There are things that happen in life that just make you shake your head—that surreal moment when you feel like you are in a Seinfeld episode. Remember the one about the restaurant being able to take a reservation, but they were unable to keep the reservation? Here’s my latest personal episode: I recently rented a dumpster for my oldest daughter’s move out of a house. There were several contacts with the garbage company- like getting it emptied and then planning for its removal when we were done. I called and left a voice mail when we had cleared out the house and asked them to pick up the dumpster the next day, if possible. Six days later a friend called me to let me know the dumpster was still there—so I called the garbage company and explained the situation. The “customer service” representative told me that, “yeah, no one really ever listens to those messages. You have to call and talk to a live person.” I asked why they had a voice message center and an outgoing message that directed the caller to leave a message. She laughed and said, “’cause management wants to believe that the messages get listened to, but they don’t.”
So my question to you is: how much of your organization is behaving like this garbage company? Do you have a method to test to see if your systems are working? How do you know if your customers are just shaking their head with disappointment or disgust? Do you have a proverbial answering machine in your organization? Take 10 minutes this week to assess your systems—Secret Shopper… Undercover Boss… we all need some accountability in our lives.
And to close, (this falls under the WHAT WERE THEY THINKING category… City of Wenatchee, Washington, did you have to put the light poles in the middle of the sidewalks? Accountability folks—accountability!
Man made. Accidental. Nature. All cause horrific tragedies but it is the man made atrocities that tug at our heart strings more than the other. How can another human being do that to people? —innocent people. As responders we are blind to the cause of the emergency—even to the point of leading to our own demise as in the case of secondary explosions designed to kill responders—or the fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX. We get SO frustrated with the “public” and their attitude of “it’ll never happen to me” but if we look inside our own organizations we possess the same attitudes and behaviors. Our hearts and prayers and sympathies go out to all of the victims, families, co-workers and friends of the tragedies of this past week. What a horrible week for America. But let us keep our eyes forward because these events will occur again in another part of our country. Stay aware of the dangers and train—train like your life depends on it—because it does. Stay safe my friends.
So how important is training? Now wait- it’s not that simple. Obviously training is essential to ensure competence and quality, not to mention that it builds camaraderie and credibility. But is missing training a reason to suspend or dismiss a person from your team? One of the big challenges for volunteer organizations is recruitment and retention and in this case I can argue that you can add by subtracting! A person that refuses to participate in training and only wants to “play in the game” is bad for morale, teamwork and your credibility—even if they are performing at a competent level. It is favoritism to not hold your team accountable to each other and the entity as a whole, and favoritism is bad for the group. By having the backbone to eliminate a bad apple from the group your credibility and respect will swell. People want to be part of an organization that they can be proud of and one that has a stellar reputation. By not tolerating unacceptable behavior the message is sent that we ARE a credible, honorable and respected organization. This applies to organizations regardless of the entity affiliation—volunteer fire departments, the sheriff’s posse, a faith-based organization or NGO are all struggling to recruit and retain good people. Perhaps this advice will help in those endeavors.
The fire service has been cross-training for 30+ years. Today's firefighter is expected to be (better than) competent in everything from fighting structure fires, haz mats at a train derailment, delivering babies, swift water rescue, wildland firefighting, terrorism and WMDs... and the list goes on and on. At some point, there is a diminishing value. People cannot be (better than) competent in everything already on their plate. There is a move afoot in some municipalities to add law enforcement duties. To add law enforcement responsibilities is just plain-- irresponsible on the part of the public policy makers. The public expects and demands that you be good when you show up at their emergency. It is not possible to be good at everything. To drive this point home, I’m sure you would have serious trepidation about going to a physician that claims to be a specialist in every specialty area. You wouldn’t buy it.
Most of the college football teams that are scheduled to play in upcoming bowl games finished their regular season weeks ago. How are they expected to be “up for” and ready to play a game that is so far away? In preparedness aren’t we faced with the same dilemma? How do we stay sharp and game-ready when our “big one” is so far away? Or is it? That’s the challenge for emergency managers—not knowing when your next big game is. If we knew our disaster schedule weeks, months or years in advance, we would be the most prepared, motivated and competent disaster workers. Of course, but that’s not how our game is played.
I recently read that one of the college coaches asked his football players if they wanted to practice football or play whiffle ball? They chose whiffle ball and the coach was OK with that. Let’s think about why that kind of activity was productive for a college football team preparing for a bowl game and how that parallels training for a disaster.
- It is fun
- It is a divergence from the pressures of the game
- It creates team camaraderie and competition
- It’s not the same old training—it’s different
- Odds are, no one is a whiffle ball expert and so they are all learning or relearning how a whiffle ball moves and therefore, how to play the game
Nothing beats on-going training, exercises and drills in the world of disaster response. People don’t care how smart you are… they care whether or not you can perform the tasks they need done. People are counting on you to be good—to be competent in whatever your job requires. My old friend, retired fire chief Ronny Coleman taught me that you don’t experiment on the public. The public expects and deserves for you to be ready—to be all-risk ready.
