Category Archives: Planning

The Perversion of Social Media

I read an article today about a fatal accident that occurred in the Dallas/Fort Worth, TX area yesterday (6/3/2014).  The article focused somewhat on the accident itself, but moreso on the reaction of an off-duty responder who noticed bystanders using their phones to capture footage of the accident, rather than assisting.  (You can find the aforementioned article here in a new window if you’re interested in its content before reading further.)

The article shares the point of view of Lt. Anthony Williams (the off-duty responder) who attempted to assist in the incident as he pulled on-scene to a burning car where reportedly two people died, burned beyond recognition.  He recalled onlookers pointing their phones at the scene in his peripheral vision and called it “the perversion of social media” that they would be more interested in capturing video footage instead of helping the victims.  That phrase caught my attention and left me wondering…is that where social media has now led the public in emergency situations?

BipHkL_CcAApVR4 Post plane-crash selfie…

Upon further investigation, I found that even being a part of disaster situations isn’t enough to distract from the need to immediately share those experiences on social media.  You can search for  “selfie after plane crash” or “selfie after stabbed” and there are, in fact, results that turn up by the plenty.  Another video seen today made light of a teenager with his dad who saw a semi-truck stuck on some rail road tracks.  As a train approached, they began recording the unfolding incident and the video was soon uploaded to YouTube and shared across the web.  And the teenager literally stood in the middle of the debris saying, “is this real life??”

So what is encouraging the public to make these choices during disaster situations?  I would argue it’s actually a list on influences that should be considerably eye-opening for my fellow emergency management focused friends, especially in their planning and response strategies.

The public isn’t empowered enough to act during disaster.  

We spend a lot of our time telling people what they can’t touch, where there can’t go, what can’t do, what they can’t say, or generally protecting whatever “territory” we feel is ours that it’s no wonder community members look a a crisis unfolding and feel helpless to do anything.  For the lay community member, what is outside of their daily job function is outside of their “basement” level thinking – the kind of thinking that happens naturally and automatically in response to a stressful situation. (I should note that concept is learned from a 2011 meta-leadership seminar I attended!)  For the officer in the story above, jumping into response mode was the obvious choice.  For the other bystanders, they’re so often made to feel that the only thing they can and should be allowed to do is wait patiently.  Is this all encompassing, of course not.  Is it pretty common?  Well, the story above is one of many examples.

The public experiences fear, and fear can be paralyzing.

One of my favorite books related to emergency management was Amanda Ripley’s Unthinkable.  It’s a great read, not too complicated and very eye opening about the reactions people have to disasters.  Plane going down?  Everyone shares a laugh.  Building burning down?  Let’s wait and see what’s REALLY going to happen.  Fear paralyzes people, removes their normal thought process and makes excuses against what they’re experiencing to put it in a more digestable format.  When you’re afraid, the ability to make rational decisions is quickly diminished, and that lack of recognition and decision making is paralyzing.  What do you do when you don’t know what to do?  Which leads me to my next thought…

The public has a disconnect with crises. 

We’re not empowering them, and without knowledge or training there is fear.  And where there is fear and inexperience there is a disconnect from what a crisis really is: a bad situation that can happen to anyone, anytime that is completely dependent on who will step up to handle it.  The 24-7 news-like exposure folks have to disaster in our culture so often puts them in a realm of automatic disconnect to the reality of it that when it’s in front of them, it automatically turns into almost a movie-like experience.  As long as nothing happens to someone, they will believe that nothing will happen to them.  And when it happens to others, it’s a very unfortunate, very impersonal scene that they haven’t been given a role to play in.

The public processes information in a very unprecedented way.  

