Educating the Senior Leadership Herd

You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd


Well, one of my personal worse case scenarios has finally come true. Last year I became a Critical Scene Incident Management instructor. I had been happily romping around the country around training chiefs and command staffs the ins and outs of NIMS and ICS. The best part was running the tabletops and other exercises where we got to use the training. I can say that every time I did one, I learned a little more about how to deal with a variety of issues in some very innovative ways. As with many of these endeavors. someone always gets the bright idea that we can take this a step further and make it better. And so, it came to pass that in these weeks before Easter I became the official designee to enlighten senior staff and executive officials in the NGO (Non-Government Organization) area as to what the theories of critical scene management are and how they should apply to our community. So far, I have had stomach viruses that I liked better than doing this activity.

It all seems so simple. First, we explain that any emergency operation plan consists of four steps: mitigation, planning, preparation, and exercises. This concept goes down fairly easy. The words are all two-syllable, so everybody likes hearing them. We then move into what they need to know to deal with critical incidents, such as common issues and characteristics of critical incidents, controllable factors, all hazards approach, and all the buzzwords that we all take for granted. It is around this time that I start to see the first signs of distress from the herd. The dawn starts to show above the horizon and they realize that maybe this is not going to be as easy as it looks. The concept that decision-making must be driven down to the lower levels and that consultation and consensus building are not good methods of dealing with crisis is making stomachs churn.

After we manage to get through that phase, with much discussion we move into the area of emergency operations planning and emergency plans. The herd starts to settle down; we are moving back into their comfort zone. Every thing has a plan and all the pieces will be in place to deal with the issues that may arise. Relief is plausible in the herd. However all the dreams of professional documents in binders are shattered as the need for threat and vulnerability assessments to make the planning for these documents is effective raise their ugly heads. The idea that you need to discover what possible ugliness might arise so that you can deal with it effectively is a paradigm that is just wrong. The concept of "it won't happen here," and "why would anyone want to hurt us here?" is so deeply ingrained in the herd that it is difficult to bridge the gap that arises. Bad things just don't happen in our world. After citing various examples and reminding them that we can stop 99 out of 100 events, and still be hurt and made to look inept by the one that gets by us, is making stomachs are starting to churn again. At this point, the herd's feelings are again mollified by the explanation that doing this planning and training now will pay huge dividends when an emergency does occur. So as acceptance of the fact that doing this type of training and planning will pay off in case of an emergency settles in, people begin to work diligently on their piece of the plan.

The next shock, however, is waiting just around the corner, and we spring it on them unmercifully, maybe as revenge for all the seemingly off-the-wall questions we are getting. We must exercise these plans and test them. The undercurrent that arises is somewhat ugly in nature. It seems to stem from a couple of directions, like the fact that questioning whether the fact that there are plans is an insult to their abilities, and secondly, the fear that they will fail and look foolish. It is at this point that it is explained gently that the reasons are not to make the plans fail or make them look bad, but to identify gaps and issues in the plans that we didn't see or realize when we conceived them. Once the herd realizes this, an uneasy sense of acceptance falls into place.

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