Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 12, Issue 2 - December, 2019


Does Cooperative Extension have a Role to Play in County Emergency Management and/or Disaster Preparedness?

Chichester, L. M., Extension Educator and Assistant Professor, University Of Nevada
Emm, S. , Extension Educator and Professor, University of Nevada


While Extension faculty may have the knowledge and skills to be an asset to the county or local emergency management and/or disaster preparedness teams, they may not be collaborating with the local authorities prior to a major crisis event. This role varies from seats on committees and boards to providing resources, to taking over responsibility of an entire segment of the town population. Instigating these conversations with the emergency managers, the Sheriffs, and the Fire Chiefs in these communities was the first step of what appears to be a plan for long-term collaboration.


Emergency management has evolved as a planning effort at the local, state, and national level.  The local level begins the process by evaluating the resources available to them and planning what resources they would need from the state or national level.  There was a National Governor’s Association study completed in the late 1970s that recognized a model based on four different phases (Petak, 1985) that is widely used today.  The model focuses on the following: 

  1. Mitigation – Assessment to minimize risk.
  2. Preparedness – A response plan based on training of response personnel, resource availability, sharing of jurisdictional resources, and detail of collaboration responsibilities.
  3. Response – Implementing the plan, reduce secondary damage, and plan for the recovery phase.
  4. Recovery – Reestablishing life support systems (power, water, networks, etc.).

This model is generally accepted among emergency managers and researchers (Waugh & Streib, 2006).  Most emergency management and/or disaster preparedness planning happens before an event occurs and is based on preconceived ideas of what will or may happen.  As the Western United States faces more emergency disasters and disasters of larger magnitude, more and more is being learned on efficient and effective emergency management planning and training.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Extension Service, which is connected to the land-grant Universities, to work with local communities in agriculture, home economics, public policy, 4-H, and leadership (National Archives Foundation, 2019; Seevers et al., 1997). Cooperative Extension work has evolved over 100 years to meet the modern-day needs of local communities.  Extension’s role in Nevada and California emergency management for the planning, preparedness, and response to natural disasters was a discussion in a multi-state meeting held in Reno, Nevada in May of 2019.  A team of Extension professionals began discussing what they thought was their role was in emergency management and/or disaster preparedness by County.  There were several unknowns as to how and where emergency planning and/or disaster preparedness was occurring in every county, or at a multi-state and multi-jurisdiction area.  There were also unknowns as to how Extension was or was not collaborating in emergency management and/or disaster preparedness.

Historically, the local and/or county government has provided responsibility to prepare for natural hazards and natural disasters, with the goal of protecting human life, property, and quality of life.  Partnerships and local collaboration needs for emergency management are becoming more apparent as many communities in the Western United States face natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, and earthquakes. Nevada, California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands are in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region IX. The states and counties in this region plan for disasters related to weather to include hurricanes, typhoons and other storms that cause flooding, flash flooding and landslides throughout the region. Also, increasing temperatures (on land and water), changing weather patterns, and increases in storm intensity has resulted in an increase of natural disasters that are impacting local communities (IPCC, 2019). 


Methods of Identifying Extension’s Role in Nevada and California Border Counties

Discussion between Nevada and California Extension faculty resulted in the generation of several questions as to the role of Extension in emergency management and/or disaster preparedness.  The multi-state team decided to do a research study to identify how emergency management planning and facilitation was handled within counties that border the Nevada/California state line.  An Institutional Review Board (IRB) Research Project was approved by the University of Nevada, Reno Human Subjects Office.

A six-question survey, research information sheet, consent script, and an exempt research protocol were created to ask a series of questions regarding the role of Extension in emergency management in counties that border the Nevada/California state line.  Each of the faculty members are IRB trained, and interviewed their county/local Emergency Management Directors, county Sheriffs, and county Fire Chiefs, respectively.


Results of Emergency Management in Counties

The demographics of those surveyed included Emergency Managers, Fire Chiefs, and Sheriffs (n=6). This entire male group has a total of 128 years of experience over the two counties surveyed that were in Nevada but bordered the California state line.  One is a small rural Nevada county and another is more of an urban county.

The survey first identified if Cooperative Extension currently had a role in the county disaster preparedness plan.  Overall, all counties responded that they did have a plan. There was recognition of the Nevada Extension program “Living With Fire,” but Extension faculty and staff did not currently have a role.  It was mentioned that previous Extension staff had assisted in disaster preparedness based on their expertise, and both counties believed that Extension should have a role.  This role varied from county-to-county based on demographics, available resources, and expertise of the county Extension faculty member. 

When asked what type of disasters the plan covered, it was indicated that Nevada counties are required to have an emergency management plan per state law, and FEMA requires that counties prepare for all hazards.  In addition, these areas specifically plan for earthquakes, wild fires, and floods.  The more urban county in Nevada also plans for cyber-attacks, pandemics, and mass casualties at public events.

When asked if the counties worked with partners, and if so, what partners, both counties work with other partners and neighboring counties to assist with resource sharing and obtaining access to more resources collaboratively than they could as individual counties.  Also, they all work with the Nevada Division of Emergency Management for state and multi-state planning purposes.  Emergency management multi- county teams are putting emergency planning resources together to build upon each county’s strengths. For example, a populous city is considered the point of expertise in public health preparedness for this specific group of four counties, which allows the other counties to focus their expertise in another area.

