A 'Whole of America' response
© UPI Photo

Americans look to the government for help in their time of need. But the scale of the coronavirus pandemic demands more than what government alone can deliver. Everyone has a role to play.

To be sure, all levels of government have been engaged in the response. FEMA and many federal agencies are deploying critical assets to states and cities. Governors and mayors are directing resources and taking actions to safeguard their citizens. However, with several large cities already hit hard and significant impacts to all 50 states possible in the near future, even the best efforts by governments will inevitably fall short. 

The nation’s hospitals are where many of the final battles against coronavirus are won or lost. Health care providers need ventilators for their patients and personal protective equipment for themselves. But equipment and supplies are in short supply. Federal stockpiles, which were intended to be a stopgap measure until larger quantities could be procured, are nearly exhausted.

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Never has the private sector’s lifesaving capabilities been more apparent or more needed.

Ford and GM are retooling their factories to make ventilators. Silicon Valley is developing innovative solutions. Manufacturers are ramping up production of masks, and some that have never produced a mask before are suddenly churning them out. Researchers are racing to develop vaccines and pharmaceutical companies are poised to produce them. All of these efforts will pay off by a new corporate measure—dividends of lives saved.

Non-profit organizations have also been playing significant roles, albeit in a way that doesn’t often command national attention. Safety net groups are making sure those hit hardest by the economic consequences of the pandemic can remain fed, sheltered, and safe. The importance of their roles will only grow as the crisis deepens.

Individuals, families, and community leaders also have a role to play. We must support our relatives, neighbors, and co-workers in need and care for each other when we get sick. And by social distancing, wearing masks, and diligently washing our hands we are not only reducing the likelihood we will get sick, but we are also preventing the spread of virus to each other. Mitigation is literally in each of our hands.

Leveraging these societal response capabilities is a relatively new concept. It was popularized by former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who christened it as the “Whole Community” approach to emergency management. More recently at FEMA we built upon the concept with additional elements including “community lifelines” to support critical government and business functions, and efforts to promote financial preparedness for all.

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For coronavirus, we must leverage all of the nation’s capabilities and put into practice such concepts as Whole Community. FEMA is now using the phrase “Whole of America” response, which seems like an apt description for what is now necessary.

This response will be the biggest test for many governments. But it isn’t a test for government alone. This will be America’s test and together we can prevail.

Daniel Kaniewski served as a deputy administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency from September 2017 to January 2020. He is now a managing director at Marsh & McLennan Companies.