At what point are we FEAR-MONGERING?

By now we’ve all read or at least heard of the piece in The New Yorker about the impending doom that shall be wrought by the Cascadia subduction zone.  It brings about some interesting thoughts.  Certainly the foundational premise of the article is based in some measure of science.  There IS a Cascadia subduction zone and a major quake here COULD certainly be devastating.  This article has sparked a few pieces by others which took their bit of sensationalism to a much higher level.  Keep in mind, however, that sensationalism sells.

The situation begs some questions of our own profession, though.  Where is that line for emergency management and homeland security?  Of course we endeavor to be factual, but we also want to be convincing and COMPELLING.  We want people to take action.  How far do we have to go to get our point across that there are hazards which people need to prepare for?  How far do we have to go to describe the situations which people need to prepare for?  At what point are we SENSATIONALIZING?  At what point are we FEAR-MONGERING?  What kind of moral obligation do we have?

This post and these questions were actually inspired by this morning’s blog post from author Chuck Wendig titled “Fear is Fucking Us All Up”.  Mr. Wendig’s blog is raw, humorous, and insightful on a variety of topics.  I highly recommend giving it a look.  Reader beware – Chuck Wendig uses more than a bit of profanity (in case you couldn’t tell from the title of his post).  If you are offended, don’t read it!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker



Most Disasters are NOT Extraordinary Occurrences – OR Crowdsourcing Volunteers

I listen to A LOT of podcasts.  While some are focused on emergency management and homeland security, most are pop culture related and have nothing at all to do with EM/HS.  At least not directly.

Listening to a recent podcast, it struck me how often the hosts mention disaster-related occurrences.  During this podcast there were several mentions of disaster related issues including the Louisiana theater shooting (which was breaking news while they were recording) and the Tom Selleck legal drama in California over stolen water (which ultimately relates back to their drought issues).  The same podcasters (one of which is in New England, the other in the National Capital Region) often comment through the year on weather-related incidents which impact them and others including winter storms, flooding, and warmer weather storm damages.

The point is that most disasters are not extraordinary occurrences.  Routine incidents aside, some measure of disaster occurs fairy regularly, certainly around the world and even just within any of our nations.  Turn on the news tonight and see for yourself.  So WHY, I ask, is there such a mentality with the general public (and maybe even with us public safety types) about disasters being out of the ordinary occurrences?  Sure they don’t happen within our own jurisdiction every day, but they happen somewhere EVERY DAY.  I’m not saying we have to be paranoid about it, but I see the COMPLACENCY getting WORSE.  We discuss preparedness often, and the aspect of getting the public better engaged in preparedness almost as much, yet we have yet to see real, meaningful success in this.

We’ve recently seen a bit of a paradigm shift in how we deal with climate change (insert groaning sound here).  For many years we tried to prevent it, as if we could.  The reality is that part of it is influenced by the actions of humanity and part of it by the natural cycle of our planet.  There are things we simply shouldn’t be doing and we still need to work on those, but we have also come to grips with the inevitability of the impacts.  We have realized that they will happen no matter what we do and we have decided that we need to ADAPT in order to survive.

Adaptation is an important realization for us (I’m now speaking in generality – not just climate change issues).  If there are things that we pound our heads against the wall over in futility, such as public engagement, maybe we are doing it all wrong?  I’m not saying that we stop trying to engage the public.  There are certainly successes we have seen, but I don’t think we are seeing the return on investment we should be.

Let’s look at society today.  People seem to have less time ability interest in volunteering or committing to efforts ahead of time.  We have to understand and acknowledge that first and foremost.  Have we turned into soulless uncaring creatures?  No, of course not.  We have just seen a shift in culture.  Trying to fight this culture is foolish.  Instead, we need to adapt.  How do we adapt?

