Monday, June 16, 2008

What if?

The floods in Iowa illustrate the need for all communities to plan for the worst case scenario. It may not be feasible to build levees tall enough to withstand 500 year floods but it is important to have an answer for the question, what if? Those reading this blog may argue, you could “what if” for countless scenarios but you only have some much time and resources available. Agreed, you can’t spend time and money for every possibility so perhaps thinking about the worst and trying to have plans to manage the unimaginable is the best solution. As it appears while I write this entry, emergency planners in Iowa failed to consider “what if” the levees fail? You may lack the funding to build the ultimate flood wall (and what’s the point? Mother Nature always plays her trump card) but you need to walk-through actions in the event you do get hit with the unthinkable.

College leadership also prefer to ignore the “what-if” question. What if a disgruntled employee shows up on campus with a firearm? What if a former student decides to get revenge on faculty and students? What if a total stranger comes on campus goes on a rampaged with a knife (similar to what happened in Japan recently)? There are a number of reasons why these are not considered usually though the most common reason is lack of funding. I find this interesting given the negative impact any of the above “what if” scenarios would have to financial support to the college. People have a tendency to give up when confronted with “what if” and choose to ignore the possibility rather than seek a solution. Instead what college leaders and community leaders need to consider is how to respond when “what if” becomes “what is”. You can ignore “what if” but “what is” will force you to respond and unfortunately that response will be under the scrutiny of the media and public.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cell Broadcasting

You will find many websites that cover cell broadcast and its applications to emergency warning but wanted to add an article here on Losantiville. Most text-based emergency warning systems out in the United States now works on a point-to-point system. In theory this should not be a problem but because each cellular provider has their own separate towers, point-to-pint creates shortfalls in getting emergency messages out. Say for instance you are from Cleveland but travel to Cincinnati for business. While in Cincinnati, a weather warning is issued for Hamilton county. The cellular service providers in Cincinnati send out a text warning but your Cleveland based number may not pick up the warning since that provider may not own any towers near your location.

Cell broadcasting avoids this by using point-to-area technology. Instead of each carrier sending out a message, cellular towers within the effected area broadcast a message to ALL phones within range of the tower. Up to 15 pages of 93 characters can be sent during an emergency. Cell broadcast does not require the phone to send a return signal which reduces the bandwidth requirements. The London bombings in 2005 demonstrated this technology. Unfortunately, most handsets in use today in the United States are not cell-broadcast capable.

Adapting this standard for the United States would drastically improve college and university options for responding during emergencies. The same technology that could be used to warn citizens about pending weather disasters (such as tornados) could also provide all students, faculty and visitors on a particular campus with critical information regarding disasters on the college grounds. Adapting cell broadcasting would help alleviate the redundant costs colleges and communities spend on emergency warning systems. Further, cell broadcasting technology allows visitors from outside the community to receive the same warnings as locals.

Readers of this blog know I always advocate a comprehensive approach to solutions. Rather that pursue site specific warning systems, communities should push for cell broadcasting as an effective means of the maximum number of citizens. Cell broadcasting is also cost-effective providing maximum coverage for a relatively low cost. Yes, handsets would have to be retrofitted however this cost is minimal compared to the potential for lives to be lost due to a lack of information.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Leadership in Emergency Management

The 11th Annual EMI Higher Education conference brought together members form the academic world with practitioners from the emergency management world. Presentations and conversations were often thought-provoking and lively as the journey towards developing curriculums that meet the needs of the community continues.

A common theme occurred throughout the conference concerned leadership, specifically how to educate leaders in the emergency management community. Many scholars from leading colleges and universities are struggling to define leadership through a scientific model. The discussions often flip back and forth between the researchers claiming there is no scientifically defined model and the practitioners quoting civil war scholars who studied the great battles. In my opinion, both arguments have merit yet miss something more fundamental. From a purely academic standpoint, pursuing an empirical model of leadership through scientific research and analysis is important to the body of knowledge about leadership. Even without a scientific model though leaders are still produced somehow. To the practitioners who like to quote famous generals from the past, they too are missing an important part of the discussion. It isn’t just about the personality and ability of their favorite general that made them a successful leader. There are many generals who have the same type of personality and ability as say General Lee yet few achieve his stature.

Leaders are a unique combination of ability, personality and experience. Rarely are examples of leadership focused on junior people, inevitably the exampled cited focuses on the leader at the apogee of their career. In my opinion that is because leaders are formed through their experience. The military is able to produce leaders fairly consistently because of the ability to move up and coming leaders through a variety of experiences. Emergency management faces a rather daunting task in comparison, as there are few opportunities for leadership growth.

Most county emergency management agencies have one or fewer full-time staff. How then can experience be gained through a journey of different experiences? I don’t know if there is any single answer to this question. County directors near cities may be able to go through a loaned-executive type system in order to gain experience. Rural counties may lack the funding and ability to loan their directors out to gain experience.

The need for opportunities to experience leadership is why I hesitate with the normal answer; volunteer. Volunteers may or may not have the opportunity to practice leadership skills. Directing a group on filling and stacking sandbags doesn’t require the same level of leadership skills as getting a community to plan for a disaster response. Organizing an awareness campaign isn’t the same leadership skill as getting elected officials to support your request for funding. To be sure, the more experience a future leader has to practice being a leader the better but it needs to be a coordinated experience, not random.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Associate level degree in emergency management

I’m attending the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Higher Education conference this week. Many nationally recognized authors and experts are in attendance. It is rewarding experience to hear both practitioners and academics share and compare ideas. I will be writing several blogs when I get backed based on information presented here.

One thought that I want to touch on briefly is offering associate degrees in emergency management. A continuum or pathway for those in the emergency management career field has lagged behind other career fields. Many experts in field have degrees in something other than emergency management. Some may have no degrees at all. Going back for a bachelor’s degree may be unappealing to these individuals for a number of reasons. Offering an associate degrees from a community college presents a cost-effective way for them to achieve their degrees. Community colleges focus on the practical skills, which means individuals new to emergency management, will be able to function more effectively in the field upon graduation. Bachelor’s and master’s level work is more appropriate for those interested in the theory and management principles. What matters the most is providing emergency management professionals a set of options.