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What an EM Needs to Know During Ebola

Ebola.  Are you tired of hearing about it yet?  Not that it isn’t a notable virus that deserves our attention and our preparations, but as emergency managers, our job right now is not to eliminate the threat.  Our job right now has very little to do with the actual virus itself.  Allow me to make a case for you.

Case File

This blog just got serious…

Ebola is a virus that is spread through contact of the bodily fluids of an infected person.  It’s not in the air and to get it, you’d have to have a direct exposure that allowed for entry into your own body.  Once you’ve got it, yeah, that’s a problem.  But in many places, especially the US, actually catching the disease?  That is not going to be easy.

Lots of viruses are spread this way and our hospital systems are not only prepared, trained and ready for what’s already here, they’re prepared for what’s coming.  Personal protective equipment exists to build a barrier between our healthcare workers and those who require their services.  Processes and procedures have been in place to handle the worst of the worst for years on years.  So, why then all the fuss, and what are emergency managers actually supposed to be doing with this?

We already know that people fear what they don’t know, and that there are so many unanswered questions about the disease itself is the worst kind of unknown.  Where does it originate?  Can it mutate?  Why isn’t there a cure?  I get it – I find these questions intriguing myself!

Right now, however, our job isn’t to answer these questions.  Our job lies in the public panic.  I would estimate that is roughly 85% of our responsibility since the beginning of disease spread.  Of course there is training, drills, exercises and inter-agency communication to be done, but the major focus simply must be on communicating clearly with the public.  Most essentially on a local level.  Why?  Because the public has a disconnect in personal trust on a federal level.

And why shouldn’t they?  They don’t “know” federal departments.  Federal agencies aren’t first responders, and they’re more often than not separated from the local message and response.  They have a huge task before them (i.e answering those questions above that we aren’t challenged to solve), but they won’t be able to truly touch public panic and public perception.

publictrust

As emergency managers, it isn’t our job to answer the questions of the specialty agencies we support.  What we need to focus on is developing a consistent, calming, accurate message from our partner agencies to our community members, because their perceptions and their unnecessary panic is the emergency right now.

Those plans you’ve worked so diligently on?  People need to know they exist.  Those exercises you participate in?  People need to know that they happened.  We can’t answer the questions that make people so afraid, but we can keep fear from turning into panic by showing all of the ways we have always been prepared and we will continue to be prepared.  Our community members need to hear from us that we have a plan, that they can trust we know what we’re doing.  And we need to be trusted enough to explain how these scary things work, and what we’ll do about it.

It won’t be enough to go out and tell everyone they have nothing to worry about.  Let’s face it, that message ain’t gonna cut it!  It’s okay to allow our community members to feel something.  But when was the last time a scare tactic changed anything about anyone’s actual preparedness status?  Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to think about it…

Scare tactics don’t work.  We need to communicate all of this, take away the element of panic, and turn relevant concern into beneficial action.

Explaining what we do, having a consistent presence, facilitating that message and then showing people that just as we have prepared ourselves for the worst of the worst, so too can they prepare, is where the success is.  Our plans don’t fall to the wayside because they’re flexible enough to fit the different disasters we face.  Our plans, kits and equipment are adaptable.  Anyone’s can be, if they know where to start.

Here’s the catch…it really only works if your community has faith in your message.

Do you exist outside of the walls of your office?  Does your agency know you, does your community know you?  Are you equipped to lead the message our public needs to hear, or will you be out of touch?  And, for those of you who dread the role of the public information officer, that doesn’t mean being the man or woman on camera.  That means being a part of the development of the message and being a trusted source people can turn to in order to successfully receive it.

What have you done to create a trustworthy atmosphere in your community in advance of times like these where our success relies so heavily on our ability to share critical information?  Are you prepared for what happens if the community doesn’t hear us and panic does ensue?

Right now is the right time to get ahead of your message, and if you already are, it’s a great time to tell someone else how you’re nailing it.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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Time to Get Engaged

If you’ve read my previous post, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about how I am going to engage my non-emergency minded colleagues and volunteers.  I’m always thinking about that because I know that if I can get everyone involved, resiliency skyrockets!

 

Engage!  Colleagues, that is.

This past week, I participated in facilitating a disaster behavioral health seminar and something occurred to me…they totally nailed the engagement concept!

It seems we spend a lot of time encouraging folks to take Incident Command System (ICS) courses, learn our FEMA ways, and give our jargon a special place in their hearts.  Now, I absolutely believe this is a necessity for responding to disaster.  Especially when we’re asking folks to become acclimated to a field they know nothing of and connect with on a basis of once to never.  It might seem foreign, but ICS is where it all starts!

There’s just one thing we forget to do sometimes.  To teach people where they fit in, why they fit there, and how to fulfill their specific role.

Does this go here?

At the seminar last week, they didn’t get lost in the weeds of leadership.  And what I mean is this – ICS tells us how to lead, what the overarching structure is and a broad overview of the ins and outs of organizing emergency response.  We have to know this, but we need to know more.  We need each block of that organizational chart to function independently and completely to make each branch, section and dotted line as efficient as possible.

Our speakers and our participants acknowledged the inner workings of ICS, but then did something wonderful with the information.  They recognized where they fall in the system and how they can fulfill the role they’d be given.  They focused on how to be consistent, work together, and make their branch of incident response as efficient, effective and generally as rad as possible.  Yeah, I said it.

It’s safe to say that most of our colleagues and volunteer members won’t have to lead during an emergency, so we have to meet people where they’re at when it comes to emergency information.

If I don’t make ICS applicable, if I don’t go that one step further and say, “You are here, and this is how you make your role successful so that others may be successful,” I am failing those I am asking to serve, and I’m failing those they will support.  And I really, really hate to fail.

You know how I feel, Twitter fail whale.

Not bringing the information to where people are at and giving them a reason to care and a way to be successful leaves us talking to an empty room.  And I don’t think that’s just in emergency management.

Tanya

For more information:

If you haven’t completed and Incident Command Systems courses, visit FEMA’s Independent Study website, and start with ICS 100 (b, most likely, but there are equivalents tailored to certain types of organizations).  Then give IS 700.a a go for an introduction to the National Incident Management System.  These are the basics to get you started!  If you love that, explore what other ICS courses FEMA has to offer, and in the meantime, locate your agency or local emergency manager and find out what your role might be and how to get ready for it.

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.