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LAKE GENEVA, Wis. — When a disaster strikes, local agencies are usually the first on the scene. However, resources from both the public and the private sectors may be required as the needs of that response grow.

Having existing relationships between government, non-profit organizations and private businesses can help ensure those resources are available. Building and improving those connections was the goal of a Public-Private Partnership summit hosted by Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) this week at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

“While the response to any emergency starts and ends at the local level, the needs of a community may quickly grow and require looking to other government agencies and private businesses to help keep people safe,” said Dr. Darrell Williams, Wisconsin Emergency Management administrator. “It is only through the work we do together that we are able to make things better.”

The summit offered an opportunity for first responders, local government officials and members of the business community to meet and learn from each other. It featured presentations on conducting active shooter exercises in the workplace, steps that can be taken to protect employees during a public health emergency, and how to encourage cybersecurity best practices in the workplace and at home. Attendees also learned about the steps government agencies take when preparing for large public events and how several major utilities responded to a mass power outage Wisconsin experienced in July of last year.

Several private sector partners were involved in planning the summit, building on existing relationships with Wisconsin Emergency Management and other local government agencies. Lisa Moller, manager of Physical Security and Emergency Management Preparedness Department at Alliant Energy, said their continued partnership with WEM and local agencies has been extremely valuable.

“When responding to an incident, it’s critical to work seamlessly as a team with emergency management, local law enforcement, public sector agencies and private companies,” Moller said. “When a crisis happens and everyone knows their role, it improves collaboration, efficiency, and most importantly, ensures the focus is centered on addressing the disaster and caring for the community. Forming relationships with these partner organizations ahead of time ensures that happens.”

As an example, Moller pointed to the use of Wisconsin National Guard armories and college dorms to house utility crews. The crews were working to restore power to thousands who were without electric service last summer due to a blackout.

The summit also sought to raise awareness of the Wisconsin Business Emergency Operations Center (BEOC) and to encourage the private sector to get involved in the initiative. Launched in 2015, the BEOC allows for the sharing of information between Wisconsin’s State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) and the private sector in order to coordinate response and recovery efforts. The collaboration is intended to improve the speed of the response for impacted communities.

“We know that being able to successfully respond to a disaster and help a community recover depends on everyone working together,” Williams said. “That’s why building and maintaining these strong public-private partnerships is an important part of our mission.”