now browsing by category
If you cross-reference the date on this blog post with world events, you probably know by now that Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor problems are among the day’s top news stories.
Interestingly, as an emergency manager who works in the Pacific Northwest, my office has received a number of calls from people with concerns about the “radiological or nuclear fallout that is poised to descend at any time and wipeout untold millions of adults, children and plant-life.”
In the 5-10 calls I have received today, I have heard an amazing set of stories and connections that very well-meaning people are making. I understand that we all experience some fear of the unknown, but what fascinates me most is that when fear takes over, we sometimes forget to step back and consider the beliefs that we are forming about certain situations.
It is widely recognized that people will more readily seek out information that confirms their fears rather than questions them. This is called “confirmation bias” and it has 4 related effects:
- The preference for early information,
- Illusory association of events,
- Persistence of discredited beliefs, and
- The polarization of opinion.
When confirmation bias is present and a person is unwilling to consider an alternate perspective, it seems the easy route is to stop the discussion, turn the conversation personal or hang up the phone.
In order to combat confirmation bias, there are a few preventative steps that each of us can consider:
- Analyze your beliefs and ideas from a wider point of view.
- Gather as much information as possible. How many sources are you using before your opinion is formed?
- Evaluate the credibility of the information. Do the authors or people you are trusting to formulate key opinions have the subject-matter expertise or are they relying on opinions they have formed themselves?
- Play devil’s advocate and consider the argument from the alternate perspective. If you find yourself getting emotional about taking on the other side of the debate, you might wonder if your opinion is rooted more in fact-based evidence or an emotional understanding of the situation.
Perhaps the next time you find yourself in a debate about the earth being flat, Paul McCartney’s death in 1966, or a moon-landing conspiracy theory, consider whether you are confirming the truth or something rather silly.
If I were to ask you who the most powerful person in any meeting is, I’d bet on a number of the following answers:
- County Administrator
- Fire Chief
- Sheriff or Police Chief
- The highest ranking officer in the room
In my experience, the most powerful person in the room is often the person taking the minutes or notes for any meeting. Now I have had a number of conversations with various folks in my careers who have seen the written recording of meetings to be demeaning, trivial or unnecessary.
So, let me take the counterpoint on this issue for a moment and share the following observations:
- Meeting minutes are the historical record for the decisions that were reached during that hour in time.
- Minutes identify the next-steps and serve as reminders to assist those who volunteer to complete certain activities before your next meeting.
- Minutes further provide a very non-threatening way of keeping a group moving forward towards certain accomplishments.
- Meeting minutes illustrate accomplishments, next steps and the future.
And yet, how many of us actually pay attention to meeting minutes?
I am the formal note-taker for several committees that I facilitate and participate with and it is common for people to say to me “Why would YOU take the minutes? Don’t you have an assistant who can do this?”
I often just smile and say “Sure, but why would I pass up the opportunity to record history?”
To maximize their effectiveness, meeting minutes should be completed and distributed to the group’s participants within 5 days of the original meeting. This provides ample time in advance of your next meeting for good follow-up.
Do you participate in groups or committees where there are no formal meeting minutes? Are you passing up on the opportunity to provide accountability and proof of the group’s accomplishments? In a world that often requires performance benchmarks, reconsider if skipping the minutes is impacting the group’s productivity.
It’s a simple fix if you respect the power of the record.
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.