A bipartisan bill proposed last week by New York representatives Kathleen Rice (D) and John Katko (R), who co-sponsored the act, requires members of Congress to receive annual cybersecurity and IT training. The Congressional Cybersecurity Training Resolution of 2019 adds to the existing requirement that House employees receive annual training by mandating that the House members themselves also receive cybersecurity and IT training, according to The Hill.
“The chief administrative officer shall carry out an annual information security training program for members (including the delegates and resident commissioner), officers, and employees of the House,” the act states.
“We strongly encourage support for the Congressional Cybersecurity Training Resolution,” said Jack Koziol, CEO and founder at Infosec. “Cyber-criminals are responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of damage to the global economy and undermine democracy around the world.”
Business Continuity Awareness Week (BCAW) is an annual global event that is facilitated by the BCI and is a key vehicle to raising the awareness of the profession and demonstrating the value effective business continuity management can have to organizations of all types of sizes.
You hope bad things won’t happen to you and you don’t like to think about them. Soyou don’t.
You don’t think about the many different varieties of disaster, small and large—and very large—that could affect you. Or that could affect your family, your neighbors, your city (or megacity), your state, and your nation.
The problem is that someday you will find yourself amid one of those disasters
The problem is that someday you will find yourself amid one of those disasters. That will be your moment of truth: a painful time that will come with a gift of insight—insight about the mistakes you made and the actions you did not take that would have increased your options or maybe even saved your life.
It’s not like you haven’t heard this before. Ads urging you to build a kit or make a plan are everywhere these days. From FEMA’s Ready.gov to the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness campaign to the American Red Cross’s Be Red Cross Ready program, enormous time and effort are spent badgering you to be prepared.
The problem is that this time and effort is wasted.
People don’t admit to shortcomings
Studies conducted over the past 15 years show that campaigns such as America’s PrepareAthon, and National Preparedness Month, all aimed at individual households and communities, are not moving the resilience needle. In its 2014 report Personal Preparedness in America, FEMA cited research gathered over the course of 8 years that showed that the percentage of individuals who prepared remained largely unchanged.
Other national surveys report similar dismal findings. Although more than ninety percent of Americans think it’s important, fewer than 1 in 8 people say they have taken any steps at all to prepare for an emergency. Even people who live in higher risk locations, like earthquake or tsunami zones, don’t do much to get ready.
Worse yet, scientists tell us that people don’t admit to shortcomings when responding to these sorts of survey which means even these dismal results may be overly optimistic.
What is wrong with people?
What’s wrong with us is that we are human, and each of us has been given that uniquely human gift called hope. Hope can be quite useful in our daily lives. For instance, what if instead of running off to work in the morning, we first took time to ponder all the bad things that could happen out there in the great big scary world? We might decide to stay home instead, curled up in a fetal position under a blanket.
While hope allows us to function in our daily lives unhindered by fear, it prevents us from doing some easy things now that will improve our situation when something really bad happens.
Have you heard the expression “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst”? It’s a good idea, but the data shows that we are skipping that second part. When it comes to the actual preparing, we punt. It’s too much work, too much stuff to buy, too many scary scenarios we don’t want to contemplate. So, instead of contemplating, we block everything out with denial as impenetrable as a brick wall.
A brick wall of hope
The wall gives us comfort. It lets us believe, “It probably won’t happen to me”.
The vast majority live their lives surrounded by that brick wall. They are either inclined to prepare themselves and their families or they are not. That is just human nature.
But it cannot be true of the people, like us, who get paid to do these things.
The public depends on us to be ready to go to battle with the black swan. In the disaster business, we call that “owning the problem.” But because we are people too, disaster professionals inevitably struggle with that same brick wall. So, as the public points at us, we spend precious time and money creating campaigns that we use to point right back at them.
We justify this with that treasured concept in the disaster preparedness business: “Whole Community”.
