Title image for blog post. Text reads "Building Resilient Communities: Manhattan Beach’s Approach to Hazard Mitigation Planning. CONSTANT team members Mona Bontty and Nicole Christensen interviewed Amanda MacLennan, Emergency Preparedness Administrator for Manhattan Beach, CA, about her experience working with CONSTANT to update the City’s LHMP. Read the blog to learn more about the HMP process under FEMA’s updated guidelines from the perspective of a local jurisdiction." Features CONSTANT's logo and an image of Amanda MacLennan within a blue circular background.

Building Resilient Communities: Manhattan Beach’s Approach to Hazard Mitigation Planning

Manhattan Beach, California pier as seen from the ocean. Features pier with circular white building with orange roof and a long wooden boardwalk surrounded by ocean. The City buildings and residents are viewable in the background.
Manhattan Beach, California. Pier as seen from the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Adobe Stock

CONSTANT’s Emergency Management Portfolio Lead, Mona Bontty, and Business Development Analyst, Nicole Christensen, are honored to have had the opportunity to interview Amanda MacLennan, the Emergency Preparedness Administrator for the City of Manhattan Beach, California, reporting to the Fire Chief. CONSTANT recently supported the City with its Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) update in alignment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Local Mitigation Planning Policy Guide.


The Policy Guide was released in 2022 and has been implemented for all plan approvals following April 19, 2023. It stipulates strengthened requirements for whole community stakeholder and community engagement, including a focus on participation and active engagement from underserved communities and vulnerable populations. For many jurisdictions, the updated requirements have posed challenges as emergency managers are stretched thin with multiple priorities and consultants are still operationalizing the changes and how they impact the process and plan approvals.


Amanda MacLennan began her role with the City of Manhattan Beach in January 2023, which meant that she was about six (6) months into her role when the HMP update initiated. She fully committed to the process alongside her internal and external partners, the Manhattan Beach community, and the CONSTANT team. The City’s HMP has been approved by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and FEMA. CONSTANT thanks Amanda for her exemplary service to Manhattan Beach as well as her time spent with our team during the following interview. It is our hope that her words and experience can help other local jurisdictions approaching an HMP update.


1. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background? How were you called, personally or professionally, to emergency management?


My former career spans for-profit and non-profit leadership roles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was the Chief Operating Officer for a non-profit organization that was providing mental health programs and direct services to children and their families. We had to quickly transition operations online to meet the needs of our clients. I was so proud of our team and our ability to pivot. As COVID-19 began to wind down, I facilitated what I now know is an After Action Report (AAR) and analyzed what went well and what could be improved.


This process sparked curiosity, so I completed several FEMA Independent Study courses and enrolled in a program for a master’s degree in emergency services administration. As I began my studies, I realized that I was doing a lot of activities that I did not realize were part of the emergency management profession. I decided to make the formal transition, first as an intern, and continuing to work my way into the field while collaborating with incredible teams across four (4) Southern California cities – Torrance, Inglewood, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach. Working with a variety of partners and local governments over the past several years, I am proud to be part of an incredible profession.


2. You currently serve as the City of Manhattan Beach’s Emergency Preparedness Administrator. Can you tell us about what this role entails and the work that you do?


Day-to-day, my role is all about relationships and partnerships. From the smallest item I work on, to the largest item, and everything in between, partnerships are required. I have tremendous respect for our partners and the support they provide, the investment of their time, and the information they share to make Manhattan Beach more resilient. I do not do what I do alone, and nobody can. I emphasize that a one-person shop is not a one-person team.


As a City Emergency Preparedness Administrator, I wear many hats. Updates for Emergency plans, grants, acting as liaison to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), large event support, training, budget management, and more are just a few of the activities I undertake. Community preparedness and outreach is another focus, particularly engagement with vulnerable populations. Following the HMP process where this was heavily prioritized, I am lined up with future presentations to continue to sustain this engagement.


I have been able to apply transferable skills from my previous career activities, and I encourage others contemplating a change that they have so much to potentially give to emergency management.


3. What has been most exciting or inspiring about your role with the City of Manhattan Beach? Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?


Last summer we had an AVP volleyball tournament, tropical storm Hilary, and an earthquake occur over all at the same time, which marked the first time in a while that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated – first for a planned event and then an incident. The work that the City and our partners had invested in training over the last few years to be able to staff the EOC was impressive and confidence boosting.  We are also very fortunate to have strong leadership and support from the L.A. County Area G Disaster Management Area Coordinator which was critical during this time.


Most recently, we are very proud of our HMP update which has been approved by Cal OES and FEMA. The engagement to facilitate the update was unprecedented in my experience.


4. The City updated its HMP to align with FEMA requirements to update an LHMP every five (5) years. Can you explain why it is important for local governments to remain in compliance with this requirement, and what it has meant for Manhattan Beach?


I feel strongly that the HMP process is not about checking a box. It can be approached that way knowing that you need approval every five (5) years to maintain eligibility for certain types of grant funding, but if you want the value that the process is meant to foster, do not approach it this way. You might get it approved, but it won’t have meaningful impact.


The HMP helps everyone clearly identify and understand our local hazards and allows our community to become more resilient every step of the way. I again cannot underscore enough the value of relationship building as part of the HMP.  In my case, being new to the City, the HMP was a pivotal task as the relationships formed and fostered during this process translate into everything I work on on a daily basis. These other activities, like emergency operations planning and alert and warning, need and value these relationships.  


The HMP is not the end of the process but rather the beginning and the foundation for next steps. The process also really pointed out to me what I should prioritize, what I can do better, and who I need to continue to strengthen and build relationships with.


