Over the past decade, community engagement has become a central tenet of US federal doctrine on public health emergency preparedness. Little is known, however, about how the vision of a ready, aware, and involved populace has translated into local practice, or which conditions thus far have advanced community involvement in what is typically considered the province of government authorities and emergency professionals. In 2011-12, to help close that knowledge gap, investigators carried out semistructured qualitative interviews with practitioners (N=25) from 7 local health departments about which conditions have advanced or inhibited community engagement in public health emergency preparedness. Among the organizational factors identified as enabling local health departments’ involvement of community residents and groups in emergency preparedness were a supportive agency leadership and culture, sufficient staffing and programmatic funding, interested and willing partners, and external triggers such as federal grants and disaster experiences that spotlighted the importance of community relationships to effective response. Facing budget and staff cuts, local health departments feel increasingly constrained in efforts to build trusted and lasting preparedness ties with community partners. At the same time, some progress in preparedness partnerships may be possible in the context of agency leadership, culture, and climate that affirms the value of collaboration with the community.