“Whole Community and shared responsibility, across all layers of government and down to the individual, is a hallmark of this plan”
– FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan
According to the Whole Community concept, everyone—individuals and families, businesses, faith-based and community organizations, nonprofit groups, schools, you name it—is working together, hand in hand, to build a resilient nation.
If this sounds too good to be true, that is because it is
These days, individuals and families, businesses, faith-based and community organizations, nonprofit groups, and schools have a lot on their plates. Full plates—with things like fatalism, defiance, cost, misplaced confidence, complacency, faith, and good old-fashioned procrastination—thwart real progress in preparedness.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Whole Community is a myth. And, like all myths, the Whole Community myth contains a grain of truth, because there are plenty of people working to be ready for disasters. It’s just that the idea that it is happening spontaneously everywhere, or in some organized way, to increase our collective resilience is a fiction. Besides, it is classic muddled thinking to say that everybody is doing something, since it is the same thing as saying that nobody is.
Whole Community is a story made up by disaster professionals. Some say it exists so that we can avoid responsibility; instead of pointing to ourselves as responsible to lead preparedness for the nation, it’s a whole lot easier just to point back at them.
It is undoubtedly true that individuals and families need to prepare for disasters. But that’s on them. It has little to do with us.
Because we are the emergency managers. We own the disaster.
The hardest job in the world
Scientists tell us that two million years ago, Homo erectus, our ancient ancestors, first walked upright upon the land. By that time, the brick wall of hope was already a well-established fixture within the mind of every Homo erectian—disasters having been a part of everyone’s life for as long as anyone could remember.
Humanity has been responding to disasters since that time, and our track record is mixed at best. Our track record with worst-case disasters, however, is not mixed. Throughout our long history and to the present day, catastrophic response is an unbroken series of abject failures.
No generation has ever effectively assisted massive numbers of its fellow human beings in the midst of catastrophe. There are some very good reasons for this. Large-scale disasters bring with them unique challenges. They affect everyone at the same time; they cross political boundaries and they create a demand for resources that greatly exceeds what is immediately available.
That is why it is the most difficult of human endeavors. It requires that emergency managers find and fix a multitude of urgent problems and unmet needs across a vast parallel universe…
…where the normal rules of logic don’t apply
…where the need is a hundred times greater than the resources at hand
…where a hundred times more problems exist than anyone has the capacity to engage
…where time is elastic, slowing down, then suddenly flying by
…where cellphones don’t work
…where roads are blocked…
But the fact that it’s difficult is no excuse for not doing it.
Despite the challenges, it is our job to assist our fellow human beings in their time of greatest need, and we must do it with dignity and respect.
So… what are we waiting for? Let’s get to work.
Emergency managers need to turn that finger around and begin to point it back at ourselves. We need to spend less time trying to predict the future, searching for bugs in the software or targets that need hardening and spend more time learning how to reconfigure ourselves to confront the unknown in a complex environment.
There aren’t two ways to do this; there is only one. Disaster professionals all over the country must come together into a massive team of teams, an incident organization, a Great Machine; the bigger the disaster, the bigger the machine. The United States of America needs the ability to bring together a Great Machine—the size of a Google or even a Walmart—with the ability to communicate up, down, and across the organization in one day.
All our assets must be engaged: first responders, government agency staff, National Guard soldiers, aid workers, construction workers, private employees, and volunteers from every city, town, county, borough, and parish across the country. The challenge is that every government agency, nonprofit organization, military battalion, and private company is occupied by and absorbed in a daily mission. Every piece is a separate silo, and only a compelling need can draw it away from that daily mission.
By coming together now, emergency managers can create muscle memory around this process—a straightforward process clearly understood by all—to bring the resources of the nation to bear in the early hours of the disaster, to reach deep into the system to buy, beg, and borrow everything we will need.
If all of this sounds daunting, it is. Yet, who can deny the nature of the threat or the urgency of the need? Again, there aren’t two ways to do this; there is only one.
