Alliances were made. Everyone was going to stick together to the plan that was established. Then at the moment of truth during tribal counsel, the alliance votes out a member that never saw it coming and who thought that they were safe. Shocked, hurt, angry, or all of the above; that person walks off the set, not knowing where that came from.
That was a”blindside”.
And it should never happen in emergency management.
Emergency management is always and forever going to be a team approach. From planning, to response, to recovery and back around again, emergency management must work effectively with other agencies and organizations in order for the entire process to run smoothly and efficiently.
No more so is this seen in the response phase of a disaster. While emergency management is the coordinating agency for response, it is vital that everyone at the EOC or at the proverbial “table” understands what is expected of them and the roles that their agencies play. This is most effectively done by building relationships prior to a disaster response and establishing clear channels of communication, both inside and outside of the ICS structure.
Blindsides can occur in emergency management when an agency is requested to respond in a certain way that it wasn’t previously consulted about, is requested as a resource outside of their scope of practice, or shutout of critical or important meetings. As a result, lack of critical communication or delays in emergent response can happen.
How do we effectively prevent blindsides from happening in the first place?
Establish Clear Expectations
Expectations are a wonderful thing, but only when they are laid out beforehand so that everyone knows what to expect. Whether your jurisdictions is working within a large metropolitan or you are part of a smaller county or business organization, lay out clear expectations of what the end goal and result of the operation is.
If it is a continuous or rolling event that extends over a long period of time, your objectives may be broken down into shifts or periods. Ensure that those working alongside or in coordination with you are available and in a position to support you. Some services may not operate on a 24 hour cycle or have access to resources at all times of the day. If that is the case, make sure that any limitations you have are known to the team and organization. Having a briefing before the day’s operation or during the initial activation of a disaster is HIGHLY recommended as it gives context on what situations are being dealt with and how to go about responding.
Network and Cultivate Relationships
They say networking is everything and in emergency management it is especially true. One of the most valuable things an emergency manager can have in their wheelhouse is not the stuff that they have but the access and reach to their extended network. Knowing who to call and what your resources may have can be invaluable to an organization or community.
Take time to attend outreach events, networking seminars, or interdepartmental meetings and share your contact info. Especially if you are new to an organization, reach out to other departments who will interact with you during a disaster or an emergency. Maintain contact through other means, such as LinkedIn. Your ability to know what is in your community and how to ask for it will be invaluable, not only in your EM career but through your professional development.
In the game of Survivor, if you are voted out of the game past the midway point, you get to come back and be a part of the jury, the judging party who will determine the winner of the game. Those blindsided in the game don’t usually have forgiveness on the mind and thus may or may not vote in favor of the remaining contestants.
The same goes for those working in emergency management. Emergency is a small world and reputation is everything within the industry. Purposefully blindsiding or outcasting agencies or individuals will not bode well for the future, either in career development or professional reputation. If you made a mistake, apologize and learn from the experience. Organizations can get very political when protecting resources and operations, so learn to be diplomatic in your approach (the subject for another blog). And if all else fails…..bring donuts.