There was a point in my life that if I didn’t know what to do, I’d open my phone and click on Twitter.  Or I’d sit down to do a task at my computer and type “Faceb…” before I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.  Am I proud of this fact?  No way!  “Recovering” is a more accurate description.  The point is, social media is a decision A LOT of people make when we’re in the basic, “basement” way of thinking.  Nowadays, events haven’t been experienced until they’ve been shared.  They’re not processed unless they’re discussed.  We use social media to document information, to show we’re the first to know it, to receive empathy, to alert that we’re okay, to share the unbelievable.  We use social media to experience that which simply “can’t be happening to me” during the times we “can’t do anything about it” because it isn’t real life until we can go through our notes with those we connect with.

Yes, I realize I’m speaking in absolutes, recognizing this is a thought for a general population and not all-encompassing.  But you get the idea.  It is a terrible tragedy that anyone should lose their life needlessly in disaster.  It’s even worse when there are things that can be done that aren’t done, whether for ones self (evacuating, preparing, sheltering…) or for others.

So what are you going to change about your message and your interactions with your community to humanize the emergency management field, empower your citizens and foster a whole community response to keep these things from happening any more?

Tweet #BiggerThanMyself or mention me @tjlasagna if you have some suggestions.  If this is a topic you’d like to see researched further, please also let me know.

-Tanya

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Strengths, Weaknesses and Finding your fit in EM

It took me a long time to figure out the things I was good at, and the things I wasn’t so good at.  Or maybe, rather, it took me a long time to accept it.  Maybe that’s because it’s easy to see what you’re bad at, albeit tough to admit, and hard to give yourself credit for what you do well.


Kind of hoping the arm on the left represents my strengths…

For me, I know I’m great at developing new concepts and starting them off, I’m bad at following through and completing them.  I’m sure of my decisions when directing others, but doubt my decisions when I’m the one pulling the trigger.  I enjoy being in the middle of action and long for that hands-on response, but know I’m most useful waiting until there’s a role and a function I can fulfill.  I have strengths and weaknesses, but in the end all I want is to do is provide an effective response. I know I’m talking a lot about me, but I do so because I want to exemplify a very important task that we all, including myself, need to do.

As folks involved in disaster, we have to recognize our weaknesses and our strengths.  Not just know…recognize.  And then plan to deal with them.

Don’t get me wrong, this statement is true for everyone.  But the reason it is so critical for our field is because emergency management drives passion and excitement, and those things can cause us to enter superhero mode (and yes, I believe everyone I work with is a superhero) without realizing where we’re really needed.

When it comes to response, so many people want to save the day as soon as it is understood the day will need saving.  It is one of the things that make our career field so different from many others…when our day gets worse (i.e. a disaster strikes), we can’t stop working.  We don’t want to stop working.  Our pulses race, our instincts take over and all we want to do is protect life, property and everything in between.

The problem with this is we are at great risk for doing a disservice to that which is motivating us.  I want to protect my community, but I can’t if I’m burnt out.  I can’t do that if I’m duplicating someone else’s efforts at the same time as them or if I haven’t recognized where I can do the most good.  We want to keep working and want to fulfill every task because we want to protect everyone, but by not recognizing our strengths and weaknesses,  we are not doing what is best for the community.


Can’t…stop…working…!

I have a special place in my heart for public information…it was my introduction to the world of emergency management over six and a half years ago.  I knew my strength was working with the press because I had been on the other side of that relationship, but my excitement became my weakness because I’d develop tunnel vision when I was on the ground.

With the help of some very good mentors and the stress of real-life application, I realized I could easily become lost in the PIO role, and lost people are at risk for making bad decisions and being ineffective.

By recognizing my weakness, I was able to develop tools in order to manage it and then step back and figure out what my strength was in the same arena and learn how to make a true difference.  I used to feel bad realizing that something I loved deeply wasn’t the best fit for me in its active form.  Even now, I hate admitting this on my blog because I wouldn’t want anyone to lose faith in the assistance I can provide.  But weaknesses are only disabling when you don’t make a plan to adjust to them or let them lead you to your other strengths.


Yep, still hate admitting it!

Now, wherever I am involved in my broader level of emergency response, public information is addressed where it may often be neglected.  I’m great at Joint Information Center support and evaluation and found that social media is a niche I am most at ease with…a largely uncharted territory in EM.

I wanted to share this piece of my journey in identifying some of my weaknesses and strengths because once I finally did, my effectiveness in emergency management was altered in such a positive way.  You may be amazing at on-scene media management and speaking for your agency.  Or maybe you are the BEST at training others.  Or an invaluable asset with your ability to track supplies or finances.  Perhaps you are level-headed in disaster and perform flawlessly as boots on the ground, providing those critical services that literally save lives.

Whatever it is that you are the best at, give yourself credit for it.  And then stop letting your weaknesses get in the way of finding your perfect fit.

September Disaster in Place: Zombie Apocalypse!

Hello and happy National Preparedness Month!

This month’s scenario is a zombie apocalypse.

  

If zombies were to emerge from the undead right now, would you be ready?  Could you defend yourself using what is right beside you?  Do you and your family members have a meeting place?  Supplies to keep you alive and safe for at least three days until some of this can be sorted out?  What are your emergency exits if a zombie comes walking through the door?  Do you have a written response plan?  (All assumptions are based on slow, rather than fast moving, zombies). 

For information about zombies and how to prepare for this catastrophic apocalypse, visit the CDC’s excellent resource: http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/   

For additional training on personal preparedness, and to see tips for making your own zombie kit, check out this fun video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXFdT0V770w 

And for FEMA tips on your personal anytime preparedness, check out IS-22: Are you ready? http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=is-22

Let’s get ready!
Tanya 

August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!

Below you will find the August content of my monthly Disaster in Place.  Disaster in Place is an email series I began in May 2013 to engage Medical Reserve Corps team members to think practically about preparedness for just a few minutes a month and increase our alert responses (what we use in Virginia to see who is available to respond in disaster).  It comes complete with training and educational opportunities for those who are so inclined.  (I wrote a blog post introducing this series back in May!)

I’ve been instituting the Disaster in Place training series with my three MRC units since May and am happy to share stats, info, and previous months’ with you.  Feel free to participate, use and share, but if you do, please let me know so I can keep track of the reach of this program!  It would be quite appreciated.  I’ll be posting these every month…enjoy!

August Disaster in Place – Chemical Event!

Good morning!

Welcome to the fourth of our monthly Disaster in Place series. As always, please click on the alert link in this message and indicate you did or did not participate in this exercise so we can track that everyone knows how to receive and respond to requests with  availability!

This month’s scenario is a chemical event.

A chemical exposure can happen for a few reasons, including terrorism and human error in a factory or even at home. If you were exposed to a chemical material, how would you react? Would you know to remove exposed clothing and wash for fifteen minutes with soap and water (or what we call decontamination)? What if that chemical was at home and a family member or friend was exposed?

For information about various chemical agents, including lists, FAQ’s, and decontamination, check out this fantastic resource from the CDC: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/

For additional training on hazardous materials at home, visit this free online course from FEMA, IS-55.a: Household Hazardous Materials ? A Guide for Citizens http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-55.a

For even more training, check out this course from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Intro to Chemical Agents: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-public-health-preparedness/training/online/intro_chem_agents.html

And remember these important numbers: Poison Control Center – 800-222-1222 and Virginia 2-1-1 for all types of questions, connections and resources.

Hope you enjoyed this month!
Tanya

Crossroads!

The leaders of our emergency world are at an interesting crossroads right now.  The more I become submersed into this fascinating and exciting career, the more I see just how different it is from any other.  And I’m not talking different based on just what we do.  I’m talking different based on the how and the who!

Emergency management is unlike many professions because the formal education and training for this field has really only excelled in the last 10 years or so.  Prior to that, our profession was dominated, and arguably still is, by people who really know their stuff because they DID their stuff.  And they did it for years.

Fast forward several years and you begin to see the rise of a younger generation of professionals who bring training, theory, and unique perspective to an exceptionally experienced table.

Well, this is a predicament… 

Why is this of any bloggable value?  Because I believe if we don’t acknowledge what is merging in our profession right now on all sides, we will miss the only opportunity in this field to combine the best of both worlds.