Which means this sort of comprehensive, proactive, integrated, and all-of-nation planning is going to happen. It’s just a question of when—and whether it will be done the easy way, by figuring it out beforehand, or the hard way, in the aftermath of the next black swan.
 Deborah Wilson, “‘I’ll be OK’ attitude behind lack of disaster preparedness, study finds,” CBC News, 24 January 2018, accessed at http://www.cbc.ca/1.4502644
 Uscher-Pines, L., Chandra, A., Acosta, J., & Kellerman, A. (2012). Citizen Preparedness for Disasters: Are Current Assumptions Valid? Disaster Medicine Public Health Preparedness, 6(2), 170–173
 Including individuals and families (including those with access and functional needs), businesses, faith-based, and community organizations, nonprofit groups, schools and academia, media outlets, and state, local, tribal, territorial, and the federal government.
 General Stanley A. McChrystal, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Portfolio/Penguin, 2015
“Subduction-zone earthquakes operate on the…[principle that] one enormous problem causes many other enormous problems.” — Kathryn Schulz, The Really Big One
In her Pulitzer Prize–winning article “The Really Big One,” New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz tells the story of the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. According to scientists, on or about January 26, 1700, a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest ripped a gash in the earth’s crust along a line from Vancouver Island in Canada south nearly six hundred miles into Northern California, causing massive devastation.
A massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest ripped a gash in the earth’s crust, causing massive devastation
The geological record indicates that these “great earthquakes” (those with a magnitude of eight or higher) occur in this area of the Pacific Northwest about every five hundred years on average.
In “The Really Big One”, Schulz describes for us the implications of this revelation. When it comes, the next Really Big One could impact an area of 140,000 square miles and devastate major population centers like Seattle and Tacoma in Washington, and Portland, Eugene, and Salem in Oregon. Seven million people could be cast into this parallel universe, of which nearly 13,000 people could die and another 27,000 could be injured. When it happens, we would need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.
The following excerpt is what we call a worst-case scenario:
“When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be… a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive…
Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness…
Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, canisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off…
Other, larger structures will also start to fail… across the region, something on the order of a million buildings will collapse…
The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region—up to thirty thousand of them in Seattle alone… It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it… Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will.
Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own.
Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.”
Never tell me the odds
The odds of a big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the next Really Big One are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it.
We should pause for moment to take all of this in. The enormity of this breathtaking scenario makes it difficult to contemplate fully. But contemplate, we must.
And then, after we have contemplated for a while, somebody needs to get to work. I have an idea: how about we build a Pacific Northwest Cascadia Subduction Earthquake and Tsunami Response Plan? The PNCSETRP (as I like to call it) would be massive and unprecedented, nothing less than a comprehensive, proactive, integrated, and all-of-nation plan.
How about we build a Pacific Northwest Cascadia Subduction Earthquake and Tsunami Response Plan?
Although it sounds complicated, all you really need to do is to put all the people who would be responsible for a Pacific Northwest Cascadia subduction earthquake and tsunami response in the middle of an imagined Cascadia subduction earthquake and tsunami to figure things out ahead of time, instead of in the fog of war.
Thanks to Kathryn Schulz’s elegant scientific narrative we have an incredibly detailed imagined disaster to work with.
So, let’s do that now. Let’s imagine that it’s 2:35 p.m. on a rainy Saturday afternoon in March and the next Really Big One hits.
We need to think through exactly what that would look like
We need to quantify the unprecedented surge that the crisis will bring. We need to understand, in as much fine-grained, colorful detail as possible, that enormous problem that causes so many other enormous problems. We need to list all of the issues that we—the United States and the world—would be dealing with as that Saturday afternoon turns into a long Saturday night. We need to think about the people—the seniors, the individuals with disabilities, the children and families—who would be trapped inside that parallel universe.
Instead of trying to think through these things then, we need to do it now, so that we know what we will tell them about when we are going to reach them. About how we are working across 140,000 square miles of affected area to rescue people from collapsed buildings, pump out the water, get power and cell phone service back, and clear the streets. About how we are providing shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.
