Congratulations on winning the election! Now, here’s a class you really must take.
So, you have just won your first election to this office. Congratulations! Soon you will take your oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States — and the people that you will serve. There is so much to prepare, in the time around those first few days in office. You are ready to make a positive change in many people’s lives, through governing.
And before a disaster strikes the community you are now in charge of — and it is highly likely something else bad (on top of COVID-19) will happen during your tenure- you need to understand how the National Incident Management System (also known as NIMS) works. Seriously — it is back to school time.
The class all elected officials should take is the National Incident Management System Overview for Senior Officials (Executives, Elected, & Appointed (ICS-402). And this course is applicable to appointed cabinet-level officials, and even corporate executives. Knowing how emergency powers — including massive changes in the normal governmental procurement and spending process — is key to understanding what happens when an emergency or disaster is declared.
You need to understand who is responsible for what, and how also the organizational structure of governmental operations dramatically shifts during emergencies and disasters. This is critical for officials in charge of government at all levels. Are you in a Home Rule or Dillon’s Rule State? Do you have any Sovereign Tribal Nation Land in your jurisdiction? How are things different if you are in one of the territories (including Washington, D.C.)? Will FEMA just come to your rescue and save the day? (Definitely not.) But they may help through an approach they describe as “locally executed, state managed, and federally supported”. That will all depend on how big the disaster really is — and how much the local and state officials really need help — and understand how to ask for it.
You do not want to make the mistakes of many past elected officials, who did not have the basics of NIMS, who ended up putting people at risk and in harm’s way. Shakespeare wrote “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” — you can sleep better at night, when you know how the different levels of government really work together before, during and after a disaster.