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by Eric Holdeman: Emergency management in the blogosphere

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September 2012 Archives
September 01, 2012

It used to be that dad would pick up the paper (if it was a morning one) and scan it while eating his cheerios before heading out to work.  Maybe it went with him on the bus or stayed home for mom to read when she had a chance.


I don't think this model is going to last for much longer.  I keep seeing newspapers get smaller in size and thinner--much thinner as advertisers ditch print for other modes of advertising.  All except the largest of papers will be gone soon or become weeklies, etc.


See Slow the Presses! for the "online version" of a Governing Magazine column on the declining newspaper industry.  The focus there is on accountability for government.  Who will pick up the torch if there are no newspapers?  In my thinking there will still be "newspapers" but not in print.  They will exist only online with smaller staffs and less overhead costs.  They can still be viable watchdogs if they are staffed appropriately with reporters.  I guess that is the challenge.


What is the emergency manager to do.  We always counted on newspapers to cover our events and to help in getting the word out.  Perhaps not so much during the response, but certainly in the disaster recovery phase.  We thought we scored a victory if we got a special supplement or full page ad in the paper on disaster preparedness, especially on a Sunday edition.


In reality we must also do the shift.  The good news is that we can become our own news source with our websites and social media efforts.  People will go to where there is news and information, we just need to become the direct providers of that information.  Instead of writing news releases we should be writing our own stories that inform and entertain.  It is a shift in thinking--I know.


We also have a new group of people to establish relationships with (see the first commandment).  That being bloggers in our community.  There are plenty of people providing information in cities and counties.  Seattle is a great example of neighborhoods that have blogs on information that is relevant to the people who live there.  Find out who they are, connect with them.  Tell them about what information you have to share and the role that they can play.  I'll bet that most of them would welcome the opportunity to contribute to their community on topics that are meaningful.  


I once thought it would be great to sit out on my patio on a summer morning reading the newspaper after I'm retired and not heading off to work.  That day will now never come.  Instead I have the dream of sitting out on the patio, eating my cheerios and reading the news of the day on my iPad or whatever other device it is at the time.  The vision is the same, the mechanics are just different.

September 02, 2012

Maybe I hang out with the wrong people and read all the negative stories, listen to the wrong radio stations and watch the wrong television stations.  But, it seems to me that people do not like to be told where they can or cannot live, build or do business.  "It is a free country!"


Watching the results from Hurricane Issac it would appear to me that people are living where it is no longer feasible to live--long term.  While the $14B spent on improving the levees around New Orleans worked this was after all only a category I storm.  Add in the quickly rising oceans and disappearance of marshes that once protected the city and I think there will be another Katrina like disaster in that city's future.  It is easy for politicians to say "we will rebuild," but I question the wisdom of trying to hold back Mother Nature as humans.  We can look pretty feeble in our attempts to contain disaster impacts when we insist on spotting the disaster 30 points by living in the wrong location to start with.


Which brings me to Agenda 21.  Quoting from Governing Magazine, "For those of you among the 85 percent of Americans who have no idea what this is about, Agenda 21 is a nonbinding resolution the United Nations passed in 1992 that encourages development in dense areas and conservation of open land."  I hear many a conspiracy theory about how we are being set up to be governed by the United Nations.  How they will tell us what to do or not do.  While all of this is baloney, there are those who believe it and tell it to their friends, etc.  These types of stories feed the anti-government and anti-planning rhetoric that pervades the print and airways in certain circles.  


Which brings up the anti-planning attitude that exists.  Building codes that require certain standards like drainage, electrical, plumbing and the like irks people.  They think that these requirements are also baloney.  A way for government to gouge the taxpayer for the fees associated with getting a building permit and having their plans reviewed.  What they fail to see is that mistakes compounded by many multiple, perhaps thousands of times, are what usually causes the larger community problems.  Surface water flooding is but one example of how urbanization has paved over the land so that there is no place for the water to go.  


As for where people should be able to build and live--let them build where they want if they are not hurting other people.  Let them take the risks, buy "private" insurance and when something bad happens don't bail them out with government grants and subsidies.  People who live in recurring disaster zones will quickly learn that it is not in their best interests to stay put.  Like some who experienced Katrina and now Issac they are saying, "No more" and are packing up and moving.  Natural selection and economics will drive those decisions.  


Note:  The other thing that irks people about permits is the cost of obtaining them.  What they don't understand is that in many instances they are a direct fee based structure.  Instead of general tax  revenues supporting building permits, it is the permits themselves that directly pay for the building plan reviews.  Only those getting the plans pay for the service.  It helps keep general tax obligations lower, a fact that they normally disregard.  We all want something for nothing!

September 02, 2012

“Don’t argue with someone who forgoes buying ink in favor of digital gigabytes.”  Eric Holdeman  There are some who are perhaps thinking that the disappearance of newspapers will be a good thing.  The investigative reporting might diminish since radio and television are not known for the same level of in-depth articles.


What replaces them though is an army of social media activists who will be watching government and business to see what they are doing or not doing.  These people may not have the same investigative skills or journalistic expertise and ethics of the professional media.


There may come the day when those who are celebrating the passing of newsprint might think wistfully of the “good old days” when they did not have to content with those who only ply their trade as amateurs.

September 03, 2012

Jim McKay, Editor for Emergency Management Magazine called me a couple of months back and we chatted about individual disaster preparedness.  When talking with him I used the example of how people flying on a plane understand that if someone is acting erratic or is attempting to take over the plane "it is their responsibility" to take action in concert with the crew to provide for their safety and that of the other passengers on that flight.


