© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.


Leadership in Times of Crisis

Now, more than ever, citizens need to know that their local governments and the officials in them have adequately prepared for any disasters that may arise. That is one of the many reasons why I became certified through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

When I served as Clackamas County Commissioner from 2013 to 2017, I realized that there was a lack of preparedness at the local level. That was especially troubling to me, given that the county has over 400,000 residents and covers over one million acres of land.

I wanted to do everything possible to ensure that Clackamas County residents could benefit from the best available knowledge and preparedness services. Something had to be done, and that’s why I volunteered to become FEMA certified.

Obviously, I didn’t know at the time that there would be an international outbreak of the Coronavirus years later. Much of the emergency and disaster preparedness that has taken place in Oregon is in anticipation of a major earthquake, as the region is well overdue for one.

But I think that regardless of the type of emergency that happens, people need to know that they can rely on government to continue functioning. Leadership becomes more important than ever, to ensure that citizens get the help they need and services are still provided.

My FEMA training and certification taught me what my leadership role would be in an emergency and how to listen to health authorities, law enforcement and transportation agencies to get daily life back to normal as quickly as possible for citizens.

The absolute most important obligation that government has in disaster situations is to provide for safety. Peoples’ lives and health can be protected by government agencies if they do an adequate job of planning ahead. As such, financial reserves, testing kits and education programs must be readily available.

Also critical is that the health care system be protected. This is best done by ensuring that health care professionals like doctors and nurses are able to do their jobs. It will become much more difficult to care for sick patients if those professionals end up quarantined.

Aside from the immediate emergency, there are other long-term ramifications that government officials must consider. One is the need to protect the economy. Financial markets need to be stable. Peoples’ livelihoods and the ability to earn paycheck must be maintained. When making decisions about how to respond to disaster situations, government agencies should consider the effects that their actions could potentially have on businesses. Ideally, those same agencies would have budgets that are in good health and include adequate reserve funds. Any prudently managed agency should plan ahead in good times and set funds aside in case anything goes wrong. Failure to do so is nothing more than an abdication of official duties.

In troubled times, people look to governments, and the people who run them, to maintain public confidence and instill trust.  Through my FEMA certification and training, I’ve learned the kinds of leadership skills that can help Clackamas County residents through any potential crisis.