If there is one thing we learn as city, county, and town managers, it’s that anything can happen at any time to disrupt a community— whether it be man-made disasters like mass shootings, natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, or public health crises like the one we have been facing.
While emergency preparedness is a cornerstone of our profession, it is impossible to prepare our staff and community for every eventuality. When I speak with managers around the world, it is typically these crises which prove to be the greatest teachers. Like communities around the world, ICMA too continues to learn and grow from this crisis.
Expanded Global Network
We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a diverse array of members willing to share their experiences—including mistakes—in a sincere effort to help others navigate through crises and recovery. At ICMA, an important outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the expansion of our global network. One of the first blog posts describing a local government’s approach in responding to residents who contracted the virus came from our board member in Romania, Robert Kristof, city manager of Timisoara. Dozens of other members, each with a unique management perspective, contributed their experiences through our blog, webinars, magazine, and ICMA Connect. In this issue of PM, for example, managers from Pennsylvania and Iowa cover leading practices alongside experts from Bruges, Belgium, and Mumbai, India.
To tackle the challenges managers faced due to the worldwide pandemic, ICMA’s 2020 Annual Conference, UNITE, tapped into our global expertise. More than 70 international speakers participated in 73 sessions focused on COVID. As a result, the number of international attendees increased by over 225 percent over the prior year and more than any other year in our history. Like many of you, we envision expanding the digital component of our in-person events in order to continue to more easily accommodate global audiences. In addition, we have begun to customize our content for audiences outside of the United States. For example, we are developing a six-part workshop of best practices for local government managers in India with our partner there, the Urban Management Center.
Increased Focus on Advocacy
Another area of focus for the association during the pandemic was advocacy. Together with our state and local government partners, we continually advocated for financial relief for communities battling the pandemic. Successes include the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and new opportunities for partnerships with organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and International Economic Development Council (IEDC).
Each year, ICMA asks members to identify the most important topics that we should be focusing on. Emergency and crisis management is always at or near the top of the list and over the years we have built an extensive research, resource, and training library. Supporting you in your management of the COVID crisis has been our top priority since March 2020. Our coronavirus action team has continued to build out that library with new tools, resources, and training programs centered on every phase of this crisis.
Looking back at this last year and a half, I’m reminded of a quote by NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, “When you face a crisis, you know who your true friends are.” You, our members and partners, have stepped up to support your communities and this profession in the most remarkable and generous ways. The legacy of your contributions will live on at ICMA as a lasting record of how city and county leaders managed through this crisis long after this horrific pandemic finally leaves us. That knowledge will inform future generations of leaders.
MARC OTT is executive director of ICMA, Washington, D.C.