The Disaster Disconnect

Emergency and disaster planning is a continuous evaluation of an organization’s readiness and resolve: How it systematically plans and strategizes, how it deploys, and the established and calculated risks that it takes with the resources that it has are endemic to its established mission and culture. If an organization does not learn from its historical successes and failures at incidents or personnel misfortunes, it is not going to develop at a progressive rate. Emergency and disaster management can be synonymous with reputation and crisis management in their contemporary sense as every country around the world is witnessing pop-cultural change and an increase in high-risk/low-frequency incidents and threats to our personal and physical health and wellness. To remain at the ready in our communities and meet our obligations to the citizenry, fire departments must get a handle on internal risk and vulnerability just as much as what comes externally. Without this handle, we suffer from a disaster disconnect.

As we delve into some of the emergency and disaster planning in its holistic sense this month in FireRescue, consider the juxtapositions that can be made in your organization. No fire department that is suffering pains in response or personnel crises is the first one to experience them, so learning from those who’ve been there can help you manage these disasters. Let’s start with our internal risk and vulnerability.

Unethical behavior has many connotations, depending on the type of behavior exhibited. Regardless, if you ask Wilbur Harbin from Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue, he’ll describe two root causes of this behavior: lax supervision and the failure of officers to take action to stop unethical behavior. Although this sounds like an easy fix, managing a fire company, battalion, division, or department’s cultural behavior is not. We’re all mostly friends in our departments, and having to be the boss at crucial times requires textbook supervision to pull it off in the face of our fraternal, cognitive biases; however, without this supervision seeing the light of day when it’s needed, no amount of training will fix an officer who can’t. Ronnie Coleman takes this matter further up the organizational chain to our fire departments’ administrators, who must have the framework of accountability in place. This framework sets due process so that bad behavior does not simply test the validity of fairness and discipline. Rather, it prevents bad behavior from being tolerated, thereby removing its negativity that impedes an organization’s effectiveness on the business side.

Behavioral issues run the gamut from intentional to unintentional, with the latter being the major one, in my opinion. I say this because we see a lot of tragedy in the form of horrific incidents that cause great bodily harm and death, loss of staffing or fire companies because of the economy having its usual way with us, and personal problems that lead to unintentional destructive behavior that finds its way to work with us. Brandon Dreiman from the Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department brings us a great article on why this stress is real and gives us some great recommendations to prevent the loss of our jobs, profession, and internal and external families. Having sound mental health helps us be our fire departments’ heroes and guardians and adds further value to the organization. Jim Crawford gives us another great case-study example from Tucson (AZ), and Matt Tobia looks at the other side of the spectrum with the consequences of overrewarding good deeds and heroics.

Today’s routine structure fires (referencing common building types) have seen a value add in the form of understanding modern fire behavior and correlating it to conventional operations; however, interpreting the science behind it isn’t so simple. David Rhodes continues his discussion on the need for a research guide for dummies on this subject so that it’s all connected when the bells ring. As we look at the rest of our potential emergencies, it’s hard to simplify the high-risk/low-frequency incidents in our communities. Brandon Siebert introduces us to one that we rarely think of, since these events are thoroughly planned and organized long before they even occur.

We always support the public’s help in mitigating potential disaster through our CRR endeavors, especially at special events, but there are exceptions to this rule. Disasters can occur as the result of citizens attempting to manage incidents themselves prior to our arrival with extinguishers, pots and pans, etc. It is incumbent on us to understand that if these items are around, they’re likely going to be used before we get there. CRR and emergency and disaster management, and all their variables, must come into play internally and externally to prevent the disconnect that occurs because of neglect, hubris, and unethical behavior. Striving to learn from others’ misfortunes is always the first step in reconnecting your organization.

Current Issue

April 2017
Volume 12, Issue 4