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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.

Finding your way

Finding your way

Reading Time: 4 minutes

scout map badge

Having a sense of direction is important; more so when you’re not familiar with the area, or when it’s time critical that you leave.

Wherever you are right now, stop and indulge yourself in this little task

  1. Imagine there is an emergency and you are instructed to “go home or head North”
  2. Point in the direction of ‘home’.
  3. Point in the direction of North.
  4. Did you find that easy?

It became apparent on a recent holiday to Europe that some people struggle with this, but despite occasionally confusing left with right I’m able to get my bearings and navigate around fairly quickly and accurately. However, there will always be occasions when you need to find somewhere specific and therefore turn to a map for help. Increasingly this means tapping in a destination to a smartphone and following the directions, but there’s still the option of physical maps.

I expect that there is a lot of literature out there (like this) regarding the cognitive skills required to interpret maps, but thankfully it’s something which comes easily to me without much thought.

I had a quick think about how maps can be useful in a resilience context and came up with the following. I’m sure there are many more examples of how maps can be useful (perhaps I’ll come back to this at a later stage)

To appreciate risk – it’s fairly obvious to me that low-lying areas or those near lakes and rivers are likely to be more at risk from flooding

  • To find your way from A to B – this is probably the most obvious way that maps are useful, especially in an unfamiliar area.
  • Communicating information – being able to plot “the emergency is here” or “this road is blocked” can be much more effectively done with the aid of maps
  • To conduct a remote assessment – I need to get away from this hazard, but I know there is a steep hill/river/etc in this direction so I’ll go this way

Providing you know, and can interpret, what you’re looking at I find maps an extremely useful tool – which is why I get frustrated when they aren’t available (which seemed to be the case in both New York and Berlin!).

Having dropped out of Scouts a long time ago, I decided to take a look at their criteria. Would I still be able to obtain a Scouts badge for map reading?

  1. Understand how to use the key of an Ordnance Survey map                                 Yes, although I always get the Church symbols mixed up!
  2. Be able to use six-figure grid references                                                                    It’s been some time since I had to do this, but I’m confident I still could
  3. Explain how to find north on a map and how to set a map to north                               I wouldn’t have any difficulty with this, but ask me to convincingly use a compass and I’d be struggling
  4. Locate your home on an Ordnance Survey map                                                     This is my natural instinct when confronted with any map; where am I on this map (often this is marked on public maps)
  5. Understand contour lines on an Ordnance Survey map                                          Yes, having constructed a model of contours out of acetate at school, I think I’d be ok
  6. Be able to identify ten Ordnance Survey map symbols                                        Again, so long as it wasn’t differentiating between a Church with a tower and one with a steeple I’m confident about this
  7. Use an Ordnance Survey map during an outdoor activity                                              I haven’t done this in a long time – perhaps next time I’ll take one with me
  8. Know the first eight points of a compass and use them during an outdoor activity  Never Eat Shredded Wheat”, in fact, I think I could get all the way to 16 compass points…but asking me to use one would be my downfall.

Ok , based on that I’m awarding myself the badge (I haven’t decided where to sew it yet!).

But to go back to an earlier point – with increased reliance on smartphones – are we increasingly vulnerable? With some smartphone mapping systems not being as accurate as you’d expect, and the ever possible risk that your phone will run out of battery, it’s vital that we don’t become too reliant on them.

Here’s my thoughts on being resilient in the absence of a map. If you’ve got any additional thoughts or experiences, drop them in the comments box below.

  • Ask someone – it always makes me happy when I’m able to direct someone in the right direction
  • Educated guess – I generally know the broad direction that I’m travelling, or the direction of home – I’ve been known to walk in a direction until I get to a known landmark or road

Going back to the Scouts, given their motto is “Be Prepared”, perhaps there are other scouting skills which could have a resilience application. I’ll have a look at what other badges I could award myself soon!

 

Image source: The Scout Association