I absolutely love getting to know the “good ol’ boys” as they are sometimes referred to in my area.  The things they’ve seen and done, the experiences, they’re just invaluable!  Disasters are selective.  They choose when and where they’ll hit and we just sort of deal with it and try to sort through the response in an after action report.  The guys who have worked in first response their whole lives and become integrated (or “voluntold”) into emergency management are basically walking after action reports.  But instead of sifting through notes, I have the opportunity to ask questions and dig deeper.  And the return value for my time spent asking those questions is perfectly competitive with my time spent studying books, reading theory and completing training.

And it goes both ways.

Over the last several years, those of us who have been working towards higher education in emergency management have also had some chances to gain real-world experience.  At the same time, those with all of the experience have started participating in formalized training and furthering their own higher education.

Ah, a perfect melding pot…

So that leaves us to decide what to do with this meeting point.  In years to come, we will lose the vast amount of experience that saturates our current networks, and though we will have experiences of our own, it won’t replace or replicate what is already here.  Everyone who enters emergency management will likely have been formally trained as education makes candidates more competitive.  The profession may become less dominated by the fire chief of 20 years (a total generalization, I know) and captured by a rising generation.

What we have, RIGHT NOW, is the opportunity to marry the energy, excitement and education of the rising professionals with the knowledge, experience and oversight of the veterans.  The opportunity to learn from each other to pass along key lessons and strengthen the network, or hold animosity towards one another over which is more important: education or experience.

Tee-hee, cat memes.

It feels pretty special knowing your profession is at a pivotal moment where it is deciding what it will become.  I hate that it’s taken us so many disasters to get here, but I love recognizing big changes so I don’t forget to take advantage of them before it’s too late.

Try this: Disaster in Place!

There aren’t a lot of jobs that require everyone’s participation.  And not just everyone in a certain facility or agency, I mean everyone.  It’s tough sometimes!  I certainly find myself “silo-ing” people into their jobs.  I don’t know how to be engaged and I’ll never need to know how to be engaged.  I think in the emergency world we find a lot of the same thing.  We have jobs to do and whether people know we exist and what our jobs are, they expect they’ll be done and all will be well.

But it just takes more than that.

Working with professionals who have volunteered their time, I am now much more accustomed to adjusting to individuals who don’t think of emergency management on any type of regular basis.  It’s kept me from having tunnel-vision or becoming so immersed inside an emergency management world that I forget how to relate with the public.  (It’s also done wonders for this fast-talking acronym lover! To slooooow down, spell things out, give meaning to each word of our accurately/overly descript titles!)

I love jargon, don’t you?

Couldn’t have said it better, public health memes!

That being said, I know no matter how many disasters happen, and no matter what has actually impacted our area, encouraging people to think about disasters and preparedness on a realistic level is still a challenge.  This is true for community members, colleagues in all types of organizations, schools, and so on.  But I think I might have a solution that will help engage people using the best ally we have in preparedness: their minds!  ♫Dun dun dun!!♫♪

As an emergency management addict – yes, I’ll admit it – I live thinking about the “worst case scenario” every day.  Behind a truck with a radioactive symbol on the highway?  I’m planning.  Driving through gasoline storage tanks?  Planning.  Standing at the edge of the ocean?  Planning!  Random zombie apocalypse in Wal-Mart?  Oh, you know I’m planning.  I’m sorry, but no disaster scenario you throw me into is going to be as colorful as my “what if…

So I wonder, what will the public’s “what if’s” do for them?

This month, I will begin a new series with my awesome Medical Reserve Corps teams and leave it open for adaptation in any facility that would like to play off of it.  It’s called Disaster in Place and will be more than just a tool to raise “alert” response numbers (those availability responses I monitor when I send out events, tests, etc.)  For example, for the month of May, I have scheduled to send out alerts to all three of my units on Tuesday during standard business hours on an Active Shooter scenario.  However, the scenario won’t be mine to write.

