Emergency Managers Can Boost Preparedness by Instilling a Sense of Urgency   3/7/2018

As emergency managers, there are two things we know about disasters, and one thing we don't.

We know that another disaster is coming.  We don’t know when. But we know that tomorrow we will have one less day to prepare than we have today.

Yet too often we behave as if we have all the time in the world. We don’t really act like a tornado or a train wreck or a flood might happen this week. Rarely do we think, ‘If a disaster is going to happen tomorrow, what is the one thing I should do today to prepare?'

Dealing every day with the potential consequences of disaster, we can become desensitized to the importance of our work. Our planning and training activities can become routine, we can become complacent, and our performance can become uninspired. As a result, we can be less prepared.

To maximize our level of preparedness, emergency managers must replace complacency with a sense of urgency. We need to take steps to ensure that we ourselves, our staffs, and our partner agencies make the best possible use of the time we have to prepare for disasters. Once a disaster happens, the time for preparation is over. 

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to instill a sense of urgency in ourselves, our staffs and our partner agencies. These steps aren’t difficult, but they do require constant effort and attention. Here are ten tips for establishing and maintaining a sense of urgency within your agency and within partner agencies:

  1. Set an example. Complete your tasks on time. Don’t waste time. Act with urgency every day.

  2. Communicate the importance of urgency. Make sure people understand why a sense of urgency is necessary. Emergency preparedness is important; don’t be afraid to tell people that. Remind your staff, your colleagues in other agencies, your bosses, and the citizens in your community. Be relentless and stay focused. Never apologize for pushing people to prepare. 

  3. Identify the consequences of complacency. Make sure people understand the dangers of complacency. Getting less done or completing tasks in a haphazard fashion means your community will be less prepared when disaster hits and lives may be lost. 

  4. Set deadlines and hold people to them. Don’t let projects drag on and on. Finish on time and move on to the next thing.

  5. Enforce standards. Set standards of performance and address all failures to meet them. If you accept substandard performance without comment you will be setting a new, lower standard.

  6. Provide initial guidance and encouragement. Ensure staff member and supporting agencies understand exactly what they need to accomplish, make sure they have the necessary information and resources to do so, and encourage them through the process. Address obstacles or delays immediately and don’t let projects languish.

  7. Prioritize. Do the important things first. Address gaps and focus on building critical capabilities. Don’t do stuff just to do stuff. Make sure you are doing the right stuff. Continually review your priorities and adjust as necessary.

  8. Strike a balance between quality and speed. Avoid perfectionism. Your updated EOP doesn’t have to be the best EOP ever written. Better to finish it on time and move on to the next task than to drag out the project in a vain attempt to make it perfect. Value good work, but value speed as well.

  9. Emphasize the importance of continuous improvement. Every completed project, exercise, or training event should be reviewed to identify lessons learned and ways it can be done better in the future. Encourage staff and supporting agencies to identify ways to improve emergency management processes. Constantly seek greater efficiencies and effectiveness.

  10. Force change. Mix things up. Familiarity breeds complacency so look for ways to change the work experience for your staff. Cross-train, change assignments, assign new responsibilities. 

Creating and maintaining a sense of urgency is not easy. The nature of processes, organizations, and relationships is to seek stability. Ironically, success also diminishes urgency. We might feel that we have done a great job, so we must be doing everything right. 

We’ll never be as prepared as we would like to be. There will always be something else we wish we had done. But doing our jobs with a sense of urgency day in and day out will ensure that we are as well-prepared as possible.

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