Many university EMs are a one-person show. The only way one person can address all aspects of the EM program is to leverage partners both inside and outside of the university. Finding and engaging with partners can be a challenge to say the least. Here’s a few ways I’ve found to engage with partners and maintain relationships.
Set-up time to introduce yourself and find out more about what people do. This may seem to be common sense, but sometimes the direct approach is the best to get things started. It can be tricky given the demands on people’s time, but as the saying goes, the worst time to exchange business cards is in the middle of a disaster. This has the added benefit of being almost all about them. People love to talk about themselves, their achievements, and what they want to do in the future. You demonstrating interest in them is a great way to start a relationship. And if they refuse to meet, stand you up, or are late… then you have a valuable insight into the kind of partner they’ll be.
Join groups and committees that bring you into contact with people. This can be internal or external. I made a lot of great contacts by being a part of the Local Emergency Preparedness Committee (LEPC). This group brought me into contact with representatives of local response organizations, the private sector, county government, members of the public, and even other university staff I wouldn’t normally encounter. The only cost was an hour of my time every quarter and being dragooned into being the committee chair. Twice.
The same principle can apply to internal meetings. We’re all required to attend some meetings that have little or nothing to do with our jobs. However, you can turn this time sink to your advantage. By showing up and participating you meet people and demonstrate your interest. This means they’re more likely to know who you are when you reach out to ask for help or participation in a project of your own.
Both universities I’ve worked for trained and exercised with the local responders. We also provided support to the local community during actual events. All of these engagements built relationships and gave me insight into how my partners operated. This also applies internally. By supporting a drill EH&S staff were running, I got to meet the majority of the staff and learn about some of the challenges they faced.
Pre-pandemic (and hopefully post) FEMA (and other organizations) have mobile offerings they present around the country. By bringing these offerings to your campus, you not only get some great training, you get to meet the other attendees from the local community and further afield. And the networking isn’t limited to the students and instructors who participate. Typically, FEMA wants to maximize attendance and have people from your state and FEMA Region. This means you’ll need to make new contacts to help spread the word about your training. If it is a highly sought after course you may consider partnering with another university or local agency to build a more robust hosting application.
Ask for Feedback/Assistance
My dad taught me as a kid that everybody likes to be a hero. If you frame a request in a way that makes people feel like they are helping you out, it increases the chances they’ll do so. One way I used this tendency was to ask the county EM department for feedback on my draft plan. I wanted to know where our plans aligned and how they might clash, so rather than compare the plans myself, I asked for their help. This gained me feedback on my document, made them feel valued, and led to discussions of how we could cooperate.
Are these strategies guaranteed to form great and lasting relationships with your external and internal partners? No. As the man said, the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. But these techniques have helped me develop some good partnerships.
If you have any feedback or suggestions for other topics for me to ponder feel free to send me an email.