applying insights we learned at CHDS to produce successful programs and those programs are being recognize as exemplary.”

A DHSES team earned the Public Service Excellence Award from the State Academy for Public Administration (SAPA) for developing the County Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA) program. The Public Service Excellence Award is given annually to individuals and teams that make outstanding public service contributions. This is the second year in a row a team from DHSES has won the award.

CEPA is an initiative that resulted from a desire to create a more systemic approach to examine emergency preparedness, and it is another example of New York’s innovative approach to preparing the state against disasters.

The team working on the program had three CHDS connections—ELP alumnus Hastings, current master’s degree student and DHSES Policy Analyst Melissa Mahar and Brian Nussbaum, a former Senior Intelligence Analyst for the state Office of Counter Terrorism who now participates in the CHDS University and Agency Partnership Initiative as an Assistant Professor at the State University of New York- Albany.

New York is a state where natural hazards range from coastal threats in high-density population areas to rural areas prone to receiving mammoth wintry storms as can be seen in the past three major disasters – Super storm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and a November 2014 lake-effect snow that hammered Buffalo. Terrorism is also an ever-present threat the state must contend with.

“In addition to terrorism, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of severe natural disasters the past few years and we needed to understand preparedness in a more systematic way,” Hastings observed.

His team built the CEPA program from the ground up, engaging key local stakeholders at the onset to develop a methodology and crafting a tool to gauge preparedness. Measuring preparedness is a goal of many an emergency management agency and think tank, but Hastings and his team believe they have developed a more intuitive approach by directly engaging local emergency managers and first responders.

The CEPA team visits each county to capture data on risk, potential threats, available resources and how the jurisdictions are organizationally positioned to mitigate and respond to disasters through plans, equipment, training and exercises. The team also measures the potential likelihood and consequence of events, examining 28 or more potential threats and hazards.

“We use a collaborative process that allows us to capture information from subject matter experts across all homeland security and emergency preparedness disciplines” said Mahar. This approach allows us to have a better understanding local preparedness levels and capability gaps and to make more informed programmatic decisions.

“I was very lucky to work with this team and think they really deserved this award,” said Nussbaum, currently an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs at SUNY Albany, where he teaches terrorism, homeland security, cyber security and risk assessment.  “The work they’re doing gives New York State both a better handle on its local partners’ capabilities, but it is also pushing forward the state of the art of preparedness capability assessment. Capability assessment is, frankly, an area in which the homeland security enterprise has much important work left to do.”

By engaging each county DHSES can see trends and identify best practices that can be replicated.

“As an alumnus of the ELP program I did leverage the methodology and philosophy at CHDS,” Hastings said. “CEPA is very much like the ELP and master’s programs in that we have smart people participate in facilitated discussions to examine key issues. We are not just sending a survey and saying ‘fill it out.’ We’re building off the training and philosophy from CHDS to do innovative things here in New York.”