So maybe there is a “new adventurous frontier.” If there is such a place, FEMA has launched the first mission to take the US in this direction as it relates specifically to the role and destiny of Emergency Management and emergency managers. That frontier is the future. FEMA (2012) has developed a website dedicated to the effort and the new approach and has coined the terminology Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI). FEMA (2012) states,
The world is changing in ways that can have major effects on the emergency management community. Thinking more broadly and over a longer timeframe will help us understand these changes and their potential impacts. FEMA launched the Strategic Foresight initiative (SFI) to promote broader and longer term thinking on those changes and their effects.
You could almost state in one sense this sounds a bit like Star Trek or any other pop-culture movie that takes the reader or the movie goer to another place in time or space. However, this is real and it is serious business. While the science of the effort is indeed exciting, FEMA makes it clear throughout some of the associated reports and discussions associated with the site that the organization has taken the position that there will be future and potentially near term issues that will arise. Some of the problems could result in catastrophic events and others may be more localized. Either way, FEMA and associated policy makers are taking the matter seriously and making significant effort to study future scenarios and moving toward efforts to not only recognize possible future scenarios, but to begin preparations to either mitigate or perhaps even prevent such negative occurrences from ever happening.
In one document saved as an Adobe PDF on the site, FEMA discussed Critical Infrastructure. (FEMA, 2012) In some of the documents, it becomes clear that FEMA has taken on the role of looking to the future. However, they are also very clear that the efforts underway are not for the purpose of “forecasting” or what might be referred to by some in the Intelligence Community as “predictive” analysis. This is key, as FEMA has taken on a broader scope of responsibilities that also is now bringing together government, private sector and even identifying subject matter experts to create open forums where possible scenarios can be discussed, information shared and collaboration on the possibilities is taking place. This is critical and opens an entirely new level of possibilities as emergency management moves into the future and explores the vast unknown possibilities. One such example that is mentioned in the related materials provided by FEMA (2012) on the site is as stated, Critical Infrastructure. The nation’s critical infrastructure is aging and in many cases may be in need up replacement or upgrades that simply have not yet happened or that may be waiting on issues related to funding. The problem there is that government budgets, according to FEMA (FEMA, 2012) are also deteriorating and future plans may need to address possible private sector partnerships, mutual or joint private-public joint investments or other innovative ways to solve these problems. Directly relevant to the issue of bridges, FEMA (2012) indicates that bridges are generally designed to last 50 years, and the average bridge in the United States is 43 years old. Although the U.S. Department of Transportation rated fewer rural bridges as deficient in 2008 as they had three years ago, the Department rated nearly 3,000 more urban bridges as deficient over the same time period, which is significant because they are more heavily trafficked.
Simply dealing with the time frames of bridges reaching their life expectancy reveals and opens the door to many new and unprecedented problems that could literally affect whether or not the US is able to survive as a dominant world power or whether it become less and less relevant as officials and people alike become absorbed with dealing on a day to day basis with the many catastrophic matters that will arise vicariously because one or more known issues were either ignored or for whatever reason, mitigation of the problem was not addressed or failed to be addressed because of other issues such as lack of available funds. It is likely that issues arising from known circumstances such as bridges, dams or other constructed infrastructure will lead to other similar or worse chains of events set into motion because of the failure of the one system.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It will be nearly impossible for FEMA to identify all of the possible scenarios related to future events and possible future crises. However, FEMA has embarked on a critical journey as important as any in the history of the nation. Strategic foresight, particularly the Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI –http://www.fema.gov/strategic-planning-analysis-spa-division/strategic-foresight-initiative ) is something that FEMA is uniquely suited to address in behalf of the American people and perhaps in some cases in behalf of the world. Knowing and understanding what the future may hold will allow this innovative agency to provide guidance for the government and private sector and to lead the nation into the vast dark reaches of a future that at the present does not pretend to be a friendly horizon. Understanding the future is obviously a critical initiative for the nation, if the nation is going to have any chance of navigating its way through the problems that are sure to arise. Because of this, emergency managers will need to take this seriously, not as a topic of discussion or elective education, but as a part of the very ethos that makes up and drives emergency managers today.
It will be important for FEMA to think outside the box of providing support and leadership to emergency management professionals alone. The level and sophistication of the current SFI model lends itself credibly to FEMA also becoming a valued and critical partner with the Intelligence Community and other US agencies who are engaged in the business of specific critical predictive analytics. The broader approach currently underway by FEMA policy makers is a model that can support, but better in some cases lead alongside of the Intelligence Community as the nation begins to determine real and plausible attack and threat scenarios. Therefore, it is highly recommended that FEMA personnel and select emergency managers who understand the relevance of the SFI become engaged in developing strong and mature relationships with those at the federal and State levels who are predicting specific potential threats, both natural and man-made. This will become a self-actualizing move and will allow both FEMA and
FEMA (2012). The strategic foresight initiative.Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/about/programs/oppa/strategic_foresight_initiative.shtm
© 2012 David Henderman, CPP, OSINetwork (Reprint is permissible with credit and notice to source via email@example.com)