The Value of a Plan

Lately I’ve seen things circulating yet again which reflect on the old adage, one I’ve even used myself, that ‘plans are worthless, but planning is everything’. I believe this original quote is credited to Dwight D. Eisenhower, though the quote has been paraphrased and altered through the years. A point being made by this quote is that there is great value in the process of planning. The coordination between parties. The effort put into considering strategies and analyzing variables. Meeting people at the planning table for the first time instead of the heat of battle (or a response). And that such activity can have greater value than the documented outcome.

In recognition of these points, and with all due respect to Ike, I’ve grown tired of this quote and all derivations thereof. Why? Because plans are NOT worthless.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, plans CAN be worthless. I’ve seen plenty that fit this definition. But to lay a blanket over all plans, I think is an overgeneralization. In fact, it’s rather insulting to the time and effort put forth by the planning team and the plan writers and an insinuation of a waste of funds which may have been spent to support the process. If your plan is really that worthless, this is likely to be a reflection of a terribly executed planning process – which then really negates the spirt of the quote in the first place.

Yes, there is great value in the planning process WHEN DONE PROPERLY. But a well-executed planning process should also bring about a valuable plan. While I’ve never seen a plan address all circumstances of an incident with even moderate complexity, a well written plan should get you most of the way there. It should also lay the groundwork for getting you the rest of the way through moderate deviations from the plan and some improvisation. If you think of your plan as a roadmap, you need to anticipate and plan for the potential for multiple detours, GPS outages, potty breaks, and a flat tire or two. It’s a fundamental principle of emergency management that we need to expect the unexpected, which makes the unexpected not so unexpected after all.

If you approach planning with the anticipation that an incident will force you to deviate from your plan, accommodate that in the plan. As I’ve told people for years, don’t plan yourself into a corner. Give yourself outs. Identity contingencies and alternate strategies. Even if you don’t plot the entirety of the detour, identify the exits and give guidance for how the unknown might be navigated. Extreme detail for all possible alternatives will give us plans with hundreds or thousands of pages which no one will ever use.

Speaking of using plans, the disuse of plans might actually be the largest failure. It’s unfortunately a rare occasion I’ve ever seen anyone reference a plan during a response. A very early question should be ‘what does the plan say?’. We need to analyze our current circumstances and see how they apply to the plan assumptions, then use the guidance formulated in the plan the best way possible. For more on emergency planning, check out this post authored by me and this one authored by Ashley Morris.

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

A Call for More Mental Health Training

The Missouri Department of Public Safety is deploying training courses around the state on Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) for all first responders. These sessions, according to this report, will ‘focus on coping with stress and the psychological trauma that comes from responding to critical incidents’. Missouri is offering two programs. The CISM training is three days, and includes individual and group crisis intervention. A two-day peer support training is also offered.  

I applaud Missouri DPS for this initiative and challenge all states to offer similar programming for public safety professionals – but in higher volume and with a broader range. Overall, we are wildly ignoring the prevalence of mental health related trauma and injuries we see across public safety. I’m glad Missouri is offering a range of courses, in shorter format and longer courses. These can all be non-clinical, intended to help responders help themselves and support their colleagues. There may also be a need to further broaden this, depending on what needs to be accomplished and trained, perhaps courses in duration of one, two, and three days.

We also need regular frequency of delivery. These courses need to be part of the regular catalog of training offered by emergency management offices, perhaps in cooperation with state mental health agencies or other related partners. Oftentimes, programs such as what is being offered by Missouri DPS are one-offs (I’m not sure what Missouri’s plans are long-term for this), which doesn’t even scratch the surface of public safety professionals that will benefit now or in the future from such training. States offer incident command system (ICS) training at varying levels, often on heavy rotation. There is no reason to not offer courses like this on a regular rotation as well.

If we are truly dedicated to supporting the mental health of our public safety professionals, we need to make this kind of training and the resources that can come with it a regularity. Mental health injury can build over a career and/or come from a single event or series of events. They can lead to anxiety and depression, burnout, and suicide. Public safety professionals dedicate their lives to supporting our communities. We need to dedicate resources to supporting them. The more we talk about it, the more normalized it will become and the less stigmatized it will become. Talking about a bad knee or rotator cuff is commonplace, and discussion on mental health should be the same. Similarly, I’d like to see more requirements and standards in this matter. State and federal labor and occupational health and safety agencies should be including more mental health requirements just as they do for physical health and safety. Standards setting organizations, such as the NFPA and membership-driven organizations that we see in all facets of public safety should be advocating more heavily for this.

Keep this conversation going. What best practices in mental health matters are you seeing in public safety?

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®