Run away from rescue

by Hal Newman

When confronted with unfamiliar territory and a survival situation, many people follow a line of cascading decisions that lead to the unthinkable – they run away from rescue.

I understand how the average Jack/Jill can end up rejecting the omnipresent dangers inherent in a survival situation and do everything in their power to hold on to the familiar instead of embracing their new environment. I understand how those decisions can lead to someone sticking to what they believe is the trail and walking over the edge of a cliff.

What I don’t understand is how a supposedly seasoned emergency manager can make the same type of conscious decisions on behalf of his/her constituents and do everything in their power to prevent new ideas from circulating in their fiefdoms in the midst of a disaster. By refusing to embrace the new environment, they are, in effect, leading the move to run away from rescue.

Yesterday, I found myself having to explain that someone reaching out for assistance in the midst of a disaster probably wasn’t looking for a political leg-up. It was a surreal conversation due in part to the fact that the folks doing the reaching out were just trying to help the citizens who rely on them for help in a crisis. You might have guessed that wasn’t the surreal part.

You’re right. The surreal part was trying to convince a senior emergency management advisor that maybe it was just help these people were seeking and not a threat to the political status quo.

I went with the following line:

“So, what would be the ulterior motive of someone calling from a church in the midst of a disaster zone to my office in Montreal asking for help getting extra supplies to his congregants. All the while, he knows he’s reaching out to someone in a different country – except he doesn’t see it that way – he just knows maybe there’s a chance he can get find some hope from another network of caring people. Maybe he’s worked out that going outside the normal system will mean getting lifesaving help quicker. What’s the political motive there?”

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. I thought maybe I’d made the point.

Not so lucky.

Clearly calling from the bottom of a hermetically-sealed box, the voice on the phone said, “Maybe he’s just trying to embarrass us politically by taking his request to another country.”

Or maybe he’s just trying to find a source for crates of Ensure to feed the elderly residents who decided to weather the storm in their home, or maybe he’s trying to arrange for a couple of hundred of extra blankets to be sent his way because the power might not get fixed for two more cold weeks, or maybe it’s the family with a special needs child who need extra medical supplies…

Maybe he has embraced his new environment and determined he needs to take bold decisive action to survive. Perhaps he has decided to run towards the rescuers.

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Newsflash: Your constituents will, no doubt, take notice when you make a big deal of attempting to halt the flow of help, new ideas, the exchange of lessons learned, or the swapping of stories. It has been my experience that there is no more powerful endorsement of someone offering to help than trying to prevent them from doing so.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

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