When asked how often counties train for a disaster, both counties discussed the significance of table top trainings.  For example, there is an annual special event occurring and the county will do a table top exercise to prepare for all potential disaster scenarios, to date 30 possible scenarios have been identified for this one event.  Counties reported using the table top exercises, but wanted to provide more real life training more than once a year.  They said funding and resources have been prohibitive to more regular training. It should also be mentioned that many of these trainings are event or department specific and did not include an entire county-wide training.

When asked when the emergency plan was last updated, the counties indicated the federal government requires emergency plans to be updated every year.  County emergency managers seemed to be up to date on this process and discussed their 2018 plan.  Sheriff’s departments were not as knowledgeable about this process.  They were unsure about when the county plan was last updated. There could be a communication gap between these two departments regarding updating a current plan. It was observed that the county emergency managers were more focused on natural disasters versus the Sheriff’s department which seemed to focus more on mass casualty events.



According to Ruben (2009), there are two types of collaborations - itinerant and sustained. Itinerant collaborations are where individuals enter into a short-term collaboration to tackle specific, clearly defined and time specific outcomes.  For example, a local utility company had prepared to shut off electricity to a region of the county. While the emergency management team had prepared for this with the people affected, they neglected to consider needs of the livestock, specifically how much water each class of specie could consume during this event. Through resource sharing by the local Extension Educator, these educational resources can now be part of the Emergency Management Plan prior to an event like this.

Sustained collaborations are planned and managed systems with ongoing essential interaction as a part of overall job description. For example, through engaging Emergency Managers, Fire Chiefs, and Sheriffs in these discussions, certain needs have been identified of where long-term collaborations may exist, in such areas as volunteer management, engaging with and educating an uninformed public, emergency planning committees, and a seat at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) planning table.

Emergency management is a sustained collaboration where each individual and institutional self-interests are met; and goals and objectives are achieved collaboratively and lead to more complex relationships between all leaders at different levels of county, state or other local jurisdictions to prepare for the unforeseen future disasters.  Relationship building is important as well as relationship management.  Emergency management success depends upon each leader utilizing their relationships to fulfill their different roles.  Relationships within government, Extension, communities, and social/professional networks are essential in supporting emergency management conditions and implementation and development of plans and policies.

All counties agreed that in order to be better prepared for a disaster, there needs to be increased collaboration, communication, and consistent messaging.  Additionally, as employee turnover and change happens, training and table top exercises need to be continued.  There was talk in the smaller rural county that resources would be depleted within 24 hours of an event, and outside resources would be needed.  There was no discussion of county elected officials and the role they would potentially play.  Emergency management was the role of a county emergency manager working with several departments.  In the past, Extension had been utilized in the larger urban Nevada county due to an Extension faculty member’s expertise in flooding, but that expertise may not have transferred over in the event of a wildfire.



The true sense of collaborative leadership in emergency management is to create relationships that intersect and build upon each other to meet common goals and objectives.  While there needs to be a facilitating force to direct the collaborative team, each team member needs to be a leader in his or her own expertise contributing to the success and failures to meet emergency planning objectives. There needs to be participation representing both the community and government.

Historically, Extension in Nevada has been overlooked as a potential collaborator in the emergency management and/or disaster preparedness planning process.  This research study provided an opportunity for education in the counties by exploring what would be the most effective role of Extension.   First, emergency managers thought that Extension should participate in the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) to provide such expertise as dealing with livestock needs, agricultural land and water use, and/or contacts for heavy equipment.  The small rural county in Nevada, asked for assistance in dealing with issues associated with Senior relocation needs including transportation, medical assistance, medical devices, and volunteer management for Seniors.

One Fire Chief indicated that his biggest need was for communities and counties to become more self-resilient when/if needed. Community members needed to be aware of trainings and opportunities to help their community in case the community was shut off from outside resources and help for multiple days, essentially building social capital. He thought this could include training 4-H members and other youth groups in first aid, training civic groups and other groups in CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), and training people in medical awareness to address possible medical needs. It was strongly believed that if a community and/or county could become more self-resilient, we would be able to better handle the disaster at hand.

It was strongly identified that yes, Extension should have a role to play in county emergency management and/or disaster preparedness. Extension personnel not only have an expertise that could be helpful, but they also are usually proficient in community outreach and engagement, they know many people in their communities through their Extension work, and they are familiar with possible resources which could be helpful during an emergency event. Through this study, Extension has begun the process of engaging with local emergency managers, opening doors to better communication and resource sharing. We are optimistic that these relationships will continue to grow, and that sustained collaboration will be achieved.


Literature Cited

FEMA Region IX. (2019). Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, & the Pacific Islands. Retrieved from

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) (2015). Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report. Retrieved from

National Archives Foundation (2019). The Smith-Lever Act of 1914. Retrieved from

Petak, W. (1985). Emergency Management: A Challenge for Public Administration. Public Administration Review, 45, 3-7. doi:10.2307/3134992

Ruben, Hank. (2009). Collaborative Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Seevers, B., Graham, D., Gamon, J., and Conklin, N. (1997). Education Through Cooperative Extension. Albany, NY:  Delmar Publishers.

Waugh, W.L, Jr., and Streib, G. (2006). Collaboration and Leadership for Effective Emergency Management. Public Administration Review, 66, 131-140. Retrieved from