Buikema, a Michigan native, began his career in the Michigan State Police. With Michigan’s state emergency management office housed within the state police, Buikema was promoted to the Emergency Management Division and eventually was appointed to the position of Commander/Director of that Division. His sense for the variety of challenges and hazards faced by professionals working in emergency preparedness began to grow as he came to know most of the county and local level emergency management directors across Michigan. In this capacity, he worked closely with FEMA Region V and was eventually appointed to the position of Regional Director/Administrator for Region V by President George W. Bush.
From 2001-2009, while regional administrator of FEMA Region V, he presided over 49 disaster declarations and 17 federal emergency disasters. Mr. Buikema also served as FEMA's Acting Response Division Director at FEMA HQ in 2005 with responsibilities including oversight of FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) system and teams, the Mobile Emergency Response System (MERS), the FEMA Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and FEMA's logistics responsibilities. Since he left FEMA, Buikema has worked with Argonne National Laboratory and has also been involved as a subject matter expert in nearly 90 seminars around the U.S. delivered by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security for Governor's, Mayor's, and their leadership teams that discuss a variety of disaster and homeland security scenarios and situations.
“Among the many core competencies needed by today's emergency management personnel, there are two core abilities that are so significant that I try to focus on them throughout the class,” he says. “Those competencies are the need to provide leadership and the need to provide coordination. The concept of emergency management is not limited to just one agency but includes a myriad of entities, including the private sector. In that regard, emergency management responsibilities are spread out across any number of departments that don’t necessarily have the same mandates, and it’s the emergency manager’s/business continuity professional's job to make sure these different entities are on the same page and working together in the event of an emergency. Thus, it is vitally important that they not only understand their roles with respect to emergency management but also have an understanding of other agencies/entities roles and responsibilities.”
“A number of student activities are utilized throughout the course to illustrate and reinforce those and other competencies and dimensions of effective emergency management,” he adds. “A field trip to either the Cook County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency or to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communication (OEMC) is usually included as one of those activities.”
Buikema describes his “Foundations” class as often including philosophical discussions. Taking 9/11 as an exemplary focusing event, he notes how the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was a response to the attack. Now the third largest federal agency, DHS touches everything and is involved in all aspects of life in the United States, from managing disasters (FEMA) to ensuring airport safety (TSA) and much else.
“One such question is,” Buikema asks, “how much liberty are we willing to give up in exchange for security? How much intelligence should we collect in order to mitigate the threat of an attack? At what point does our attempt to safeguard liberty start to impinge on the liberty we’re trying to protect? These are not easy questions and they have no settled answers. The government spends a lot of money on safeguarding the public, but it’s important to look at whether this money is being spent in the most effective way and whether we’re better prepared now than we were 10-15 years ago.”
For this reason, Buikema says, a fair amount of time is spent in class discussing and analyzing risk and the elements that make it up, as well as the forms it can take. Referring to the three major storms that impacted the United States in 2017, he sees each one as a test case for what we’ve gotten right and what might still be improved upon when it comes to preparing the country for hazards.
“One of the most important topics is the idea of an emergency management program," he says. "The idea being that an emergency management program is far more than just an emergency operations plan, but also includes such elements as: laws and authorities, hazard/risk identification, hazard mitigation, operational planning, incident management, resource management, and much else. As time moves forward, the country is becoming more complex and the threats and risks are multiplying. Today we have to prepare for terrorism, health pandemics, active shooters, cyber-attacks, as well as extreme weather events, to name only some of them. Trying to understand the various elements that need to be in place at a school, community, or a business necessitates assessing and balancing a host of complex factors. The class strives to familiarize the students with the variety of threats that are currently out there while giving them a solid grounding in the institutional framework in which emergency managers use their resources and knowledge to address those threats.”