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Can you describe the mission of your emergency management program (or any program you manage) in one sentence or less?
When the Department of Homeland Security’s “Target Capability List” which defines all of the emergency response capabilities is 588 pages long and local “strategies” for preparedness range from 30-50 pages, it’s not a huge surprise that this question can pose a challenge for many of us emergency managers.
Earlier in my life, I served on a non-profit board who was working to define its own mission. We struggled for months to determine how to simply describe what we were doing. The concept of creating an “elevator speech” was very new to me at the time and I wondered about its true importance.
Over the past 10 years, I have come to realize that if you cannot quickly define your program, you risk losing the interest of many people. In short,
- You risk losing the broader community, who may not know what you do to begin with.
- You risk losing the interest of your politicians, administrators and those agencies who may be supporting your program financially.
- You may even lose the confidence of your own employees and volunteers if your program feels rudderless.
I have found that when I tell people that I’m an “Emergency Manager,” very few people actually know what that means because, in their mind, the word “emergency” means something different to everyone who hears it. People have mistakenly told others that I rescue animals (aka Humane Society), can direct traffic and hand out welfare vouchers among other interesting things. This failure to understand my job title only reinforces the reason why I feel it is important to communicate simply about our profession.
So, when I talk with other emergency managers who are facing challenges in their programs, I’ll often ask “how would you define your mission in one sentence?” Struggling with the answer to this question often seems to correlate with a confused identity within their programs.
I can do it in 3 words. Effective Problem-Solving
What do I do for a living?
Bring people together during crisis conditions to identify problems, set priorities and implement solutions.
Next time you are standing quietly on an elevator, see if you can define the mission of your program in the time it takes to travel to your next floor. If you can’t, I suggest taking some time to reflect on the mission, scope and direction of your program before you lose one of the most important assets to your program, your audience.