It will begin with the explanation of Disaster in Place, the purpose and the instructions on how to successfully complete it.  (For those of you that may want to replicate this idea, what I’m more or less using is below.)  But I won’t leave my friends without some educational resources as well!  Months ago, after the Aurora, CO shooting, I encouraged my members to take FEMA’s IS 907 Active Shooter: What You Can Do and we had some interest.  But talking yourself through your own active shooting plan, right where you are at that very moment?  That may encourage a little more planning indeed.  I will also include a link previously shared on some of our Facebook sites, Houston’s popular RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. video on YouTube is a very clear, useful way to consider your choices in an active shooting incident.

The purpose is to leave our members feeling ready (and maybe even the people around them, if word spreads!).  Not to live in fear, but to live in preparedness.  To create strong, powerful communities where everyone is a part of my job and that’s what makes it successful.  Disaster in Place will have several elements I think are critical for success – giving our communities something they can think, something they can see, and something they can do.

Next month, we’ll give severe weather a shot one evening or on the weekend!  And once that catches on, I think letting people choose the time/place of that days drill will be appropriate and even more engaging.  Stay tuned and I’ll update how it goes, and if you decide to participate, please comment, or shoot me an email and let’s share some great ideas.

Tanya

Want to implement Disaster in Place in your organization?  Here’s a snapshot of what’s cooking in my MRC’s:

Purpose:  To engage non-emergency management related personnel at least once a month in their normal environments in order to increase awareness, personal preparedness and readiness.  (MRC specific purpose: to also increase our alert response and stay actively connected to our members.)

Introduction:  Our introduction looks a little something like this…

Good afternoon team,

This month we will begin our Disaster in Place series, designed to increase awareness, preparedness and response no matter what your environment today may be!  Please take five minutes to participate in the exercise, and respond to this alert with a “yes” or “no” that you have done so.  Please respond either way so we may track our alert response rate, even if you are not able to participate.

This month’s scenario is an Active Shooter event.  Please take two minutes to review your surroundings where you are right now.  What are your exits?  Where are your hiding spaces?  What resources, such as phones, windows, and other people are around you?  Now take three minutes and decide, what would you do if an active shooter were to advance towards your area?

For tips on what you can do in an event like this, please review the following 5:22 video: Run. Hide. Fight.

For additional FEMA training, please advance to the following course at your leisure and forward your certificate to your coordinator, if you choose to participate.

Thank you for all that you do!

Goal:  To require as little time as possible in order to encourage participation – professionals are busy!  But in the end, you make time for what you care about, and I believe our members will do just that.  We’re asking for a five minute interlude in their day, we’re offering several more minutes of optional training, with an unlimited potential community value.

I didn’t know social media did all THAT

What. A. Week.  Seriously! I’m calling a time out for this week! Maybe even this month.  In true “when it rains, it pours” fashion, this last week has taken my battered brain on an intense ride.

I can’t focus on all of these events at once so I’m going to do like these disasters do.  Start local and submerse myself within the realm of social media and its impact on the local response and responder.  We’ll start with last Friday.  On April 12, 2013, a local college experienced an incident in which two women received non-fatal gunshot wounds.  Allow me, if you will, to take you on a little tour of these events.

At 1:52 p.m., the alleged gunman posted a picture of the entrance to the school, which is a satellite wing located in the local mall (another focal point of mine in disaster) to an online forum used by students.  At 1:55, dispatch received a call of shots fired within the building and police raced to respond, and 17 minutes later the local newspaper made its first Tweet about the event.

Within eight minutes of that, I had joined many other Tweeters in retweeing this information.  This continued until they conducted their first press conference, which was held at an astonishing time of 3:00 p.m.  It was also live tweeted by the local news.  The first interviews were done within this time frame and shared across Facebook and Twitter, just as the first photos were taken by a personal cell phone and shared in the same manner.

