2020 Office of Emergency Management Director's New Year Message

January 1, 2020

Dear Colorado Emergency Managers:

2019 was a productive year for emergency managers.  We saw the innovative use of a Unified Coordination Group to mitigate the effects of a record avalanche season while preparing for the potential consequences of flooding.  We conducted the first state-delivered FEMA Basic Emergency Management Academy, graduating 45 Colorado students.  We secured the most pre-disaster mitigation funding for Colorado ever, including $10m for the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam above Breckenridge.  Additionally, we began to think deliberately about how to prepare future emergency managers to be successful in the complex, adaptive systems that will define their environment.  The initiatives we undertook last year have begun to pay off so this year I want to continue to build on that investment.  With that in mind, I intend to focus on three overarching areas, two of which are the same as 2019: Alert and warning and mitigation.  The third is recovery. 

Alert and Warning.  In 2019, Colorado made some progress towards being better able to alert and warn our communities of hazards and disasters.  Eighty-three percent (83%) of our counties have an alert and warning plan and 53 percent of our counties are covered by an IPAWS alerting authority.  This is definitely an improvement from 2018.  However, we still have work to do.  Too many of our community members are still at risk of being left uninformed during an incident.  If we can’t tell them what we need them to do during a disaster, we can’t expect them to do it.  We also have a significant amount of work to do when it comes to testing and exercising the plans we do have.  Only 11 percent of our plans have been exercised!  I encourage all of you to incorporate your alert and warning plans into your exercises in 2020 to test them.  We all want to be confident these important plans will work.

Mitigation.  2019 was a good year for mitigation in Colorado, but we have to stay focused on this important work.  It is a centerpiece of emergency management.  We prepare for what we cannot mitigate and we respond to and recover from what wasn’t mitigated.  Last year, Colorado applied for $18m in pre-disaster mitigation grant funding from FEMA.  As FEMA continues to implement the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program under the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), we’ll have even more opportunities to secure FEMA funding to pursue critical pre-disaster mitigation.  The new BRIC program will focus on the important work of building resilient infrastructure.  Applications for these grants can be arduous, but we can’t miss the chance to address aging infrastructure or changing environmental hazards that threaten our communities.  In 2020, I’ll be reaching out to county commissioners and county administrators/managers and Tribal Nations to encourage them to take advantage of this program.  I’ll work to help them understand the return on investment for mitigation projects which range from 3:1 to 6:1 over recovery costs.   We look forward to working with all of you as this new program unfolds.

Recovery.  This is perhaps the most complex and least-understood mission area in emergency management.  The difficulty of assessing damages, the vast array of state and federal agencies involved, their complex and sometimes confusing requirements and competing recovery demands make recovery a daunting undertaking.  Perhaps for that reason, most of our counties have not properly planned for recovery.  In fact, only 31 percent of our counties have a pre-disaster recovery plan.  To help improve this, in 2020 the Colorado Office of Emergency Management will develop a Colorado specific recovery guide to help counties and the Tribal Nations develop a relevant, tailored recovery plan for their communities.  I will also be engaging county commissioners and county administrators/managers and the Tribes on the importance of these plans as well. 

We all know that effective emergency management is a team effort.  We operate within systems of systems and have many interdependencies.  I encourage you to share this message and share your priorities with your community leaders and partners in both the public and private/volunteer sectors.  One great place to do this is in your Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) and the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meetings.

It continues to be a great privilege to serve you and the people of Colorado.  My team and I look forward to working with you in 2020 on these and other important emergency management objectives.     

We’ll see you out there.



Michael Willis

Director, Colorado Office of Emergency Management

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Download the OEM Director's 2020 New Year Message.