Think of the outreach strategy for the plan as having three tiers: 1) planning team, 2) stakeholders, and 3) the public, as illustrated in Figure 3.1. The timing, method, and level of engagement or effort are different for each tier. Task 2 of the Handbook discussed how to engage the planning team. Task 3 focuses on involving stakeholders and the public.
A stakeholder is any person, group, or institution that can affect or be affected by a course of action. Involving stakeholders in the planning process helps to develop support for the plan and identify barriers to implementation. In addition, mitigation planning incorporates information from scientific and technical sources and subject matter experts.
At a minimum, the stakeholders that must be included in the planning process include neighboring communities, local and regional agencies involved in hazard mitigation activities, and agencies that have the authority to regulate development, as well as businesses, academia, and other private and nonprofit interests (see Element A2). Task 2 discussed the importance of involving local and regional agencies involved in hazard mitigation activities and agencies that have the authority to regulate development on the planning team. Unlike planning team members, stakeholders need not be involved in all stages of the planning process, but may inform the planning team from time-to-time on a specific topic or provide input from different points of view in the community.
Federal regulations require that you also invite stakeholder participation from neighboring communities that are not part of the planning area and from participating jurisdictions (see Element A2). This would include adjacent counties and municipalities, such as those that are affected by similar threat or hazard events or may include partners in mitigation and response activities. For example, you could involve neighboring communities in the planning process by issuing an invitational email or letter to the emergency managers or local officials of the adjacent counties, inviting their participation in outreach activities and their input on the draft mitigation plan.
Other interested stakeholders may be defined by each jurisdiction depending on the unique characteristics and resources of the community. The following stakeholders are important in mitigation planning:
- Elected officials and planning commission members. Elected officials have the responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their constituents and typically are the governing bodies that adopt the plan prior to FEMA approval. The level of support that the elected officials provide to the mitigation plan’s goals and actions largely determines the plan’s progress and implementation, and ultimately, the resilience of the community.
- Business leaders and large employers. Economic resiliency drives a community’s recovery after a disaster. A key component of mitigation planning is identifying those economic assets and drivers whose losses and inability to operate would severely impact the community and its ability to recover from a disaster. Involving economic development officials, the local chamber of commerce, and business leaders in the planning process and educating them about local risks and vulnerabilities can make them partners in future mitigation initiatives. More information on determining your community’s economic assets is included in Task 5 – Conduct a Risk Assessment.
- Regional, state, and federal agencies. Public agencies, such as regional planning agencies, geological surveys, forestry divisions, emergency management offices, dam safety agencies, and weather service offices, at the regional, state, and federal levels are key resources for data and technical information, as well as financial assistance. These agencies may have programs that complement your mitigation planning goals.
- Cultural institutions. Cultural institutions, such as museums, libraries, and theatres, often have unique mitigation needs. For example, they may be located in a historic building or house collections that require special protection from natural hazards. These institutions also may keep records and collections of historic information on natural disasters in your community, particularly floods, fires, and earthquakes. For more information, see Integrating Historic Property and Cultural Resource Considerations into Hazard Mitigation Planning (FEMA 386-6).
- Colleges and universities. Like public agencies, academic institutions have valuable resources to assist with the planning efforts, such as natural hazards data, GIS mapping and analysis, or research on successful methods to reduce risk. The planning team may be able to collaborate with a local college or university to engage students in the planning process or to complete research and analysis needed for the mitigation plan. Consider partnering with the urban planning, geology, emergency management, geography, or environmental studies departments. Participating in the mitigation planning process can also help local colleges and universities understand and reduce risks on their campuses.
- Nonprofit organizations. These groups often act as advocates for citizens and can be important in public outreach, information sharing, and getting support for the mitigation actions developed in the plan. Nonprofit organizations might include disaster preparedness and response organizations, such as the local Red Cross; parks, recreation, or conservation organizations; historic preservation groups; church organizations; and parent-teacher organizations.
- Neighborhood groups. Many communities have existing neighborhood associations and homeowners’ associations that are active and engaged in community activities. These groups can provide valuable information about local risks and possible mitigation solutions in specific areas. They can also help with dissemination of information via newsletters and periodic meetings. Also, consider contacting people involved in Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), since they are knowledgeable about threats and hazards, and they are interested in making the community more disaster resilient.
In any of these categories, consider how organizations that serve persons with access and functional needs should be included to ensure equal access and meaningful participation of all individuals with disabilities, without discrimination.
Because many possible stakeholders could be involved in the planning process, an outreach strategy will help to identify the appropriate contacts and desired contributions for each stakeholder or group. Depending on the needs of your community and timeline for plan development, you may prioritize which stakeholders you contact directly and which you include in the outreach to the general public.
The general public also must be given an opportunity to be involved in the planning process. More than just informing the public of the plan’s development, a good public outreach effort educates the public and motivates them to take action. Many mitigation actions affect private property; therefore, the public should be engaged early to understand community priorities. In addition, although members of the public may not be technical experts, they can help identify community assets and problem areas, describe issues of concern, narrate threat and hazard history, prioritize proposed mitigation alternatives, and provide ideas for continuing public involvement after the plan is adopted.