To be able to do these things then, we need to get to work now.
We must travel through the wormhole and into that parallel universe, to spend as much time as possible in the Pacific Northwest on that Saturday afternoon with those collapsed buildings, blocked roadways, stuck trains, trapped victims, dead and injured people, and debris in the streets. We must figure out everything we would have to do all at the same time, who is going to do it, and where we are going to get all of the stuff we will need to make it happen.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but we are not doing this work today
Instead, in cities and states all over the Pacific Northwest, and the nation, disaster professionals sit around in small groups in carpeted conference rooms, using rational thought processes to write pieces of the plans about pieces of the job they think they own. And, by the way, these plans have been shown to work spectacularly well… in carpeted conference rooms.
Why do we instead sit in carpeted conference rooms with our cliques asking the same old questions?
There is no substitute for an integrated, all-of-nation planning process like the one described above. So why are we not doing it? Why do we instead sit in carpeted conference rooms with our cliques telling war stories, asking the same old questions, and speaking the same tired platitudes?
Why, instead of spending time trying to understand the enemy, do we clutter our minds with process and unrealistic expectations—so that we are surprised, caught off guard, when the realities that the crisis inevitably brings don’t fit our processes or expectations?
Only a few days after the Senate Committee on Aging released a new report in which it found that seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to financial scams, the insolvency services of Nyman Lisbon Paul and the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) have issued scam alerts warning consumers to beware of cyber scams.
Two weeks ago, Infosecurity reported that 60% of consumers in the UK were leaving themselves vulnerable to scams, and today, Nyman Lisbon Paul tweeted a warning that “pension scam victims lost an average of £91,000 to criminals in 2018, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) research recently revealed. Criminals often use cold-calls and offers of free pension reviews to convince their victims to comply.”
As scams become more commonplace, government agencies, organizations and concerned citizens are taking to social media to caution consumers about the myriad scams to which they could fall victim.
All the jokes about civil servants aside, governments around the world do have some useful functions. Governments have the bodies and funds to look into important matters and provide advice to their citizenry on a whole host of things.
Whether we are talking about Food Safety (the recent romaine lettuce scare in North America is a good example) or storm warnings (we here in the Ottawa Valley are currently living through what is known as a ‘cold snowstorm: up to 20 cm of fresh snow have fallen since last night and the temperatures dipped to as low as -50 north of the capital which, by the way, was the coldest capital on Earth on Friday – colder by a degree than Ulaan Bator), our state apparatuses can serve an important function when it comes to what to be vigilant about.
State institutions like intelligence services and law enforcement agencies are the best placed to collect information on threats
Another thing that governments do is to provide overviews on terrorism. After all, state institutions like intelligence services and law enforcement agencies are the best placed to collect information on threats and thus they have the best handle on the actual level of danger. While these organisations normally do not provide details when they do issue alerts – much to the frustration of many – they really are the ones we should listen to if we want the most accurate assessment of what precautions, if any, we should take.
Sometimes, though, these warnings are so general as to be useless or, in a worst case scenario, spread panic
What followed next, however, is not so great. While there was no disclosure on specific attack venues, US citizens were warned to take ‘security precautions’ and avoid, get ready for it, “public places and government infrastructures…to include places of gathering such as markets, hotels, and malls, schools, hospitals, government facilities, places of worship, tourist locations, and transportation hubs, in addition to caution when walking and driving at night.”
Is it just me or is this a bit of overkill (NO pun intended)? How useful is this list? By putting just about every possible public place on it does it actually say anything? I suppose that if Americans living in Nigeria were to take everything enumerated seriously they would not leave their houses in 2019 at all.
The US warning is in the same ballpark as far as I am concerned. By warning against everything they are warning against nothing. I doubt that anyone would have grounds to sue if they or their loved ones were caught up in an attack and it turned out that the specific locale had not be listed. Then again, given the stupid lawsuits out there…
While this seems to be part of an effort to cover all bases, I know from my experience that these kinds of bulletins could be posted every single day in multiple places around the world. Intelligence agencies constantly collect threat information but it is often nebulous in nature. Furthermore, terrorist groups love to issue propaganda to strike fear in our hearts because it makes them look important (“Be afraid! Be very, very afraid!”). When we repeat their statements we contribute to the fear they seek to establish.
