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81 things an emergency manager should know

81 things an emergency manager should know

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Each week since the start of lockdown the Emergency Planning Society has been hosting ‘Resilience Huddles’ on Zoom. An opportunity for members to come together to decompress during these unusual times but also to share ideas and learn from each other.

In the most recent of these events I was (and I cannot stress this enough) enraged when somebody suggested Emergency Management isn’t a profession.

Take a look at this image. Can you guess the professions? Which one is the emergency manager?

Sure, unlike ‘doctor’ or ‘engineer’ the title Emergency Manager is less well-defined. But a profession, to me, is the application of specialist knowledge and skills in the interest of others. I see colleagues around me doing that every day. A profession should not be reduced to being identifiable in clip art.

To suggest we are not a profession implies we are unprofessional. That makes me angry because I work with unquestionably professional people. Our days are spent building relationships, translating between professional backgrounds, navigating organisational cultures, and referencing broad bodies of research and learning.

We are ‘specialist generalists’.

Inspired by a list of 250 things an architect should know from a recent 99 Percent Invisible podcast, I’ve had a stab at 81 things (in no order of priority) that I think an emergency manager should to know:

  1. The capacity of wetlands to attenuate flood waters.
  2. How to guard a house from floods.
  3. How to correctly describe wind directions.
  4. The difference between radius and diameter.
  5. Henry Quarantelli.
  6. How to use the photocopier.
  7. Germ theory.
  8. How to give directions.
  9. Why Chernobyl was like that.
  10. And why Hurricane Katrina was like that.
  11. And why 9/11 was like that.
  12. And why Grenfell was like that.
  13. The NATO phonetic alphabet.
  14. A bit about genealogy and taxonomy.
  15. Wren’s rebuilding after the Great Fire of London.
  16. The history of the fire brigade.
  17. The history of the police service.
  18. Where to get good late night food near where you work.
  19. What makes you happy.
  20. Recognising burnout in yourself and others.
  21. Geography.
  22. Some geology.
  23. A bit of chemistry and physics.
  24. Capability Brown.
  25. Burial practices in a wide range of cultures.
  26. Serious doesn’t have to equal boring.
  27. What to refuse to do, even for the money.
  28. Three good lunch spots within walking distance.
  29. The proper proportions of your favourite cocktail.
  30. How to listen.
  31. How to behave with junior members of staff.
  32. How to manage upwards.
  33. Seismic magnitude scales.
  34. Wind speed scales.
  35. Air quality indicators.
  36. A bit about imperialism.
  37. The wages of construction workers and nurses.
  38. How to get lost.
  39. How to (politely) tell somebody to get lost.
  40. The meaninglessness of borders.
  41. Normal accident theory.
  42. How maps lie.
  43. A bit about IT disaster recovery.
  44. What went wrong with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
  45. John Hersey’s Hiroshima article.
  46. Tuckman’s stages of team development. 
  47. What your boss thinks they wants.
  48. What your boss actually wants.
  49. What your boss needs.
  50. The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
  51. The rate at which the seas are rising.
  52. How children experience disaster.
  53. How disability affects disaster experience.
  54. Why women and girls experience disaster differently.
  55. How to quickly synthesise and draw meaning from multiple sources.
  56. How to corroborate information.
  57. Who you can turn to for help.
  58. How to respect what has come before.
  59. How to give a METHANE message.
  60. Kubler-Ross stage of grief model.
  61. The difference between complicated and complex.
  62. How to create an Ishikawa diagram.
  63. A bit about crowd dynamics.
  64. Which respected disaster researchers resonate with you and why.
  65. How to think critically about the status quo.
  66. How to perform CPR.
  67. Advanced google search techniques.
  68. Local emergency management and adjacent legislation.
  69. The seven principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.
  70. The difference between the Hyogo and Sendai Frameworks.
  71. The link between John Snow and modern epidemiology.
  72. Lord Justice Clarke’s four principles for disaster victim identification.
  73. How failures of imagination have had consequences.
  74. How to foster reciprocity.
  75. How to challenge disaster myths and Hollywood disaster tropes.
  76. Gestalt theory.
  77. Kahneman’s decision making heuristics.
  78. Swiss cheese model of safety.
  79. ‘No ELBOW’ contemporaneous record keeping.
  80. How to use conditional formatting in Excel.
  81. Murphy’s Law.

Undoubtedly this list is incomplete.

It’s what I came up with over an hour or so and fueled by a considerable amount of rage. Maybe I’ll come back to later.

If you’ve got thoughts on what else should be on the list send suggestions on Twitter @mtthwhgn.

COVID-19: an experiment in peer support

COVID-19: an experiment in peer support

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Just what the world needs, another blog about COVID-19, except it’s not!


PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT 


There are, by my very rough calculations, something like 7000 Emergency Managers in the UK. Or at least, there were until earlier this week.

Now I think it’s probably something like 40 million!

Supermarket shelves might be empty, but communities are overflowing with people who want to look out for each other. It’s really quite wonderful to see.

But those 7000 people are still there.

They’re working long days (and nights).

They’re supporting people who routinely respond to challenging situations (and people who have never done this before).

They’re being asked for lots of information and answers (and they are not being told lots of information or having their questions answered).

In addition to that, they are people. If we openly admit it or not, these are worrying times. We’ve got families and homes and lives; thinking about the potential impacts of COVID-19 now, and in the future, makes us anxious too.

All of our employing organisations offer support. Support is available through friends and family. Support is available through professional societies. But I get the sense that something else is required.

This week a community of Emergency Managers on Twitter™ have been sharing of official messages, but we’ve also been reacting on a personal basis too. I’ve seen lots of good humour, and mutual support. I’ve seen (and issued my own) cries for help. That culminated yesterday in a discussion about finding a way to ‘get together’ and chat.

So, as an experiment, a few of us have grasped the last roll of toilet paper by the horns (look, it’s a crisis, leave my mixed metaphors alone) and decided to experiment with having virtual work drinks. Like everyone else, we’re going to use Zoom, as it’s free and seems user friendly. Many of us haven’t used it before so I’m fully expecting a bit of a bumpy ride.

My suggested a format is ‘the best thing that has happened this week and the thing you’re most concerned about’. It’s not about sharing best practise (though that is important), it’s not about bitching (that is important too). It’s about talking through a highly unusual situation with like-minded colleagues, and an ability to decompress after what has been a very long week.

Will it work? That depends on how you measure success. My prediction is that we’ll realise it’s a great idea but needs some work! I’ll report back!

Times like these can be hard. Talk to someone and wash your hands.

 

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COBRA: a multi-part blog-along

COBRA: a multi-part blog-along

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My career in emergency management started 15 years ago this year.

The London bombings had happened the previous year and one of (many) themes in the profession at the time was about ‘citizen journalism‘. People, actual real-life 3-dimensional members of the public, had taken pictures on their Nokia 3210’s and sent them to the BBC newsroom. It was a paradigm shift in how the media could report breaking news.

Flash forward to yesterday evening. Trains up the spout. I felt myself stressing about not being able to join a live tweet-along to a new series on Sky, COBRA. How times change, eh?!

Described as a “must-see thriller set at the heart of government during a major national crisis” this show is entirely up my street.

A selection of my incredible colleagues gave a great running commentary on Twitter.

So I was thinking about how I could take a different approach. So…strap in for a multi-part series of long-form blogs of each episode.

Like the rest of my work-related blogs, my aims are partly to demystify what the emergency management profession can sometimes over complicate, and to summarise how fiction compares to reality.

I want to hear your thoughts too! Agree/disagree with my ramblings? Let me know! @mtthwhgn.

And here’s a picture of me sat at the COBRA table…honest! 🤫

Now you’ve read the intro, get stuck into my thoughts, episode by glorious episode

Oh, and just a reminder for those at the back: let’s all remember that it’s an entertainment show, we expect (and encourage) a degree of artistic licence!

Some thoughts on professional societies

Some thoughts on professional societies

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Getting into any career is tricky. Employers are looking for the perfect combination of both knowledge and experience. Fresh out of University you have to try extra hard to demonstrate that you can actually do the job, not just talk about it.

That was the position I found myself in almost 13 years ago. I spent countless days completing applications; labouring the point that “yes, I might have only ever worked in a shop, but you can definitely trust me not to screw this up”.

One way I could show employers that they could put their faith in me was to join a professional association. These bodies are designed to represent the interests of those in the field, so if I was a member it would enhance my legitimacy. Not one to do things by halves, I joined no less than 4 professional associations.

I did my research beforehand, of course.

Some of these organisations had a specific focus, others were more general. Some had active online communities, others were more traditional.

As a fledgeling emergency manager, I thought it was a good idea to try and learn from as much of this as possible. That way I could tell employers I not just only understood the job, but I also understood the profession and the direction it was travelling.

I’m no longer a member of any of those organisations that I joined.

Professional societies, at least those that I joined, had failed to move with the times. The challenges facing the profession now are not the same as those before critical UK legislation was introduced. The risk environment has changed, and the profession seems to be struggling to keep up.

