Friday, April 2, 2010

Time to Reflect--What's Important Now

I'm just getting back from three weeks out of the office--two weeks on vacation and one week doing training and crisis exercises. It certainly has given me time to sit back, smell the roses and think about the big issues of crisis response and communications.

Nothing new or earth-shattering here, but just some thoughts about what is important.

1) Crisis and character. I believe this is one of the most untapped topics in emergency management and crisis response. My thinking was really spurred by Amanda Ripley's book The Unthinkable and now by Jared Diamond's book "Collapse." The role of personality, personal strengths and weaknesses, training, values, priorities all play into how we respond personally when something is really threatening us as well as how the response team works as well as the combined character and values of an organization or community. As I look closer at the issues of community and organization resilience, I find that digging deep into how people, think, react and behave has to be taken into consideration. We need to know this to improve training, drills and exercises. We certainly need to know this in developing public messages and warnings and how they are delivered (Dr. Covello is looking smarter all the time). And we need to be able to communicate some of these critical findings to people in our organizations and communities who by their nature plus position will have everything to do with how we recover.

2) The new nervous system. A discussion today with a group of managers of large country fairs in the region brought home once again some of the importance of what is happening in the information world. It's not enough that we talk about "social media" and how it changes the game for communications. Social media (I prefer to talk about the internet because it encompasses a wider field where the real change occurs) is rewriting rules about response management, common operating picture, situation analysis, warnings, media coverage, resource management, search and rescue and so much more. Every element of response management is being transformed by the internet in all its forms. The best analogy I have is that our organizations, communities, nations and world are gaining a nervous system. It's like an evolutionary step--a giant evolutionary step. Our bodies could not function without a nervous system--a way of detecting the world around us, sensing everything on the outside. Now our organizations, communities and world are getting sensing capabilities that otherwise were unimaginable. But, what would a nervous system with its nerve endings, ears, eyes, nose and sense of touch do without a brain to sort through all the inputs? It would crash with an overload of information. That is the really big challenge ahead as social media (the internet) makes it possible for us to learn more, quicker and more complete than ever before. Response managers will get their best info about the response from outside. But they will get far too much info, and determining what is right, helpful, valid and useful will be a tremendous challenge.

3) Response management is a most exciting challenge. Because of changes in my organization I've been thinking more about the issues of response management in addition to crisis communication. My conclusions: it is about resilience. About the ability to absorb the blows, recover and get back to normal, whatever the new normal is. Organizations and communities that can do that are strong. Those that can't are inherently weak. That means, and this is new to me, that perhaps the most significant way to measure the strength of a team, a person, a company, an agency or a community, is its ability to bounce back. It's resilience. And since emergency management professionals are all about resilience at bottom, it means that they are incredibly important in building real strength--the strength that counts. Makes me feel that this is important business--because, it is.

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