When it comes to Nigeria, anyone who has not been sleeping since the late 2000s knows that both Boko Haram and ISWA are very active and despite that nation’s counter terrorism and military efforts will continue to plan to kill and maim. That they would target this year’s elections is not a surprise either since Islamist extremists HATE democracy.
I don’t like this move by the US government. It is superfluous and contributes little to our appreciation of the threat. Zero terrorism is an impossible goal after all and we need to accept that. Paralysing dread is not a welcome result either. We need to be smart about the risk and, by living our lives as we want, not hand victory to the terrorists.
The recent spate of crises has called to attention the need to prepare, as best we can, for something similar to happen in the future.
As a homeowner, there are certain considerations and affairs to get in order to prepare for these disasters — whether it’s insurance matters, property protection measures or communication precautions. But if you’re among the growing population of individuals choosing to rent in America, you might find yourself feeling anxious and unsure about where responsibility lies in these emergency situations.
It’s important to know what resources are available and what processes your community has in place to effectively and safely navigate the storm. While avoiding or predicting disasters may be impossible, here are three actions you can take now to save you precious time and, hopefully, heartache if that day ever comes.
As we take the time to reflect on our work in 2018, what’s most striking about the impact 100 Resilient Cities is the leap from planning to implementation we’re seeing in cities around the world. Nearly half of all member cities have released visionary and actionable Resilience Strategies, a major milestone for the network.
The process of developing each Strategy is a groundbreaking effort for cities and we are continually impressed by how these roadmaps to resilience have the power to cross traditional silos in municipal government, uniting people, projects, and priorities. Even more exciting is that cities are putting their strategies in action and real impact can be seen on the ground.
This past year alone we’ve seen the impact of urban resilience gaining steam – changing institutions and planning processes around the world. We’re proud to be a part of a global movement.
Hey Phil! In my opinion, not only is prevention not a bad idea, a focus on preventing mass shootings rather than just dealing with them after they happen is by far the best approach. But…
As they continue to happen with increasing frequency and the active shooter attack remains our most distressing reality, one can make a strong argument in favor of Police Chief Mark Gordon’s active shooter program. I would therefore argue that there are some good reasons to like the puck:
“The puck can teach you”
Every one should come with a conversation, a five minute “prep talk”, that reinforces some key awareness concepts
Oakland University plans to give out 2,500 of them at roughly a dollar apiece. Each act of handing a hockey puck — 800 handoffs to staff and 1,700 to students-is a teachable moment. Every one should come with a conversation, a five minute “prep talk”, that reinforces some key awareness concepts.
“We are built to spot patterns…don’t turn that instinct off when you are in a familiar place like your classroom” or “Look for exit signs when you are in a public place”. The puck itself could even be emblazoned with emergency phone numbers or preparedness phrases like “Run Hide Fight”.
“The puck can help you plan”
If you’re like most people, you spend your days hoping that this horrible thing would never happen to you. You don’t like to think about it. This is why you don’t (I call this phenomenon “the brick wall of hope”)
Because when it comes to active shooter situations, doing something is always better than doing nothing
The reason that this is a problem for you is that your ability to think clearly will evaporate the instant you hear the gunshots. So if you hadn’t ever thought through your first steps then, you are unlikely to have any bright ideas now. You are more likely to freeze, which is more likely to result in bad outcomes. Because when it comes to active shooter situations, doing something is always better than doing nothing
As odd as it sounds, the hockey puck could help you to plan for the worst. Its heft could allow some to engage their fear; its reality could help to bring the intangible from the deep recesses of the subconscious out into the real world. As the puck turns over and over in your hand, you could think it through; we call this “modeling your actions”. You could ask yourself “What would I do first…? What are my evacuation routes; where are the exits? Where could I shelter in place? Where are the lockable doors?”
