ASK ANN

"I understand that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is trying to get more local involvement in the flood mapping process. I didn't know they cared what local government's doing. Just thought they did the maps and sent them to us. How can I have input in this program?"

Through the years, FEMA has often gotten a bad wrap about flood mapping. The process seemed cumbersome—who knows that much about flood elevations, etc., except people who deal with those details every day. In trying to overcome this problem, they have created the Cooperating Technical Partner (CTP) program which works to create partnerships between FEMA and state, local, and regional agencies that are directly involved in and capable of playing an active role in the Flood Hazard Mapping program. To accomplish this end, the agency continues to search for qualified partners to collaborate on the maintenance of up-to-date flood maps and other flood hazard information. The partners benefit from flood maps that are more accurate and current, improved hazard identification and risk management, shared best practices, and, ultimately, more efficient floodplain management. For more information on how to become a CTP partner, visit http://www.fema.gov/fhm/ctp_main.shtm.

"My agency is currently working on the Self Assessment program, hopefully leading up to receiving Accreditation. We are confused about Chapter 8 that deals with Emergency Management. Doesn't this mean the City's emergency management plan and our involvement in it? Why would our public works department need to do anything different than that?"

Will the City Manager or Mayor tell the staff members in the public works department exactly what they should do every minute of your disaster? Having been in the Manager and the Mayor's roles for many years, the answer is definitely, "No." He or she will be busy coordinating the overall emergency efforts. They will expect that your Director, and possibly even the Deputy, will sit in the Emergency Operations Center and help coordinate the overall execution of the City's Emergency Plan. So, OK, you're part of the City, true. However, if your department doesn't have its own plan, how will your employees know what they are to do without expecting to be in constant contact with the Director at the EOC?

Furthermore, does the EOC open every time public works is called on to handle an emergency situation? Do your staff members know whom to contact for heavy equipment or sand bags for a flash flood? Where do you take the debris and how often do you collect it for an ice storm? Seems pretty simple; Old Charley's been here forever and he always knows what to do. However, Old Charley's out on medical leave today so what do we do now?

The Self Assessment/Accreditation chapter on Emergency Management is specifically designed for the public works department. A thorough operational plan for any emergency which might occur in your jurisdiction should be prepared and staff should each understand their own role. Furthermore, Table Top Exercises should be held periodically just to test your knowledge and preparedness. Look at this as an opportunity rather than a duty. Your agency and staff will be the winners!

"Here we go again. HR is telling us we need to do customer service training for our employees. We do this every year and it just doesn't stick with our people. Furthermore, if we don't have money to do our jobs well, we don't have money to pay a trainer to come in here to teach the sessions. Any tips to help us out?"

Stop and think about the basic reason that public agencies exist. What is the product you have to sell? The answer is simple: Providing service to our customers is all we have to offer. You'd think we wouldn't need to train our staff to be nice to the folks who pay our salaries! It's not that simple, however. Exceptional customer service doesn't just happen; it requires constant effort. You can't just fix it and expect it not to break again.

The most important elements of customer service will vary from agency to agency. You will need to make a careful and thorough study of the culture of your agency and how it fits with the culture of the folks you are serving. Do you have a Mission, Vision, and Value Statement that ensures your employees know what your goals are for providing good service? Are you hiring the best people in the first place? Do you survey your customers to determine their satisfaction level with the service being provided? Do your employees know what standards they are expected to provide? Are they thoroughly trained, not just in their jobs but in how they meet and greet the public? Do your employees have an attitude that when the customer wins, they win, too? If you haven't included these ideas in your training plan, remember that old adage, "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Make it happen.

"I recently read that 2005 is being called the Year of Languages. What's it all about and how does it affect public works?"

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages is spearheading a year-long celebration of foreign languages throughout school systems. The plan is to encourage, through community and national events, and focus attention on the benefits of studying other languages and cultures from around the world. Since so many are now being assimilated into our communities, promoting a better understanding and attempting to learn basic vocabulary words in order to better communicate is a worthy goal. After all, everyone likes to feel they are understood. Cultural diversity is not a one-way street for English-speaking Americans. Make the effort to improve yourself and your community.

Ask Ann...

Questions are welcome.

Please address all inquiries to:

Ann Daniels
Director of Technical Services
APWA, 2345 Grand Blvd.
Suite 500
Kansas City, MO 64108-2625
Fax questions to (816) 472-0405
E-mail:
adaniels@apwa.net