Many of us in the Emergency Preparedness field have been spending most of our time lately on preparing for Ebola, and the good news is that there is truly nothing new under the sun in the realm of emergency management. Let me explain…
In the field of Emergency Management or Crisis Management, the goal of any organization is to build partners that work within a framework to solve problems and increase organizational resiliency. Many people use the term “all hazards planning,” but ultimately we spend time building relationships and constructs to ensure that whatever incident is thrown our way, we can manage our way through it. So the “Disaster De Jour” (Disaster of the Day) is just like other threats we plan for and respond to on a daily basis.
Here are 5 reasons why the Emergency Management community is not concerned about this “new threat”
- The partners are the same: A quick review of most distribution lists and meeting sign-in logs for this event would show that the exact same partners we work with on other incidents are still at the table for Ebola. The main players still include public safety, public health, hospitals, non-profits, etc and these organizations are used to working with each other through other planning efforts for other community hazards. Nothing new here.
- The communications challenges are the same: We are confronted with rapidly changing information coming at us from multiple sources and the disaster management organization has to find a way to decode, de-conflict, interpret, and reproduce the information for internal use. This happens on every major operation from a hurricane, earthquake, winter storm, pandemic, or planned events. Nothing new here.
- The organizational structures are the same: Pulling out an organizations Emergency Plan probably shows that they are using the exact same frameworks to manage this incident as they have for other incidents. Whether it is using an Emergency Operations Center, Command Post, ICS, HICS, MACs, JIC, JIS, etc, the program elements are still the same. Public Health agencies may be in more of a “command” role, but the frameworks and support mechanisms have not changed for this event. Nothing new here.
- The politics are the same: The politics may have started a little sooner and stronger from a Federal perspective on this event (can you say election year disaster politics?), this is nothing we have not faced before. Our history is littered with political influence and issues that arise out of disasters and this is not just a local, state, or federal Government problem. Politics run rampant in other organizations and while some of those turf battles or personality conflicts don’t make the evening news, we still have to navigate through the political waters. Nothing new here.
- Public expectations are the same: The expectations from the public are exactly the same during this Ebola crisis as they are during any other major disaster. The public (and employees) want to get timely, accurate information, so that they can make good decisions for themselves, their families, and their workplaces. Information is the greatest tool for managing any major incident and calming fears. Nothing new here.
So what is the take away here? We are prepared, and we have done this before. From your most recent incident, your last exercise, your last major disaster, or things like the H1N1 outbreak, Anthrax scares, September 11th, 2001, etc; you have used the tools needed to successfully get you through this crisis and onto the next. Continue to ensure that your program is building relationships, de-conflicting areas of concern within your organization, and using the tools that have made you successful in past incidents.
Don Campbell is a Principal Member of Crisis Focus, LLC, a full-service crisis management and emergency planning firm. He has eight years of consulting experience in Emergency Management, is currently a local Emergency Manager for a jurisdiction with over half a million residents and is a regular instructor at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.