Tired of same old same old

Montreal QC–Yesterday I wrote on my Facebook page that I believe the entire current emergency management/homeland security consultancy paradigm needs to be shoved out the window on the top floor of a very high building.

Where’s the fidiciary responsibility to the citizens? Where’s the transfer of any real-world meaningful knowledge? All I see is the same old crapola with the same old dollar signs attached…

The initial replies posted expressed genuine concern. “Bad day, Hal?”

No, actually it was a pretty darned good day. I wanted to air some thoughts and I did. However, I do appreciate the concern.

As to what prompted this status statement – jeez – I’m surprised it took me this long to properly formulate the phrase. It’s 2010 and where are we?

How is it frigging possible that one intelligence agency didn’t talk to another intelligence agency and maybe share what they knew with a third?

How is it possible that tens – maybe hundreds – of millions of dollars have been spent on countless supplies that not only have a finite shelf life but are stuck in a system that wasn’t designed to actually get them to the people who need them in a timely manner?

Why are our governments providing grants worth, literally, millions of dollars to organizations whose ties to emergency preparedness are so tenuous that they need to reach out to real emergency managers to get the work done?

Why are RFPs being awarded to firms who don’t have any real-world experience in emergency management – and who then turn to people who do – paying them a fraction of their real value to deliver the goods?

How is it even possible that grassroots organizations that specialize in community outreach and have proven trackrecords of making a difference when it counts are being budget-starved while there’s an ongoing feast at the funding trough?

Clearly concerned that I had decided to out myself as a heretic in the open social media world, there were more posts urging me to “Hang in there my friend” and an offer of a cold beer in an even colder city – Winnipeg.

What’s up here? I don’t need to ‘hang in there’.. I want to change the way I interact with the system – and perhaps even change the system itself.

I’d like to see organizations and agencies – and more important – the people they serve – get the guidance they require instead of deliverables designed primarily to register the greatest profit margins…

I’d like to see some aspects of social entrepreneurship incorporated into the business model for emergency management consultancies.

I’d like to see RFPs that require consulting firms to deliver a portion of their guidance services to community-based grassroots advocacy organizations.

I’d like to see ‘check the box’ compliancy scrapped in favour of ensuring ordinary people have been empowered to do extraordinary things in times or crisis.

Clearly, I’m really not interested in more of the same

That being said, Guy, I’ll take you up on your offer of a cold beer if it still stands.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Tachycardia with a hint of all-out gallop

HalProfile2009Mar22by Hal Newman

For whatever reason, the national media haven’t quite zero-zeroed in on the realities associated with H1N1, the vax, and high-risk groups. Certainly, the tone of local and regional coverage has shifted from cautionary optimism to creeping negativity.

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Whether the media gets it right or wrong at this point is unlikely to make a dent in the public perception of being at the heart of something wicked this way comes.

If you were to take a pulse of America right now, I believe you’d find it in tachycardia with a hint of all-out gallop as intense fear rides on the cusp of all-out panic.

The indicators for me arrive on the hour in the form of email queries from healthcare professionals, community leaders, and emergency management colleagues wanting to compare notes on what personal steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones from H1.

To further confuse and confound, there are mixed messages being sent by federal, state and county health officials to the public they serve, e.g. 1020 State officials understand and share frustration associated with H1N1 vax shortages [Massachusetts].

If you ever wonder how rumor generators get primed, read this piece out of North Dakota and imagine the news being transmitted on a national game of broken telephone: 1020 DoH recommends revax of some individuals against H1N1 [North Dakota].

With so many people with functional limitations [the vulnerable at the moment] mixed into the at-risk groups, this ongoing crisis represents a significant challenge for us all. How do we ensure a fully-inclusive response?

When I’ve tried discussing H1N1 with some of my colleagues, there has been tremendous pushback with an accusation of my ‘having given in to the hype.’ The claims of hype tend to fade as more people we know are affected by a nasty bit of influenza that has a habit of going hard after the very young.

Does H1N1 represent the perfect storm with an even more devastating legacy than that of Katrina? Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and still managed to impact an entire generation, create its own diaspora and continues to have a lingering effect on millions of people. Katrina had a beginning and is still looking for an end.

H1N1 is an ongoing evolving global crisis with nothing to link it to the episodic view we have for emergency management. And unlike all those other crises occurring out there – famine, civil war, genocide, malaria, HIV/AIDS – this one is affecting us right here in our homes. So H1N1 has our rapt attention and even with all eyes on the ‘prize’ we’re still unable to manage this ongoing emergency.

Sometimes it feels as if the professionals would rather not disturb the peace with discussions focused on what happens when the victims of emergencies or the emergencies themselves don’t act in ways predicted by the plan.

Were it only so easy if disasters had neither victims nor responders but only featured rulemakers who could wear funny hats.

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.


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.