During a flood disaster, first responders often arrive wearing distinctively colored coats etched with their agency’s name. While the colors and acronyms can be many, one group is working to build a bridge of cooperation among the various federal, state and local government agencies tasked with responding to a flood.
The Silver Jackets name is meant to highlight the fact that every agency involved shares the common goal of reducing risks associated with flooding.
The Silver Jackets program was created to bring together members of these agencies – agencies that often times, in the past, worked independently of each other on similar issues. Their goal, according to their website, is to reduce flood risk by utilizing the programs of multiple government agencies. They strive to maintain an atmosphere where agencies can address risk, set priorities and devise solutions. As a collaborative effort, the Silver Jackets also work to address gaps in or conflicts between the policies and authorities of the participating agencies.
Terry Zien, project management, is the district coordinator for the program. He also serves as the coordinator for Minnesota and Wisconsin and the assistant coordinator for North Dakota.
One of the primary functions of the Silver Jackets program is to promote relationships between members of the participating agencies. Members share information and technical knowledge, coordinate funding and work to eliminate duplication among agencies. With this type of interagency cooperation, the Silver Jackets are able to “break down bureaucratic barriers,” said Zien.
The Corps facilitates the partnerships between the participating organizations. While the members come from the federal, state and local levels, “the Silver Jackets are state-focused teams,” said Zien. Each team works toward the flood risk management plan of its respective state government. The state governments are in control, and they are encouraged to invite to the group any agency that may assist in their flood risk reduction efforts.
There are currently 22 active state teams in the United States to include teams in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Making it work
During floods, the public wants current information. This information is important to the flood-fighting effort and can signal when an evacuation may be necessary. The timeliness and detail of National Weather Service flood forecasts are dependent on the available river gauge data.
After the 2007 spring floods on the Minnesota River, it was apparent that additional gauges were needed in several areas, said Zien. The Silver Jackets team coordinated the funding for seven new gauges; and with their combined technical knowledge, the team prioritized the locations and installation. “Next time,” said Zien, “a lot more information will go out to the public faster.”
Agencies participating in Silver Jackets often provide work-in-kind. The agencies freely exchange information that would normally only be available within their respective organizations. This helps to leverage budgets and provide highly valuable products at little cost.
Locally, the Minnesota Silver Jackets team is involved in a pilot project that is working on flood maps for downtown St. Paul, Minn. The goal is to define risks and to provide information that will help the city create an updated flood warning system. The new strategy will feature a reverse 911-type warning system. The pilot project will also be the focus of a public outreach program at the Minnesota Science Museum.
Many of the participating members put in a lot of extra time to their Silver Jackets projects. Zien said that it was worth it because what they are doing is working. “A lot of the benefits of this Silver Jackets program are hard to quantify, but everyone who participates agrees that there is a value added to participating,” he said.