The Art of Managing Crisis Managers

Way back in the day, if you ever had told me that I was going go into law enforcement and work my way up through the ranks through due diligence and hard work, I would most likely have agreed with you or at least hoped it was true. If you then told me that due to an accident involving a pot hole, a bicycle, a pickup truck, fog, and oral sex I would find a path into a different sort of management role, I would have said you were smoking the wrong brand of cigarette. I could bore you with the details of the incident, but as they say, you had to be there.

Due to this event and a series of events which crested with the Virginia Tech shooting, I find myself being split down the middle with two very different tasks, both related to the safety of my community, but widely divergent from my original job description. There is the mundane everyday important work of making sure training gets done, community policing goals are met, and the myriad tasks of the administrator get signed, sent, folded, answered etc., etc. However, on top of this is the relatively new task (for us, anyway) of trying to prove guidance and management skills to a groups that have no concept of what it means, like our crisis management teams. I would like to think that it might be easier over on the real world side of the Town-Gown equation, and that maybe municipal and state administrators have a better grip of what needs to be done in an emergency. But I suspect their ways to deflect or defuse the issues to avoid losing votes are not a lot better--just different.

One of the most important and difficult roles for us is that of educator. This, of course, is an easy task in an academic community, where everyone is open to new ideas and willing to accept new concepts. Now, if you believe that, I have some retirement property in Atlantis that you might want to look at and buy from me. In truth, I have been somewhat lucky because we have been able to get people to buy into the fact that they do need to get involved in learning about NIMS/ICS and all that icky stuff. It becomes much easier after they realize that most of the ICS stuff was developed by fire services, and not some evil right-wing conspiracy thought up by the Neo-cons. Everybody likes firefighters!

So now that they have learned a little and had their "consciousness raised to the issue" (honest to God, someone said that to me), they are willing to listen about emergency planning and management. Things like threat assessment and emergency operations plans raise their ugly little heads. Questions like, "Why do a threat assessment? Who would want to hurt us?" get brought up. Then, questions about what kind of emergency operations plans we should have and how many committees we should form to discuss what our options are, come to the forefront. If some of these people had been on the planning committee for Christopher Columbus' trip, we would still be waiting for the New World to be discovered. It is at this point I smile, sadly, go to my happy place, and wait for the murmur of the crowd to die down. Little do they know that some of the senior management who really do get it have been actively involved in writing a fairly comprehensive plan, and we will spring on them in the future and say it was their idea. I am getting an education in politics while doing this, by the way.

Our last step is going to become involved with our state emergency management agency and the introduction of the HSEEP program in our area. HSEEP is the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program from the Department of Homeland Security. If you are unfamiliar with this, it gives you a whole new bunch of acronyms that you can throw around and impress people on your quests. Aside from that, it does, in fact offer a very good program through which you train people to design and evaluate training for your agency, so you can test all the training and emergency plans you have worked on. For some reason, this step is the one that seems to cause the most sleepless nights for our crisis management teams. They seem to be haunted by the fact that we actually have to test our carefully crafted plans through hard training. After a lot of conflict, It has finally dawned on me that these people are afraid to fail. Their career paths and way of thinking have caused them to feel that a failure of the plan is a personal failure. We have slowly begun to realize that we need to educate people about why we want the plan to fail in this arena, and not in a real event.

The other concept that is alien to these folks is the need to incorporate outside agencies in our training efforts. Some administrators are afraid to admit we have deficiencies and need help, a throwback to the campus-as-a-stand-alone-island theory I guess, and hopefully not a reflection on working with all those lowly civil servants.

As I said earlier, this process of helping to manage the process of changing the way crisis management teams work has been a real education for us. Life was simpler when all we worried about was calls and coffee. Efforts like this take a real change in mindset from both sides of the table. It is needed for a lot of reasons, but most importantly because we can no longer afford to sit back and wait for events to unfold before we elicit a response. The ultimate reason, and by far the most important one, is that somewhere out there, someone is already planning, training, and exercising their options on how to beat the record set at Virginia Tech. We had better be ready, because the clock didn't stop ticking on April 16, 2007. It just got a new alarm time, set by the next perpetrator.