Social media is the greatest embodiment of our need for instantaneous information and feedback.  It doesn’t take much preparation (download some apps, create accounts, find friends).  The vast majority of the information that rolls across the screen is crap, but every once in a while there is a worthwhile nugget that will garner some responses.  Sometimes (usually disasters or a new statement by Donald Trump) information that comes across garners a great deal of attention and people want to take action.  Do they know how to take meaningful action?  Often not.  But they will follow along with the good ideas of others.  (aka leaders).

Let’s broaden this concept within public engagement.  What this essentially comes down to is managing spontaneous volunteers – a concept we have seen much need for in EM for years.  I think we need to emphasize this more than ever.  We also need to update the way we think about it.  These spontaneous volunteers will not only show up at town hall, the fire house, local diner, or house of worship; they will show up online via Twitter and Facebook.  They will be locals, they will be from out of state, across the country, or across the planet.   ALL of them can be engaged.  Let’s crowdsource volunteers in emergency management.  We just need to identify how to engage them.  Identify gaps and figure out how these good natured people can fill those gaps with little no upfront investment of time or effort on their part.  Build plans that address spontaneous volunteer engagement – both in the physical aspect as well as virtual.  Train to these plans and test these plans.  Let’s stop struggling against old ways of thinking.  Improvise, adapt, and overcome.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

I do want to take a moment to thank my followers and readers – something I don’t do enough of.  Your support and comments are greatly appreciated.  Also, if you like my blog, spread the word.  Please feel free to forward/repost/retweet to friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers.

©2015 – Timothy Riecker



We need to talk MORE about Emergency Management

My company is currently finishing a contract which involved almost two dozen site visits to local government entities (cities and towns) to meet with local officials (emergency management, police, fire, EMS, schools, elected officials, public works/highway, etc.) to discuss certain emergency management and homeland security needs they may have.  The topics we needed to address were set in conjunction with our client and the meeting times were capped at 4 hours.  Based on the discussion generated by those we met with, discussions took anywhere between an hour and a half to all four hours.  At the end of most of these meetings, many people who we met with thanked us for bringing them the opportunity to discuss emergency management with such depth.

At first I was a bit puzzled about this gratitude… the meeting was intended for us to gather information from them, so it was us who thanked them for their time and input.  Why would they thank us?  They could talk about this stuff any time they wanted to, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, NO.

Looking back at the project in retrospect we saw the value in the opportunity we provided these local stakeholders.  Absent a recent disaster or a specific issue of concern, it’s a rare occasion that local leadership takes the time to convene and discuss emergency management and homeland security matters.  We, rather serendipitously, provided them with an opportunity to do talk about many facets of EM/HS, to share thoughts and ideas, and to identify needs.

In many local government meetings (town/village/city council, selectboard, etc.) the topic of emergency management (or anything related to it) is generally not on the agenda.  Some may have a formal briefing by department heads, which would include the fire department or police department (if they have one), but these are usually fairly general statements.  Because of the depth of discussion that can take place, I don’t even think that these monthly governance meetings are the right venue for most discussion.  I would suggest that jurisdictions have a separate meeting, at least quarterly, to discuss emergency management in depth, with all department heads, elected officials, and others present and participating.  Preparedness should be discussed across the spectrum of all mission areas.

Many of the jurisdictions we met with had seen tropical storm impacts within the last few years – and that was the last time, for many of them, that the impacts and lessons learned were discussed.  What of their corrective actions?  Aside from a few largely individual efforts, little progress had been made.  Stakeholders self identified this gap, some commenting directly about the necessity to meet more often.  Many brought up gaps that were identified after the tropical storm, or even more recently, which were never addressed.

Along with the success of our intended project, we hope that at least some of those jurisdictions were able to get energized and organized to revisit some of those past concerns and move forward to make some progress with preparedness and mitigation efforts.

What do you do in your jurisdiction to prompt more discussion about EM/HS?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


The Need for More Scenario-Based Learning

Think back through all the courses you’ve taken.  It’s a lot – I know.  What ones stand out the most?  I’m willing to be they are the ones that were the most engaging.  Not only did you enjoy them, but you learned a lot from them and still remember quite a bit of it.

