batkid-1-615x400This past Friday, you had to be ignoring all media to miss Batkid.

San Francisco was transformed into Gotham City in order to make a 5-year old child’s dream come true.

This story is incredible for many reasons, but it touched me as a beautiful illustration of “whole community.”

If you’ve been an emergency manager over the past few years, you have heard this term from our federal friends at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

From its “whole community website” at,  FEMA explains that whole community should…

  • Engage and empower all parts of the community. Engaging the whole community and empowering local action will better position stakeholders to plan for and meet the actual needs of a community and strengthen the local capacity to deal with the consequences of all threats and hazards. This requires all members of the community to be part of the emergency management team, which should include diverse community members, social and community service groups and institutions, faith-based and disability groups, academia, professional associations, and the private and nonprofit sectors, while including government agencies who may not traditionally have been directly involved in emergency management. When the community is engaged in an authentic dialogue, it becomes empowered to identify its needs and the existing resources that may be used to address them.

And although this definition exists, many emergency management programs still work with very limited groups of public safety agencies.  We struggle with incorporating private sector partners, faith-based organizations, celebrities, schools and residents within our local communities.

But here is what I saw in Batkid story:

Now, I have a few questions for your consideration:

  • Could a story like this have gone viral using just traditional news media?
  • Did everyone who participated with Batkid know exactly what the “Make-a-Wish” plan was?
  • Were all of the volunteers background checked and given a specific assignment for participation?
  • Did everyone sign in?
  • Was the media messaging all coordinated and approved?
  • Who was the Incident Commander?

I’m about to sound very heretical to most trained emergency managers, but “whole community” is about everyone coming together to fill a need. Magic happens when resilient communities get creative and have the power to contribute.  Sometimes, we let our “emergency response planning” get in the way of truly engaging our communities.  We require others to play in “our way” using “our rules.”

What do you think would happen if we focused more on creating meaning, emotional connection and ways for people to get involved in easy ways?  What if we focused on developing the relationships and becoming friends to our communities rather than creating paper-based plans.  What if we asked “Make A Wish” to coordinate our next emergency response?

Social Media gives us all the power to participate, communicate, identify needs and develop communities where everyone has a role to play.  But we first have to buy into the notion that everyone has a role to play and we, as government officials, can’t write all of the rules.  We’ve got to tap into the creative, focus on outcomes and care less about the process of how we get there.  Could you replicate this 5-year old’s dream in your current organization?

Identify the need + Ask for help + Make Your Cause Worth Caring About + Be Willing to See What Happens = Something Cool.

Are you working to mobilize your community through relationships and communications?  I hope so.  Because that is magical.

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