From threat to action to press conference and beyond, social media made the awareness of this event lightening fast.  Generally speaking, the race to gather information and put it out as quickly as possible has led the public to demand answers just as immediately.  Social media has not only supported the expectations for this, but it has changed the role the public has in disaster as well.

Suddenly, everyone is a reporter.  Everyone is a photographer.  Everyone is an investigator, surreptitiously accessing information because they can.  And they have an unlimited audience.  Though this blog is about the impact of social media on a local scale, I’d be remiss in failing to address the fact that authorities have actually started relying on these facts, specifically referencing the call for copies of personal photos and videos by the amateur reporter public.

Social media has become a conduit in which threats are made, and its users automatically become affiliated with some part of the response the moment they see or hear and report this information.  It’s become a crisis counseling or critical incident debriefing method as users are consistently able to share their experiences, fears, and concerns in ways they may otherwise never admit talking to you or I face to face.

Point being?  Social media is already integrating our communities into our response whether they like it or not.  Whether we like it or not.  If we’re not integrating that into our response, we’re refusing to engage the public in a way many of them can process, connect with, identify with or understand.  Social media plans need to be in the planning, the response AND the recovery.  Otherwise, our community is going to force us there and we won’t be ready to use their valuable information, or take advantage of opportunities to support community resiliency.

Even on the most basic, local scale, social media served a multitude of roles.  I know I’m not afraid to use these tools to meet my team members and my community where they’re at.  I hope you aren’t either.

That’s…A Bad Plan

Ever heard someone say, “In a real emergency, plans go out the window!”  I’ve heard it a million times…and I hate it.  If your plan hasn’t been written applicably, that’s…a bad plan. If it hasn’t been exercised with you staff and stakeholders, it’s useless.  If your plan isn’t engrained into your organization to the point of being second nature, you’ve got work left to do.

I’ve heard time and again that, “noone is going to do that,” in an emergency. I used to shrug and think well, that’s true. Who’s going to have time to make this call or commit to that action, in a real emergency? But I finally understand, I have been giving excuses to something that really doesn’t deserve them.

It seems many EM folks have been looking for ways to get around plans for years. Why? Incident Command gives us a clear direction on who does what, when and how.  Yet we fight against this, and all plans, constantly.  Allow me to elaborate.

Some time ago I participated in a discussion about triage. Folks were discussing ways to triage and track patients and instead of thinking of consistent, reliable plans, they decided on behalf of “triagers” that they were unchangeable, unwilling or incapable.  It became impossible to make a plan because instead of considering what was needed, we left with a nice idea and an “understanding” we’d never actually do it.

Another example: in a discussion about sharing information, everyone bypassed the Liaison Officer concept and the usage of a Public Information Officer, opting to contact whomever was in their address book because “you can’t rely on this agency to contact that agency to let them know what’s going on.”

Please understand, I am thoroughly impressed at the robust network many have established, but, if that person gets hit by a bus before a disaster, I need to know I’m going to know what I need to know. I need to trust that a specific role has a function, understands it and completes it. Networking is invaluable, but I can’t create a plan out of anyone’s personal network, because I can’t create a plan only one person can follow.

So…why write impossible things we only plan to bypass?  I submit to you that any plan that causes you to make up your own on the spot or leaves you lacking any faith in it, is….a bad plan.  Train your staff or change your plan, either way it needs to work.


And now boys and girls, a story!

Have you ever been to the fast food chain Wendy’s and noticed the square hamburger pattys and wondered why? The founder of Wendy’s, Dave Thomas, built his company on the motto that, “We don’t cut corners on quality.” He left the hamburger corners there as a reminder to his staff and to his consumers that this was their underlying value. True story!

Friends, colleagues, it’s time we stop cutting corners too. Let’s make the corners work, let’s get efficient, let’s get applicable, and let’s leave those corners there for our staff and our consumers to be reminded we’re here to give our best everyday.

Let’s stop writing plans we don’t even believe we’ll use, because if we don’t believe what we’re saying, it is highly improbable anyone else will either.