“The puck could hurt”
As anybody that has been hit in the head with a hockey puck can tell you, as a last resort weapon, a hockey puck is definitely better than nothing. Especially if 20 students in a classroom all threw them at the same time. Heck, it could actually even work.
“Sometimes you just need a puck”
Finally, having an extra puck or two around could actually come in handy. Especially if you find yourself without one but out on the ice with stick and jonesin’ for a game!
Faculty members and students at a Michigan university have received hockey pucks to use as a “last resort” to potentially thwart active shooters.
Oakland University in suburban Detroit said in a statement posted to Facebook last week that faculty members purchased 800 hockey pucks for teachers and another 1,700 pucks for students following a recent active shooter training. Student government leaders are also planning to purchase more pucks for students, the university said.
“Oakland University Police Chief Mark Gordon has conducted hundreds of active shooter trainings for nearly 10 years, and in those courses he has stressed that primary defenses for individuals in active shooter situations are running from harm’s way and sheltering in place. He introduces fighting an attacker as a last-resort, self-defense option,” the university’s statement read.
“Five frogs are sitting on a log.
Four decide to jump off.
How many are left?
Why? Because there’s a difference between deciding and doing.”
I recently attended the wedding of a friend in a private social club in the Gramercy neighborhood of Manhattan. And what a wedding it was. Beautiful and elegant, the guests were led seamlessly, almost effortlessly, through all of its various pieces-ceremony, after-ceremony and reception. When I mentioned to my wife how “it all seemed to come together” she gave me that I should be rolling my eyes right now look and said, “Yeah……no”
People who don’t know think that complex events just kind of “come together”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
People who don’t know think that complex events just kind of “come together”. Nothing could be further from the truth.
And the only people who really understand this are the unsung heroes who actually bring these complex events together. These are those unique people who plan, organize and execute; who “own” the events. They who take the headaches, herd the cats, deal with the thousands of little crises and do whatever it takes before, during and after the big day. Other than the bride (and a few wedding planners) few know these headaches, the long hours over late nights and just gritty hard work it takes to execute a seamless complex event.
Now stick with me because, believe it or not, I’m now going to draw a comparison between a wedding and a disaster (because, after all, some disasters are just big fat Greek weddings on steroids).
Lets start with the EOC. The biggest tool in the emergency managers toolbox, the emergency operations center is a multi-agency coordination center, or MACC, that is established at the operational, or agency, level of the response and provides situational awareness to decision-makers at the strategic level as well as information and logistics support to tactical assets in the field. It is an extraordinarily powerful tool that can manage every type of disaster.
But people who don’t know think that all you need to do when a disaster happens is turn it on.
But people who don’t know think that all you need to do when a disaster happens is turn it on. Simply activate the EOC (the thinking goes) and get the right people in the right seats. And good things will happen… organically, like magic. Sadly, with EOCs – as with weddings – nothing could be further from the truth.
And the only people who really understand this are those unique people who plan, organize and execute; who “own” the EOC. These are the people who herd the cats, deal with the thousands of little crises and do the gritty hard work over the long hours and late nights of the disaster to get it done. These people are the Emergency Managers. Emergency managers have one job: to coordinate. But that’s ok because that one job is everything.
The source of all failure during disasters is either lack of situational awareness or failure to act.
If you got all the way through the wedding story to this point you are probably ready to quit this article. Why? Because of that word. It’s one of those words like insurance or paradigm or variable annuity that is just… boring.
It is our job to make sure everybody knows what is happening along with the piece of the job that they own so that they have no excuse for failure to act.
The word, of course, is coordination. Now, we emergency managers know about coordination and we know that it’s kind of a big deal but at the same time it’s so boring that we don’t like to talk about it. So we don’t. When emergency managers talk they sit around carpeted conference rooms talking about what we do. But rarely do we talk about how we do it. Instead we tell ourselves: “Why spend a lot of time talking about it? We know how to do it.”