5. Prior to your most recent experience shepherding the Manhattan Beach LHMP update, did you have prior experience with the LHMP update process?


I did have experience with the HMP process, however, I was not the lead or the main liaison. I have been involved in two (2) HMP updates, both when they were already in progress. These HMP update processes were different as they were prior to FEMA’s new guidelines. The previous guidelines were not as robust in terms of expected in-depth outreach with vulnerable populations. This outreach was touched on within the prior guidelines but not heavily prioritized as it is now.


It has been good for me to see what was done in the past and how to use the new guidelines to really impact the community. For our community, I went in with both feet to align with the updated requirements as I feel it is what we owe the community. I truly believe it will pay back multiple times over in making the community more resilient.


6. An important tenet of the LHMP update process is stakeholder and community engagement. What are some best practices that you’d recommend to others in engaging the community and addressing vulnerable populations?


The key takeaway is engaging early and often and being both broad and deep to cover a range of partners. Being new to the City as the HMP process commenced, I did not know all of the relationships we have or thought we should have. I reached out to all City departments and began compiling a list of all partners we have worked with or thought we should work with. Then, I was able to identify gaps for partners in key areas like access and functional needs, faith-based organizations, private utilities, etc. and do subsequent outreach to organizations I researched online within our City and neighboring cities.


I had over 100 organizations or individuals on my list who I called and described the HMP to and explained why their participation would add value. I also confirmed who the right contact person was and if they recommended any additional stakeholders. Following phone calls, I sent out follow-up emails to the properly identified contacts throughout the whole process to provide updates, remind internal and external partners of their value, and show respect to their efforts.


Between internal and external partners, we had about 40 participants at each hybrid meeting that we hosted. Additionally, our City’s Communications Team and CONSTANT collectively put together digital and print products to go out to partners and the broader community in Spanish and English. This included a digital presence, a print presence, and in-person presentations throughout the community. I also walked the communities identified within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) twice and talked to businesses and community members to inform planning efforts.


Our surveys and review of the draft HMP received significant feedback, which is not something I have seen with other cities. It is a testament to the ties which already exist and those that we were able to build with the community. 


My advice is not to look at the outreach and engagement as a short-term task. Rather it is a great opportunity to engage in a longer-term strategy. Spend the upfront time to build a pool of organizations and partners across focus areas to see a robust benefit. And, don’t do it alone. Reach out to peers. We are all in it together – the more prepared our next door neighbors are, the more prepared our City is.


7. FEMA’s requirements for LHMP updates have significantly changed since the Local Mitigation Planning Policy Guide/Handbook were effective as of April 19, 2023. Can you name a couple elements that are most important to ensure a thorough plan?


In addition to the relationship building previously referenced, focusing and prioritizing climate change in a more robust way within our HMP was important.


I think it is one thing to read FEMA’s updated guidance and another thing to implement it, understand it, and realize how it will impact the process. The CONSTANT team was able to help the City on the technical side to ensure we prioritized the proper elements.


8. Now that Manhattan Beach’s LHMP has received approval by Cal OES and FEMA, what best practices and lessons learned have you gleaned from the update that you would like to share with others?


Being new to the City and not having prior HMP leadership experience, it was a terrifying responsibility to lead the process. I wanted to uphold the process for this great City, the community, and our partners. CONSTANT made clear the high expectations and benchmarks that needed to be met along the way. Once I pulled myself out of any initial fears, I was able to work with the CONSTANT team and approach the project in phases. This required collaboration between me and internal and external partners who know Manhattan Beach best, and CONSTANT who knew FEMA’s guidelines best. Together, we were able to tailor the approach to the City while remaining consistent with regulations.


In the end, with me being early in my tenure with the City, being tasked with the HMP was one of the best gifts I received. There have been incredible trickling benefits from the partnerships and relationships formed. The HMP process can be deadline driven but it is important to not fall into the mindset of checking a box to get caught up. I avoided that at all costs during the process to maximize its outcomes.


I also spotlight that the process has greater or equal value to the end-product. Without diminishing the value of the end-product, we will remember the process as we are working on mitigation projects – how we got there and the discussions, why the community and stakeholders prioritized a project, what it means to the community, what the concerns are, etc. That will help direct and inform us with the passion that we owe the community because that is what they gave us.


9. How will Manhattan Beach use its LHMP to inform ongoing resilience, preparedness, response, and recovery initiatives over the next several years?


The HMP is a living, breathing document. Once the HMP is adopted, implementation will begin and so too will plan maintenance. Our partners who were engaged will be pulled into the mitigation projects that will be continually monitored and tracked.


It would be a disservice to our community if we did not truly continue to engage them and work on the mitigation projects. It is all about being more resilient should something happen and maximizing the investment spent in the HMP process. I feel very privileged and grateful to have worked with an amazing team of internal and external partners and consultants.



CONSTANT sincerely thanks Amanda MacLennan for the insights she has shared throughout the HMP update process and within this interview. We seek to live out our mission of making the world a safer place and are grateful to work with the City of Manhattan Beach, which has taken pivotal steps to ensure that its community can mitigate, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and be resilient to disasters.


Should your local jurisdiction require assistance with an HMP update or development, please do not hesitate to contact us today. CONSTANT provides highly qualified consultants who have received formal training in the updated HMP process and have experience writing Cal OES and FEMA-approved HMPs. In upcoming weeks, CONSTANT will also be publishing a white paper on HMPs. Should you be interested in receiving the white paper once available, please contact Nicole Christensen at nicole@constantassociates.com.


Contact Us

Mona Bontty, Emergency Management Portfolio Manager, Mona.Bontty@constantassociates.com