This page was last updated on Monday, 02 September, 2013.

Emergency Management

Spencer, T. B.

Rev. Timothy B. Spencer

When Emergency Managers can't wake up from a nightmare...

The antipathy of the vast majority of the American people toward their federal government is palpable; the distrust of all American politicians and government officials is so evident that only the most unperceptive among us could possibly miss it. Though the vernacular of the “talking heads” ably skirt the subject of insurrection with the deftness of a pick-pocket, we can all interpret for ourselves the true meaning of many commentaries voiced on the net, cable television and talk radio – the people are fed-up and pissed off; the message: politicians and officials beware!

Three Important Questions

As Emergency Mangers, we are forced to ask ourselves the “what if” questions now, in order to be even remotely prepared for the situations that are quite evidently going to present in the near future. Unless the sociopolitical climate drastically and rapidly changes, the relatively certain problems of supply shortages, civil disobedience, riots, looting and burning immediately come to mind; however, we also need to look at the safety of our own staff and the perceptions that the general public will have towards us. Some of the hard questions that must be asked now are:

  1. What is my department's/office's policy, if there is one, in regard to whom services are rendered in a civil uprising; in essence, do we serve one side or the other, both, or none?

  2. How are we viewed by the general public – are we viewed to serve government or as an intricate part of the community support structure?

  3. Whom do we actually perceive ourselves to serve – the government or the community?

The most obvious, reasonable and logical answer to the first question is either all or none. Therefore the situation on the ground must dictate which of the two choices to act upon. Though it would be laudable and morale to choose to assist and serve everyone regardless of which end of the political spectrum they fall within, the truth is that no matter whom you assist (or do not assist), you will be creating an enemy somewhere and thus become someone's target. Wholly dependent upon the geo-political situation in which you find yourself, you may wish to “wait until the dust settles” and then be available to assist the survivors and “help bury the dead”. Conversely, you may find yourself in a situation where it would be most prudent to help where you can, to help who you can and when you can.

The second question is often answered by simply looking at your organizational structure. Does the community associate you with fire and EMS? Or, does the community associate you with law enforcement, code enforcement or some other less than popular division of government? Even in a revolutionary environment, experience and history have taught us that fire and EMS are most often looked upon as apolitical, while enforcement authorities are looked as the “enemy”. In a tense and potentially hostile environment it is, of course, much better to been seen as an asset to both sides.

Your answer to the third question will ultimately determine many of your future actions. The conclusions are obvious and therefore will be left unstated.

Advance Warning?

This is it. You certainly don't have to use a crystal ball to see what is coming – the logical progression of today's headlines only lead in one direction. The American people and the federal government are in vivid diametric opposition due to the latter's perceived rush toward quasi-socialism. Unless the administration backs down and rapidly becomes more centrist in it's policies, actions and stated goals the results are most unfortunately all but predetermined. Hawks from both within the government and from the ranks of opposition groups appear to be only waiting for an excuse to act – it seems as though patience is in short supply on both sides.

Obviously, things could “break” at anytime; however, it is our bet that something like food shortages, the very rapid devaluation of the dollar, forced H1N1 vaccinations, restrictive firearms regulation or firearms confiscation are all potential triggers. It is also not at all unreasonable to expect that even a rumor of an action or planned action on the part of the federal government or a state government that in some way is perceived to infringe on the freedoms of the American people could also be the trigger in the onset of civil unrest.

Situational Awareness and Passive Intelligence Collection

As the saying goes “forewarned is forearmed”; this is unarguably one of the truest sayings ever embedded in the human physique. Simply put, to the emergency manager this means the taking of the time necessary to keep abreast of the ever changing current social and political landscape. Some of the ways that technology has made this task much easier (at least for the writer of this article) are:

  • RSS Feeds

  • Web Capable Mobile Devices

  • E-mail, SMS (text), Voice Mail, etc.

Recent experience has taught us that network news is wholly unreliable as an information resource – this is evidenced by the 12 September “Tea Party” demonstration in Washington, D.C.; reportedly with 60,000 up to 100,000+ people in attendance and no major network media outlet even acknowledged that the demonstration occurred. The cable news channels Fox and CNN did however cover the event, though CNN to a much lesser extent from what the writer observed.

The value of local intelligence can not be overstated. If you are located within and/or responsible for a large metropolitan area the collection and correlation of intelligence is absolutely essential; particularly recent and timely intelligence. Therefore, the close networking with local law enforcement and community leaders is essential. This does not mean that you always have to ask specific questions, just that one needs to pay particular attention both to what is said and what actions are observed.

Section Conclusion

Though there are no guarantees as to what will happen, nor when “it” will happen; we can only speculate on a logical progression of events and refer to the lessons of history in such situations. In Part Two of this series we will discuss what is likely to happen and in what order based on the best analysis available and lessons taught by history.

The Nemesis of Emergency Management: Apathy & Denial

Though history has thought us repeatedly and continuously that bad things always eventually happen, as a whole, political policy makers and the general public are in a continuous state of denial evidenced by an apathetic view of planning, mitigation and education efforts.  This is not a new problem nor is it a problem with a "one size fits all fix".  The approach that I have learned that works the for me is outlined below, but keep in mind that every governmental body is different:

Discover what your employers hold nearest and dearest, whether it be continuity of government, preservation of assets, the maintenance of jurisdictional authority, etc.  Upon deciding what the objectives and desires of your employer/elected officials are, tailor your mitigation program to meet those desires.

  Gently persuade your employer/elected officials to become involved in and become a part of your program.  Ask for advice that you can prudently work into your plans.  Be prepared to explain why some things that are suggested can't work - if resistance is met, ask the suggester how he or she envisions the implementation of their suggestion; this will usually end any disagreement - also, you, as an emergency management professional, might learn something new.  The key is to calmly insist upon cooperation and to make any mitigation or action plan development a "joint effort".

In the development of any disaster plan, mitigation program or whatever the task of the day may be, address and integrate your employer's/elected official's primary concerns within your planning.  Thereby, you can receive the necessary funding and still be allowed to incorporate those items that you know must be included for the welfare and safety of the population and the preservation of key infrastructures and assets.

Remember that you must continue to foster this cooperative relationship that you have created.  There is always the next budget to campaign for.  Use small events such a damaging thunderstorms to test your plans; when deficiencies are found, adjust your plans accordingly as soon as the crisis passes.  If the deficiencies are found to be in equipment, push for replacement or upgrade as soon as is possible after an event while that event is still fresh in everyone's mind.  If there is a deficiency in operating procedures and reaction plans - fix it immediately.  If you or a subordinate make a significant mistake, admit to it, own up to it and be prepared to immediately offer a corrective/remedial solution to the cause of said mistake.

With the above points all stated, remember that not all situations are the same.  Be prepared for outright hostility against your department by newly elected officials with an ax to grind on the subject of fiscal responsibility - money being spent on what "might happen" is always a good target for budget line item removal... 

Utilizing networking, professional friendships, public support and the media in a reasonable, non-strong arm manner will usually get the desired results.  If it sounds like it is allot of work, that's because it is.  However, remember why you got into the field to start with; your job is to solve everything, with nothing, to do it blindfolded in a rapid and precise manner and do it on the first try...℠ (Right-side navigation page SSI insertion)