Tim Manning is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness. He is responsible for preparing the nation to protect against, prevent, respond to and recover from acts of terrorism and natural disasters. Through the coordination of the National Preparedness Directorate, Grant Programs Directorate, Office of National Capital Region Coordination and National Continuity Programs Directorate, Manning oversees the agency’s readiness initiatives including national training, education, exercises, assessment and community-preparedness programs.

Manning is a former firefighter, EMT, rescue mountaineer, hazmat specialist and hydrologist, and brings almost two decades of diverse, frontline emergency management experience to the agency. Prior to joining FEMA, he served as the secretary of the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and homeland security advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007. In addition, he holds a bachelor’s of science in geology and is a graduate of the Executive Leaders Program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Is FEMA focused on interoperable communications technology?
FEMA has a number of programs to help responders and communities build interoperable communications. We have a number of grants and we distribute about $4 billion a year to communities. The majority of grant monies can be spent on developing interoperable communications — or simply, operable communications. There are big gaps throughout the country and some areas need the simple ability to communicate with each other, not complex, interoperable communications.

But it also is important — and I think people understand this throughout … the responder community — that it is beyond the technology. It also is about planning and learning how to work with each other. There’s a lot to be said about “the right tool for the right job.” Sometimes the best tool may not be the most complex. It may be the most simple. Sometimes old —technology if used correctly — is the right solution to the problem.

There have been discussions of the effectiveness of analog vs. digital. In your experience, how do such technologies affect response?
In my experience, there are times and places for the right technology. When I’ve used digitally encrypted radios, in most contexts, they were exactly the right tool for that job. Back in the day when we got CAD and had the ability to see the location of a call on a computer screen and not have to be flipping through map books in the middle of the night—it shaved time off the response time. That was a huge leap forward technologically. In addition, personal accountability systems are critical.

There also were times when the old, simple technology was better. In wildland fires and backcountry rescue where you’re hoping your radio signal is bouncing off the atmosphere and going further, a simple analog radio that can break squelch … is a better tool in those environments compared to an encrypted radio that works or doesn’t work. So, it’s important to understand the environment for which we are working and use the right tool that provides the highest level of safety for the responder and the most-effective response for the people we are trying to help.

What does FEMA expect from first-response agencies at large-scale incidents?
Currently, we are building plans and we are helping communities build plans based on mutual aid. So we are making available as much training and education as possible to help build that capability, so if one community or state needs help that through an effective interstate mutual-aid system, responders can come from around the country to provide that assistance in a seamless fashion. We don’t have to build it on the fly; we can have it done ahead of time.

Based on the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, how should public safety plan for a corporate-run clean up?
We have been successful in the last 20 years in building an emergency management capability in our country that builds relationships between the fire service, law enforcement, public works—all of the people we work with every day. [Public safety] need to pre-plan for an event at any large manufacturing or chemical plant in their jurisdiction, so they know the plant managers and the facilities. Facilities all have risk management plans, so it’s important that those are gathered. It also is important to get to know county and state homeland security coordinators and emergency managers. They are people responsible for working those multiagency plans.