Emergence Alumna Making a Difference: Building Emergency Management Community Engagement

Taking aim at building public trust and understanding of the Philadelphia Office of Emergence Management, Center for Homeland Defense and Security Emergence Program cohort 2102 participant Vanessa Lyman has been given a “green light” to develop and implement her Emergence Change Initiative entitled “Emergency Management Liaison Officer Community Engagement.” 

According to the Emergency Management liaison officer, Lyman presented her change initiative to her program supervisor, planning deputy director and the OEM director, and they were “extremely positive” about the proposal and “believe the project could greatly benefit not only OEM but the public.” 

Vanessa Lyman, Emergency Management Liaison Officer, Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management, Emergence Cohort 2102

“They have given me the green light to continue working on my project’s development and implementation over the next few months,” Lyman said, adding that the community engagement change initiative will act as an additional tool for emergency management liaison officers while in the field to “engage community members, build relationships and educate residents on hazards and preparedness tips.” 

According to its website, the Philadelphia OEM “works to ensure the City of Phliadelphia is ready for any kind of emergency,” and “works with organizations throughout the City to prepare for possible emergencies in the City, lessen their impact, and recover as quickly as possible.” 

Lyman said her change initiative was prompted because the city’s OEM is “missing opportunities to engage the public, educate residents, and build relationships that could lead to a more resilient city.” 

The goals of her change initiative project, Lyman said, are to “support her agency’s community engagement program and attend community events,” and “interact with her community’s residents and businesses to strengthen preparedness knowledge and increase their familiarity with OEM’s mission,” as well as increasing the number of READYPhila registrants and continuing to build relationships with partner agencies, all in pursuit of building public trust and understanding of the city’s OEM. 

Next steps for the change initiative development and implementation include:  

  • Meeting with the Community Engagement Coordinators to design guidelines to ensure the roles and expectations for the liaison officers that are well defined, determine what modes of engagement will be most successful, and set standards for engaging with residents. 
  • Identify and schedule both online and in-person training. “We want the team to be consistent in how they interact with individuals and what information they are providing to the public,” Lyman said. 
  • Work with OEM Leadership to determine the amount of time a liaison officer will dedicate to community events and how they will be expected to respond during these times. For example, a liaison officer could be deemed “out of service” during an event or could be partnered with an additional OEM coordinator so that they could leave for a response. 
  • Provide each liaison officer, Duty Phone and Duty Vehicle with OEM’s QR code to simplify community enrollment and information dissemination. 
  • Schedule a meeting with the Battalion Chief of Philadelphia Fire Department’s (PFD) Community Action Team (CAT) to discuss training opportunities and events that the agencies can complete jointly. An opportunity previously discussed was accompanying the PFD CAT on smoke detector installations and using it as an opportunity for OEMs to interact with residents on a one-on-one basis. 

Lyman said her agency leadership has been extremely supportive and encouraging with regard to her participation in the CHDS Emergence program, adding that the program has provided a wide range of benefits.  

Describing the program as an “amazing opportunity,” Lyman said she was initially hesitant during the application process but add that she is now “so happy and proud of myself” for completing the program. 

“Career-wise, the course reaffirmed my passion for emergency management and working as a public servant,” she said. “On a personal level, the Emergence Program taught me so much about myself and showed specific skills to continue developing. After the past two years, most people I’ve spoken with are feeling exhausted and uninspired. I felt myself questioning my career path and desire to be in this field. Compounded with my recent leadership promotion, I was unsure of my ability to be successful. Emergence forced me out of a bubble and introduced me to people from all over the country varying in areas of focus, experiences, and perspectives.

“Our class discussions were enlightening whether we were discussing policies, hot button issues or how to analyze a risk. The instructors were incredibly supportive and encouraged us to ask questions and delve below the surface to provide substantive solutions. I learned so much about my communication styles, how to collaborate with differing views, identifying risks and multiple processes for developing solutions. The guest speakers were amazing; passion was evident, and they provided so much insight to the ‘life and career’ questions we all had.”

Lyman added that “one of the most beneficial aspects of emergence were the lunch conversations and late-night discussions I had with my classmates. Everyone shared personal experiences, helped one another work through office difficulties and respectfully discussed topics from the class and news. I’ve come back to my office reenergized to implement my change initiative, and look for new opportunities to contribute to my city.”

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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