Jim used that conversation in his column for the current edition of the magazine, see Who’s Prepared? Not Many  I had planned on blogging on this topic, but Jim beat me to the punch.  It being September and National Disaster Preparedness Month lets reflect on this concept a bit more.


America is known for its individualism.  It has been part of our culture for hundreds of years.  I think it comes from the frontier mentality that started in Jamestown and kept building as the population continued to move west.  People understood that if they did not plant they would not eat.  If they did not chop wood, they would not have heat for the winter.  If they did not band with their neighbors to defend themselves when threatened, they might die.  


Our modern culture had taken much of the "survivalist" mentality out of our everyday lives.  If we want food, buy it at the grocery store.  If we want heat, turn up the thermostat and the gas or electric company will provide it.  For our common defense we have the military and first responder agencies.  We expect others to do for us what our ancestors once had to do for themselves.  That is progress!


When disasters threaten I believe the average person thinks that they will be taken care of.  That food, water, shelter is going to be provided if they need it.  Yes, I admit that there still is a segment of our society that believes that their personal protection is up to them.  We do love our guns.


I think we need to take our average Joe and Sally citizen and have them understand that survival in a disaster is like being on an airplane today.  They need to turn from being just "passengers" to responders.  Their readiness to respond will be based on their preparations for an event.  This includes having a plan, supplies and training in first aid and other life saving skills.  


I believe that we need to sell disaster preparedness like Coca-Cola.  One blog post, one brochure, one website, one tweet, one billboard, one radio spot is not enough.  More on this later.  


Have a great Labor Day!


September 04, 2012

There are now hundreds of thousands of mobile phone applications.  More are being developed everyday and now I see that emergency management and others are getting into the game of app development.


A recent story in Emergency Management Magazine about app development Mobile Disaster App Prepares the Public for the Worst calls attention one application developed to provide pre and post disaster checklists.  See Your Plan which was put together by the Insurance Information Institute in coordination with Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).


Then just this weekend I got an email from the American Red Cross touting their new Hurricane App  I'm really pleased to see these and others being developed.  The Red Cross describes theirs as, "Be ready for severe weather with Hurricane by American Red Cross. Monitor conditions in your area or throughout the storm track, prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out." 


I think the next challenge will be which apps are really adopted and used.  The good news is that social media will sort out the good ones from the bad ones with people sharing their ratings online. 


Does every agency need their own disaster app?  I don't think so.  Wouldn't it be great if multiple jurisdictions and agencies in a single region go together and developed an application that fits their regional footprint and hazards?  Anyone out there doing this now?

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September 05, 2012

When you think about the challenges we are facing for the future one that sticks us in our thumb like a thorn is performance measurement.  I think everyone will agree that it is not an easy thing to do for our state and local emergency management programs.  


We can talk about and report on the number of classes delivered, plans completed and exercises conducted--but the these numbers don't really count.  We need to find a way to measure outcomes versus the traditional outputs that we have been reporting to Congress and others.


See an excellent explanation of the issue in an interview I did with Richard Gelb.   You can find it at Performance Measurement Leads to Performance Management

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September 11, 2012

Today there is more emphasis than ever before on businesses becoming prepared for disasters.  The interface between government and the private sector is becoming stronger.  We need to continue to grow closer bonds in order to be ready for the calamities that we will face together in the future.


See the interview I did with Gerald  McSwiggan, who is with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Disaster Management: Not Just a Government Matter  I think you will be surprised at the depth of the effort being done and then there are some links to excellent resources for you and your business or agency.


It is 9/11 and a day to remember and to become better prepared.


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September 12, 2012

I was torn yesterday in thinking about doing a blog post on 9/11 and sharing the slide show below.  The images there are some that we'd like to forget, to block from our memory.  Even now I can just close my eyes and see the images of the planes hitting the towers. But...


Here is the link to the Day People Died  We may want to forget, but we should not forget.  We need to remember the lives of innocent civilians that were lost that day.  The deaths of those who responded and put themselves in harms way, the terrorists and their screwed up belief systems that are still out there, the poor decisions that followed in committing the United States to two decade long wars, and our role that is part of the equation, back then and today.  


For those of us alive in 2001 and old enough to remember it will be our Pearl Harbor Day.  Let us not forget.

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September 12, 2012

The Partners in Preparedness Conference is held every spring in Tacoma, Washington.  Last year it drew over 600 attendees and they had 70 presenters.


I see that they have extended their call for presentations deadline  If you are looking for a conference to share what you have learned or how to do something--this is a great place to do it.  Unless you are some nationally known expert you won't be paid to come and present, but I do think you get your registration waived if you are a presenter.  Check it out!

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September 12, 2012

“Common sense is instinct.  Enough of it is genius.”  George Bernard Shaw  Hmm, I’m not sure that common sense comes from instinct, but I do believe that some people have it and others do not.  After a certain age it cannot be taught or transmitted to most people.  


It would be an interesting interview question to ask, “Do you have common sense?”  It is like asking, “Are you a people person?”  Pretty much all interviewees (except for some engineers on the second question) will say they are people persons and have common sense.


So, how much common sense would it take to become a genius?  Sometimes I believe I can ignore my intuition from which common sense many times comes from and “think” myself into trouble. 


There is a particular “farm girl” who is an emergency manager and she has a great deal of common sense.  You know I have never met a “successful” farmer who did not have common sense.  You can be successful in many fields of endeavor without common sense, but farming is not one of them.  


When there is an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) activation, you’d better hope the person in charge of the operation has common sense.

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