It’s no secret that training adults can be challenging.  Training professionals in emergency services is certainly no different.  The challenges are even greater as the number of required training courses continually increase, requiring more and more ass-in-chair time every year for responders and other professions.  A great deal of training programs we see out there still seem to be holding out for the sake of traditional delivery styles, much to the detriment of our learners.  Why?  Designing traditional lecture-based learning is easy to do!  Figure out what people need to learn, develop content, slap together some PowerPoint, and voila!  Hell, even I’m guilty.

The fact of the matter is that we all know this is wrong.  Yes, it’s easy to do on our end, but the value and impact of the learning is pretty low.  People don’t want to be lectured to for hours on end.  We know that learning is most effective when we mix things up and when we increase interaction.  One of the best ways of engaging learners effectively is through scenario-based learning.

Now I’m not just talking about using a scenario at the end of the course to see if people can apply what they’ve learned over the past two days.  Yes, scenarios can be used as a test of sorts, but they are most effective for actual learning.  So when should you use scenarios?  Why not start the course with one?  It immediately gets people thinking, which is a good thing especially with an 8 am start time to the course.   If you use a lot of scenarios in a course, can they all be related?  Sure.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It all depends on what the purpose of the scenario is.  In training responders, threading a common scenario through a course is usually helpful.  Scenarios can get complicated when we need to establish a common understanding of what is going on, where it is, what resources are available, etc.  As such, it helps to use the same foundational scenario throughout the course (or at least regularly revisit it), and continue to introduce new problems or a different focus based upon the path of the training.  Using a common foundational scenario saves time so you don’t have to start anew introducing all new information each time and it keeps learners comfortable.  That said, it may occasionally be valuable to change things up a bit.

Do you need to use HSEEP to develop course scenarios?  No.  While these aren’t exercises in the strictest sense, we can benefit considerably from many of the principles and concepts of HSEEP.  Develop what you need to give learners the information they need to participate and the information you and/or other instructors need to properly facilitate and evaluate.

Adult learners like to be challenged.  Lecturing them for hours on end will only challenge their ability to not fall asleep – which may only be accomplished by their challenge for a new high score on the new app they just put on their phone.  The best way to challenge adult learners is to give them problems to solve.  A well written scenario will help introduce these problems in a framework which is both familiar and challenging to them.  Depending on how the scenario is provided, such as a compelling background story or use of video, learners will establish an emotional connection to the scenario which prompts a visceral desire to solve these problems.  Even one scenario is powerful and can prompt a lot of interaction.  It can prompt individual responses to questions, group discussions, and group collaborations.

Finally, don’t forget to evaluate both your learners and the scenario itself.  At the conclusion of each scenario conduct a hotwash and feedback session with learners to discuss what they accomplished and possible areas for improvement.  Also be sure to gain feedback from them and other instructors on how well the scenario worked and what can be improved upon.

Just like any other aspect of instructional design, the integration of scenarios can be time consuming but it’s an investment that will pay off.  To capitalize on the value of your scenarios, make sure the activities and expected outcomes of each scenario are associated with the learning objectives of the course and engage learners to the proper degree (i.e. the proper level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).  Yes, scenarios also take a fair amount of class time to execute.  That time needs to be well accounted for in your instructional design and course planning.  However, if properly designed, learners can learn just as much content if not more through interactive scenarios as compared to lecture-based training.

What types of scenarios have you integrated into courses?  How did learners respond to them?  How can we do a better job of integrating more scenario-based learning into our courses?

Need help designing scenario-based learning?  Let EPS help!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


Cybersecurity, Encryption, and Backdoors… the debate rages on

If you aren’t up on the debate regarding data encryption, you should be.  It’s an interesting debate with strong positions on either side.

Eric Geller with The Daily Dot authored an interesting article last week on the subject.  It’s quite in depth and lengthy, but worth the time to read.

What are your thoughts on encryption?

– TR