No one likes redundant, boring, repetitive training—so spice it up—have fun—do something different for your team. They will appreciate it.
When you see a poorly written test question you can easily identify that it’s bad; when you see a leader with poor leadership skills you can easily identify that. How can it be so difficult to write a test question? Why is it so hard to be a good leader? If I ask you to be a great leader—because you can obviously identify a poor one—it’s easier said than done. Can we see weak leadership traits in ourselves? If I asked you to write a perfect multiple choice test you could do it, right? Because you said earlier you can identify a poorly written test question—therefore, you’ll never write one.
Leadership is made up from many parts- some we can control, some we can’t. Words like vision, ethics, motivator, expert and more go into the character list. I will suggest that timing is a key factor in the success or failure of a leader. Today, in this economy, it is difficult to be a successful leader. Resources are scarce and leaders are having to say no more frequently than ever before. No to staff increases. No to new equipment and apparatus. No to new programs or expansion of services. No to outside training, conferences and workshops. No to increases in wages and benefits. It’s not fun being a leader in these conditions but a good leader will still lead. Anyone who has been through tough times before knows that good times/tough times are cyclical and things will improve.
How can you be a leader in tough times? Lead.
Apply this “human nature” explanation to whatever situation you are struggling with… whether you are a leader of career personnel, volunteer forces or just trying to change the public’s behaviors, consider this from Wikipedia.org
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
Behavioral change in one’s self is the easiest to do, followed by changing the behavior of a small group, followed by a larger group, and so forth. Changing the culture of an organization or modifying behaviors of people is not easy. If you are charged with getting people ready for a disaster, it will be an uphill battle but don’t give up. Small changes are occurring even if they are not immediately visable.
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Today, September 11th, is our generation's Pearl Harbor. And now, some 70+ years after WW-II, we consider the Japanese allies, commerce partners and the country, a nice place to visit. Can you imagine a day when we will have a change of heart and feel that way about the middle eastern countries that have harbored terrorists? I can't. Once your soul is tattooed with the images of such a horrific event, it changes you forever. My 88-year old father served in WW-II and was part of the second wave of soldiers on to Iwo Jima. He will never get past what the Japanese did to the USA. In that war the enemy was well defined and easy to spot. In our war on terror, our enemies are not easy to spot and are hidden amongst us.
The point of this blog is to remind us all that vigilance is necessary and on-going. Preparedness is something that gets a lot traction right after an event. Don't let your guard down. Dust off those WMD and mass casualty plans-- update them and refresh your training on them. Being aware and prepared-- wouldn't we all be a lot safer if everyone was?
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Fire Rescue International (FRI) for 2012 has concluded in Denver, the host city this year. FRI is the annual conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). It was a good conference but it showed the sign of the times in two ways- the education topics and the (smaller than usual) vendor show. First, the topics were all timely: the dismal budget situation departments face… doing less with less vs. doing more with less… challenges of keeping up with technology and the cost associated… and my presentation on Customer Service. I purposely capitalize the C and the S because Customer Service is no longer the nice to have icing on the cake. It is very necessary in terms of survival. One to two decades ago, it was rare for public safety levies, initiatives and propositions to fail. Today, it is the norm. Fire stations are closing and public safety personnel are being laid-off. The public sector is painfully learning the lessons from the private sector: competition and value for the product. If your organization is NOT marketing, re-branding and providing outstanding customer service, you will fail. Realize that the underlying public sentiment is still, “it’ll never happen to me”. You have to reach the voting populous that may never have personal need or contact with your department. When asked to spend their hard-earned tax dollars on fire services, law enforcement, roads and freeways, water treatment and sewer treatment plants, schools, community colleges, etc… you bet there is competition! This is not “smile training” customer service we are talking about—it is survival Customer Service.
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The application period is now open for the National Fire Academy. The open dates are October 15 through December 15, 2011 for the classes scheduled for April through September, 2012. If you have not been to the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland you are missing a national gem of emergency response and emergency management training. Three entities occupy the grounds of the National Emergency Training Center- the National Fire Academy, the Emergency Management Institute and the United States Fire Administration. Located in northern Maryland, just 10 miles from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it is the ideal location for great training and to meet other responders from all over the country. Take a box of business cards and be prepared to enlarge your professional network many-fold. The variety of classes range from technical to executive and are provided in a college atmosphere and professional environment. You say your budget can’t afford travel to Maryland…? The classes are free, your lodging on campus is free and the airfare is reimbursed. Your only direct cost is your meal ticket at the campus meal hall. Funded by Congress through the Department of Homeland Security via FEMA’s budget, this is a “don’t miss” destination as early as possible in your career. Here’s the website to get you started.
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