I just finished reading an article by Lucien Canton, CEM – who is a well-respected and often published emergency management professional. He maintains a blog, which he posts to often, and provides great insight to various EM-related topics. The article that struck my interest was ‘Paper Plans and Fantasy Documents’. Canton poses the question as a subtitle to his article – ‘Are we over-thinking planning?’. In all actuality, based on his article and my own experiences, no – in fact we’re under-thinking it by maintaining a cookie cutter approach across the entire nation.
Canton’s commentary is similar to the thoughts I had in an earlier post on the (mis)use of templates in emergency planning. Standards are good to have in every industry, certainly in emergency management and homeland security. There are folks who become true experts through a great deal of experience, research, and trial and error. The best ones share their expertise with the rest of the world in the hopes that we can all benefit. Eventually, these standards become embraced by ‘standard setters’ – those in government or regulatory bodies who can pass laws, regulations, or codes to compel others to adhere to these standards. This is all absolutely necessary – but, as Canton mentions, these standards become the basis for how people plan.
Just like I often write in my training-related posts, it’s all about the audience. Our planning priority must be to meet the needs of the jurisdiction/company/organization who will be using the plan. The plan must have utility – i.e. it must be usable. Just because a plan meets established standards, does not mean that it can be operationalized. Obviously our plans must still meet standards, but that really is a secondary concern to usability. I think we are missing the forest for the trees and need to seriously re-think how we plan.