If you live in Guilford County, you should feel pretty safe and secure right now.
Guilford County Emergency Management, a division of the county’s Emergency Services Department (EMS), has just received the highest honor an emergency management operation can get – certification by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP).
EMAP’s rigorous accreditation process is the “gold standard” in emergency management services and until Guilford County gained approval recently, no local government in the state had been able to meet the requirements and earn the stamp of approval from the agency.
“This is a big deal,” Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing said this week. “This is a long process and they really try and find ways not to accredit you.”
He added that others across the state had tried and failed.
In fact, of the 89,000 local governments in the United States, only 37 have earned the accreditation from the agency that demands near perfection in over 60 categories of review.
Emergency officials from the State of North Carolina are scheduled to present the county’s Emergency Management team with the certificate of approval at the Thursday, Dec. 15 meeting of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
Guilford County Emergency Management Division Director Don Campbell said he’s extremely proud of the accreditation, which is something, he said, that was years in the making.
“We are the first local government in North Carolina to receive that,” Campbell said.
The county’s Emergency Management Division coordinates 120 partners that may be called on in a disaster such as a hurricane, major tornado, terrorist event or any other calamity – man-made, accidental or force of nature – like a giant sinkhole in downtown Greensboro swallowing up cars and buildings. He said that going through the accreditation process focuses the entire emergency program on making sure all its t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.
“The entire process is designed to make us a well-oiled machine for large-scale disaster response,” Campbell said.
Campbell said that, in a county like this one where there typically aren’t a lot of major disasters, it helps to know that the emergency responders are prepared. He said that since real world events don’t regularly provide a chance for self-evaluation of preparedness and efficiency, it helps to have outside eyes come in a review the operations.
“I love living in Guilford County,” Campbell said. “Knock on wood – we don’t have a major disaster every day. But EMAP forces us to be an all-hazard agency.”
He said Guilford County’s Emergency Management Division has been working over the last five or six years to make sure all of the evaluated 64 program elements were in tip-top shape before asking the accreditation agency to come in and evaluate them. He said that going through the difficult accreditation process made all the agencies, emergency staff and others involved tighten up their practices.
According to Campbell, the EMAP accreditation is a telling sign that the county’s Emergency Management Division is well positioned to respond to events of all sorts, whether that’s a fire at Colonial Pipeline, a severe weather event or a wild fire.
According to Campbell, these days it’s important to be prepared for the latest threats such as cyber-terrorism, denial of service attacks on mainframes and other electronic interference.
EMAP accreditation even checked the county’s practices for getting reimbursements from the state or federal governments after a major event.
Campbell said that, in March 2014, after a major ice storm, there were some agencies that responded well but didn’t document everything properly, making reimbursement for services more difficult. Now proper documentation procedures are in place.
He said emergency response is all about the coordination of agencies, businesses, communication outlets and others, and getting those to work together. He added that one challenging aspect of the evaluation process is that it requires the county’s emergency response partners to all be on the same page.
“It was definitely a large undertaking for us,” Campbell said of the application and approval process.
In the evaluation process, a team of investigators from EMAP came to Guilford County for about a week earlier this year and investigated the county’s Emergency Management operations.
“I was very happy when that week was over,” he said.
Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright said he is very pleased with the accreditation.
“EMAP is considered the gold standard for evaluation of emergency management programs,” he said.
Albright added, “It’s ultimately a very unique coordination of resources within a community. Our staff did an absolute bang-up job on this.”
Albright said that usually an accreditation process just looks at one department or one service alone but what makes this recognition so impressive, he said, is that it takes all of the county’s 120 emergency response partners into account and evaluates how all of them work together.
Albright said it’s easy to see why Guilford County wanted EMAP’s stamp of approval.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “You’re up against the best programs in the nation and it enhances your service. What accreditation does is forces you to bring those best practices into the organization.”
Albright also said this is an indication that Guilford County’s emergency management operations are the “absolute best.”
Like Campbell, Albright stressed that post disaster cost-recovery was also a key part of emergency management operations.
“They do a lot of planning, but they also do a lot of cost recovery,” Albright said.
This week, Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning called the accreditation “impressive.”
North Carolina and 30 other states and the District of Columbia have received EMAP certification.
Three universities have the certification: Virginia Tech, the University of Alabama and the University of Central Florida.
The international programs that have gained EMAP certification are the governments of the British Virgin Islands, Ottawa and Ontario.
Earlier this year, Amtrak received the certification, making it one of the few private agencies to do so.
Some of the other counties that have been accredited by the program are San Diego County and Colorado Springs County.
The largest concentration of EMAP certifications is in Florida, where 15 counties have the accreditation, including Brevard, Broward, Miami/Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Some other local governments with EMAP certification are East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana, Montgomery County in Maryland and Springfield-Greene County in Missouri.
Philadelphia and Seattle along with three Texas cities – Arlington, Austin and Dallas – are some of the cities that have received the certification.