Although, I think there were more fundamental issues holding those societies back

  1. Ego – None of these societies are sufficiently large in membership that they require the level of process that most of them have. Beacurcracy tends to override what could be helpful information exchange platforms.
  2. Identity crisis – There’s a shift towards a more holistic concept of resilience which is not reflected in the scope of the professional bodies. Emergency Planning, that’s too focused on ‘plans’. Civil Defence – that’s an outdated term from the 50’s. Business Continuity – that’s too defined by formal standards.
  3. Lack of value to members – having been associated with a range of bodies for at least the last 8 years I cannot honestly say that it has been worth the investment either financially or in terms of benefits gained.
  4. Unrepresentative leadership – those employed in emergency management when I first started my career often had military or security backgrounds. At the practitioner level that is changing, and new perspectives are being introduced, but the makeup of the decision makers in many of the professional organisations has not kept pace with the changing demographics of the field.

I don’t like to just sit on the fringes and criticise. If I see an issue I want to try and resolve it. For one of the bodies, I worked with similarly enthusiastic colleagues to solve some of these problems. However, after 18 months of trying different things and volunteering my own time, the same issues remained.

That organisation in particular alienated its members through sporadic, ill-conceived communication and disrespected its own volunteers. For a body designed to support members, it showed an extreme lack of empathy.

Contrast that with the sense of camaraderie and community I’ve seen online from my SMEMchat colleagues. This eclipses anything I have seen in over 10 years of being a member of a society.

There are, of course, many ways of doing things; I’m not simply suggesting that everything should move online. But if professionals are going to continue to support each other (and I really hope they do) then it might be time for a more radical rethink of how this is best achieved.

I feel no sense of loyalty to bodies which didn’t demonstrate any to me. However, I do feel a sense of loyalty to my colleagues, whether I work directly with them, or our paths haven’t crossed yet.

Everything that we do as a profession is a team effort. There are many ways that we can collaborate without the stuffiness of societies.

Video: The Emergency Manager

Video: The Emergency Manager

Reading Time: < 1 minute

People often introduce me to others and say that I have a really interesting job. I’m not going to lie, I really do, and I’m passionate about it, but I’m not sure that people really know what a career in emergency management entails. Sometimes, I wonder myself!

Today I found this gem of a video via Eric at Emergency Management – in less than 5 minutes it does a really good job of summarising one part of my role – to respond to emergencies.

It’s great to see such a simple and engaging overview, although there are some differences, but I expect these are a product of different US concepts and terminology rather. Although, I’m not sure that the information on Improvised Nuclear Devices is absolutely correct.

But what the video doesn’t comment on, and indeed makes a less exciting cartoon, is the hours of work that go in to assessing and then managing the risk of emergencies, with activities that might include:

  • the procurement of specialist equipment
  • development of agreed response procedures between all organisations
  • design, organisation and facilitation of training and validation
  • providing communities and businesses with information or
  • ensuring that following any incident, we emerge from it better prepared for the next one.

It’s certainly not just about sitting around and waiting until emergencies happen!

Any budding animators fancy building on this cartoon to show the true life in the day of an emergency manager/yours truly? Get in touch!

 

Avid readers may recognise this as a repost…technical problems meant that the original was unavoidably deleted!

 

Mix’n’match Emergency Management

Mix’n’match Emergency Management

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In 2007 I did some work on Hospital Evacuation, which is a throughly complex problem. I won’t go into the detail here, suffice to say that it brings some real ethical issues and logistical challenges. I mention this, because way back in 2007 someone that I spoke to described their Hospital Evacuation Plan as “planned improvisation”.

mixnmatchI remember recoiling at this. Here I was trying to document every last detail of how wards should work together with central hospital functions to expedite a swift evacuation, yet over here was someone essentially saying “we make it up on the day”.

Today I was having an unrelated conversation with a colleague about Command and Control (for non experts, that’s the systems and structures by which an emergency is managed). We were talking about the need to planned arrangements to have sufficient felxibility as to be applicable to a variety of circumstances. Without the ability to accurately predict the future this felxibility is vitally important.

However, you also need to balance that flexibility, with having coherence and structure, to try to bring the emergency under control as quickly as possible. I was reminded of one of those mix’n’match childrens books.

I wonder if there might be something in this approach for emergency management? Could you have a variety of planned components which all fit togther ininfinite complementary combinations?

I’m a big fan of recognising the emergent behaviour of systems and communities when under stress, but do I bring that do the formal responder organisatiopns I work with? Probably not as much as I could. There is definately a degree of creativity involved in sucessful emergency response – how can we create an environment which nurtures this without abandoning the important act of planning?

I’m going to give this some more thought over the weekend and come back with some more well rounded thoughts and suggestions – until then, I’m off to read an article about Collaborative Adhocracies….fun!

Image source: Edward Gorey via goreyana.blogspot.co.uk