I’ve long been an advocate for detailed planning. Plans should identify who (by position or title) are decision-makers, who are action agents, and how things are to be done. Without identifying these responsible parties and the processes necessary to execute planned actions, plans will generally lack the ability to be successfully implemented. Context is also important. To address this, plans have a preamble that identifies the scope and objectives of the plan. All of this tells us what circumstances the plan is intended to apply to and what it expects to accomplish. Details matter. That said, making plans too specific can also spell trouble.
(I figured putting up the cover Michael McCaul’s Failures of Imagination was suitable for this post, as it’s all about emergency management suffering from a lack of imagination.)
In terms of context, only some plans need to be very precise about when and how they are used. Give yourself some wiggle room. If you don’t provide a proper and wide enough scope and objectives to the plan, you are already poisoning the well. Case in point – a lot of entities have realized that their pandemic plans have failed them, and as such are re-writing their plans. I’m hearing of many totally scrapping their old pandemic plans and writing the new ones as if all future infectious disease outbreaks will behave exactly as Coronavirus has. The old plans largely failed not necessarily because our assumptions were wrong, but because they were too narrow. Don’t make the same mistake. A proper scope and objectives will help properly define what you want to address. If these are too focused or narrow, you leave out a lot of possibilities.
When it comes to strategies and procedures, plans often fail because they don’t have enough detail. But plans can also fail if they are too restrictive or if the strategies and procedures don’t align with the scope and objectives. Restrictive plans define rigid circumstances under which approaches are taken, and/or those approaches are so rigidly defined that they will only work under certain circumstances or with all the right personnel and resources. You’ve been through disasters, right? You realize that disasters impose extreme circumstances upon us; impacting health, safety, and infrastructure; and we rarely ever have all the resources we would like to have in resolving that disaster. In fact, I’d argue that if disasters only impacted us the way we want them to, it would be more of an inconvenience rather than a disaster.
So unless you expect your title to change to Inconvenience Manager, remember that all preparedness starts with planning. Do your research and know your hazards, threats, and vulnerabilities, but don’t be totally encumbered by them either. Broaden your planning assumptions where you can, which will open your scope. Ensure that your planning objectives truly define what you intend for the plan to accomplish. Plan with greater detail and fewer restrictions. Ensure that succession and chain of command are addressed, so it’s not just a certain title or position that has authority over certain actions. Ensure that people are cross trained and that both people and plans are exercised with a certain extent of random factors in scenarios. Our plans and our resources must be agile to be successful.
Sure, we can improvise and get out of a corner that our plans back us into or don’t address, but we are better prepared if we can acknowledge the possibility of other scenarios. This is why planning teams contribute to successful plans. It’s the different perspectives they bring, with a lot of ‘what ifs’ and different viewpoints. Open your eyes and look around. One of the biggest enemies of emergency management is tradition. Is it any wonder why the same corrective actions keep rising to the surface? Do better. Be better.
© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP