Charlotte Franklin is the deputy coordinator for Arlington County’s Office of Emergency Management. She is responsible for partnership, resiliency, and business-readiness programs, including business preparedness, public/private recovery-resource partnerships, and business resiliency and resumption after a disaster. Previously, she served as director for the business investment group in the county’s economic development office, where her main responsibilities involved creating and sustaining business activity and employment in Arlington; retention, expansion, and attraction of business activity; and improving the quality of life for Arlington’s businesses and workforce. As a certified economic developer, she approaches recovery from an economic-sustainability point of view and looks for opportunities for pre-event private-sector partnering. She has held managerial positions in the building and infrastructure industries for the past 20 years, including as senior director of professional services (knowledge communities) with the American Institute of Architects and as senior international marketing manager with Cable & Wireless. 

Natural disasters in the past decade have greatly expanded the public’s understanding of their dependency on the public and private sectors to dedicate resources to save lives and property. There has been an increased emphasis on the value of collaborating and working across boundaries in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and an increase in public exposure to the concept of public-private partnerships, whether or not the public’s assumptions are correct.

Public-private partnerships are structured to increase public value or public good through a variety of methods, including leveraging subsidies for services, purchasing goods and services from the private sector for public use, giving license to operate or manage services that are normally considered public services in order to enhance efficiencies, and providing a framework for engaging in collaborative projects where benefits and risks are shared. (Regarding the purchase of goods and services, partnerships sometimes have contracting elements that go beyond normal contracting because the partnerships are defined by legal arrangements. For instance, the Arlington (Va.) County government contracts with food banks to provide food to the public and with clinics for such medical services as flu shots.)

Most scholars, lawyers, and subject-matter experts define public-private partnerships as a contractual relationship between the public and private sectors for the execution of a project or service (Colverson). The roles and responsibilities, shared risks, and the financial expectations upon delivery of pre-established outputs are defined in the contractual language. However, many partnerships are non-legal working relationships between the public and private sectors—relationships comprised of networks, alliances, and informal relationships and designed to meet a common objective or goal. Primarily goodwill gestures, these collaborative efforts are used to provide knowledge or to exchange or leverage resources for a specified goal (“A Call to Action,” 4).

For example, in Arlington, our relationship with the private sector in emergency management spans several years of participation in regional recovery-resource and local supply-chain capacity forums. The private sector has graciously provided the Arlington government with a better understanding of how supply-chain modeling can be used in recovery-resource planning. Private-sector organizations want to support effective efforts that enable communities to return to normal as quickly as possible. They are committed to the resiliency of their communities. For example, 7-Eleven stores gave away dry ice and water in Northern Virginia during a severe February 2010 snowstorm. There are multiple examples like these in every disaster. In a similar way, national recovery-supply providers such as Wal-Mart, Target, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, CVS, C&S Wholesale Grocers, and CSX, to name a few, continue to prove their community-centric commitment. In the Arlington experience, they do not expect repayment and no contract is required. Rather, they ask, “How can we support the community’s needs?”

Similarly, immediately after Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey shore, Walgreens decided to open its warehouses to the American Red Cross. The New Jersey-based district manager of Walgreens contacted me to assist him in locating Red Cross officials on the scene to expedite the transaction and delivery. Once the connection was made, six truckloads of medical supplies were sent.

It may seem unrealistic to believe that relationships can be fostered even when there are no written agreements. However, from the above examples, it is clear that this is possible. Even without a formal contractual agreement defining expectations between the partners, it is imperative to define and promote vision, objectives, purposes, expected measurable outcomes, roles, and responsibilities; and to establish a “scope of work” with which to operate and measure progress. Whether these expectations are achieved through a formal organization, a committee, or a one-on-one relationship, there should be mutually shared focus on what the partnership intends to produce.

As Lukas and Andrews note, “True collaboration requires a commitment to shared goals, a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility, mutual authority and accountability for success, and sharing of resources, risks, and rewards” (“Four Keys”). Solid and productive collaborative relationships go beyond informal acquaintances and/or requests for resources when needed. These relationships are also based not on the parameters of any contract but on a foundation of respect and mutual understanding. While such a foundation seems smaller than the whole of the collaborating organizations, uncertainty and thwarted expectations are the most common reasons for a collaboration’s failure (Lukas and Andrews). Successful collaborative networks can be more powerful than one organization can be on its own, and with such a collaborative framework in place, public-private partnerships are much more likely to enhance the public good. With this structure in place, the management structure, activities, and accomplishments are more likely to happen.

Works Cited

  • “Keys to Collaboration: Building Effective Public-Private Partnerships.” National Association of State Chief Information Officers, May 2006. Web. 04 Jan. 2014. Issue brief.
  • Colverson, Sam. “Embedding Sustainability Safeguards into Public-Private Partnerships.” International Institute for Sustainable Development, 19 Sep. 2012. Web. 04 Jan. 2014. Presentation.
  • Lukas, Carol, and Rebecca Andrews. “Four Keys to Collaboration Success.” Fieldstone Alliance, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.