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Emergency preparedness cycle and resilience

By training and experience, I am both a manager and a project manager.

Managing is about bringing people together on a shared set of tasks -- some sort of ongoing concern. Project management is defined as delivering a "one-off." Deliverables from project management can then become ongoing activities and/or reproduced products, which then require managing. Both management and project management have defined processes, tools, and methodologies. Many things you do in both areas overlap, to include communications, balancing priorities, and risk management.

It's important to define terms, so a risk is the possibility of an adverse situation, and risk management is the process of identifying and trying to reduce the possibility and/or impact of risks. Risks can be measured both on the probability that they may happen and the impact if they do become realized.

In pursuing better ideas for risk management, I studied the field of emergency management, to include a certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Obviously, identifying risks is a big part of this field. I am also fascinated by the similarities and differences with my career focus areas. Both project management and emergency preparedness management include building plans to coordinate challenging activities and achieve a goal. Project management though is focused on executing all the steps of the plan to deliver something, and risks are managed throughout the project lifecycle. For emergency preparedness, risks are identified up front and then a lot of effort is expended to mitigate the risks. The end goal of an emergency preparedness plan is to respond after an event (like a hurricane) has happened, thoughin fact the wish is that the plan never has to actually be enacted. Reducing the probability and/or impact of risks can in fact remove the need for the response plan overall.

I also believe that most project managers are so focused on the deliverable that they tend to minimize the severity and likelihood of risks, essentially hoping they don't occur. This is because project managers have to balance the triple constraints of any project -- quality, schedule, and cost. Spending time or money focused on something that might happen, but also might not, constrains the schedule and budget which are both likely already limited. Certainly there are many project managers who take risk management seriously, but there are others who mostly hope for the best.

Whether when doing project management or in the course of our lives, many of us exhibit a high degree of "get-to-it-iveness." We get excited about the goal and jump in. Often we falter, however, because we lack "stick-to-it-iveness." Good things may come to those who wait, but who wants to wait? When we don't get the results we want quickly, or encounter a problem, it's easy to give up. That is where resilience comes in.

To be truly resilient – whether personally or in running a project or an organization – it's necessary to really dig deeply into potential risks and then take action on that. You are likely to encounter problems, but if we have resilience, we can overcome them and get back on track. The emergency preparedness planning process provides a framework to figure out the risks and get past them.

As you can see from the diagram, the emergency preparedness cycle has 4 main components. Two underlying points are important here. First, this is a cycle that continues to feed into itself – lessons learned from dealing with a disaster cycles into mitigation against future risks. Second, it's possible to be in multiple steps all at the same time.

Mitigation is the process where you identify risks and then do something about them. Risks can be completely eliminated, they can be accepted, the likelihood can be reduced, or the impact can be reduced. For example, if you know flooding is a risk you can purchase flood insurance, build your house on stilts, or move from the area.

All of this creates your risk exposure against which you prepare in step two. In this step, you build a plan based on your mitigation steps and then ensure that you can execute your plan. If you are concerned about power outages, for example, you might get a generator and then ensure that you have sufficient fuel and an understanding of how to get the generator working.

Response occurs after a disaster or event occurs. In emergency management, this is the time when you focus on saving lives and infrastructure. We see this in dramatic rescues and shutting electricity down when there are downed power lines. An important part of response, in fact of the entire cycle, is that the responsibility starts at the local level. This is why individual and community resilience are so important.

Step four is recovery. This is about getting things back to normal with a focus on rebuilding. Lessons learned are very important and feed into mitigation. This is where changes are sometimes made to building codes and new training and equipment are the focus for emergency responders. Recovery often starts during the response phase, though it can also last for months or years.

We will dig deeper into each of these steps and relate it to personal resiliency in future posts.

Homework -- last time I encouraged you to check out and to improve your ability to bounce back. I updated my Go Bag in my car and made sure I have good walking shoes in my trunk, and I increased my pushups and walking, though not as much as planned.

This time, the homework is to improve your ability to stay in touch in the event of a problem. Most of us no longer memorize phone numbers, our smart phones do that for us. If you had to reach out in an emergency though and your phone was broken, lost, or just without power, how would you do it? I suggest you make a list of numbers and keep copies in your car, at work, and even in your wallet. Go ahead and keep one on your phone, computer, and "in the cloud" too. It's simple, but if you need it you will be glad you have it.

Now, go make it happen -- Tom