Now, I work in healthcare, and where I work the doctors spend a lot of time sitting around carpeted conference rooms talking about how they do what they do. Why? Because they know that the how is the key. To performance, to proficiency, to professionalism. How they do what they do is everything.
Even though we don’t talk about it, emergency managers, like wedding planners, know through hard experience that groups of people only accomplish things when we put energy into a chaotic system. It is our job to create a path forward in everybody’s head. It is our job to make sure everybody knows what is happening along with the piece of the job that they own so that they have no excuse for failure to act.
That is coordination. Coordination is the ‘how’ of emergency management. But because it is so boring we don’t talk about it. As if it was a secret. The emergency manager’s secret is that we make magic happen through coordination.
During disasters thousands, even millions, of people are impacted in the same way at the same time. Their feelings of comfort and sense of order are destroyed. They have so many questions to which nobody has any answers. Fear seeps in to replace the destroyed rhythm of daily life. They get a strange sensation that feels like the fabric of society unraveling. Many will do what they always do when faced with big decisions: they will freeze. They will hunker down and try to distract themselves until help comes along and someone tells them what to do, trapped in a parallel universe of suboptimal outcomes.
During disasters, coordination means putting the right people in the right conversations to answer every question. To do this, we create a real-time decision infrastructure – an instant bureaucracy – across the range of operations. That this the incident organization, and it is centered in the EOC.
The incident organization is a team of teams. It is composed of people and resources coming together to work a process—fast, flat, and flexible, combining transparent communication with decentralized decision-making.
Different aspects of the disaster
Some disasters require dozens of teams focused on different aspects of the disaster—search and rescue, damage assessment, evacuation, sheltering, logistics, debris removal, disaster assistance, fatality management, feeding, and on and on.
For new problems for which there is no plan, it gets more people in and creates new teams
Even though every team is empowered to feed and care for itself, for the days and weeks of a big response, the job of coordination is to get them whatever they can’t get for themselves. If a team needs leadership, it assigns it. It solves the problems they can’t solve and moves the obstacles they can’t overcome. It gets them the stuff—from industry experts to specialized vehicles or equipment—they need to do their job. If there is information or orders or approvals they can’t get, it will get them. For new problems for which there is no plan, it gets more people in and creates new teams.
Coordination creates trust—trust in the plan and confidence that we will not fail.
It doesn’t wait; it anticipates. It creates a collective dynamic that empowers teams to run at, not away from, problems. Coordination force them to think: “What is happening? What are we doing? What do we intend to do? What can we do now to get ahead of the curve?” Finally, coordination tells everybody what is going on: field teams to agency headquarters to city hall to the children and families trapped within the parallel universe. It tells them what life is like within the parallel universe, what we are doing about it, what we are not yet doing, and why.
People think that government has some innate ability to respond to disasters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Governments are slow-moving creatures of habit, ill-suited to the demands of the parallel universe. Coordination is the secret sauce, an instant bureaucracy that supercharges the government-led response.
During a disaster, coordination communicates a list of clear objectives for every operational period. At OEM we called those objectives Commander’s Intent. Everyone, at every level of the organization, is empowered to say yes to everything as long as it falls within the boundaries of Commander’s Intent. The message is, “Do what is right, not what you have a right to do”.
Everything that can go wrong
Coordination connects everything at all levels of the response. First, it connects agencies together in the EOC. Then these same agencies connect down to the boots on the ground and up to the Bosses. This last part is critical because in the parallel universe, everything that can go wrong will go wrong all at the same time. We need the Bosses to quickly make the decisions that only they can make and to resolve the issues that only they can resolve; otherwise, we cannot act in the moment. Mistakes and blunders are pervasive in the parallel universe.
Fortunately, we have an organizing system. ICS is the toolbox that disaster professionals bring into the parallel universe, and coordination, the best kept secret in the disaster business, is the most important tool in that toolbox.