Stephanie Johnston, Editor in Chief
Stephanie Johnston, Editor in Chief

Among the plethora of federal initiatives that affect public works leaders is the National Incident Management System.

This is the Bush administration's attempt to ensure state and local governments and the private sector work together as effectively as possible during and after an infrastructure emergency. As with so many other things federal, it requires that you and your staff become certified.

With all the other rules and regulations competing for your attention, why give this priority?

Because, says emergency-management consultant Larry Lux, featured on page 27 of this issue, it could take up to 72 hours after a natural or man-made disaster to receive federal assistance. That's three whole days of scrambling for extra equipment (you won't be able to waive bid requirements) and landfill capacity, organizing volunteers, and answering tough questions from the press and the public.

In addition, if you're not certified by Oct. 1, your recovery-planning efforts won't be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement.

On Sept. 11, 2001, New York City's disaster plan was geared toward a hurricane—not the wholesale destruction of the 16-acre World Trade Center campus and its surrounding infrastructure. Responding presented an unforeseen engineering challenge.

“This was a collapse that had to be very carefully taken apart, not just a cleanup,” says MaryAnn Marrocolo, assistant commissioner of planning and preparedness for the city's Office of Emergency Management and a PUBLIC WORKS 2005 Trendsetter (November 2005, page 28). “In addition to restoring basic services, there was the search for human remains involving crime-scene preservation techniques.”

Although the office had planned and practiced enough to mechanically follow its own emergency procedures right after the catastrophe, the effort was complicated by its evacuation out of No. 7 World Trade Center and relocation to a temporary command center.

While fire and police crews searched the wreckage for survivors, engineers from the city's Department of Design and Construction and Department of Buildings assessed the structural integrity of surrounding buildings. Engineers from the Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection assessed streets and water mains around Ground Zero.

Monitoring debris removal for fraud and abuse involved three agencies. The city's Department of Design and Construction oversaw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the auditing firm KPMG International. Eventually, 1.6 million tons of debris were removed.

At, you'll learn how to plan for an emergency. Online certification takes two hours.

Five years ago, very few people would have imagined that two fully fueled airplanes would slam into the nation's tallest buildings. You can't know what will happen to your city, county, or state. But you can think about how you'll react—before it's too late.