Can the Government Join the 21st Century?

Photo Credit: European Space Agency

The new fascination with social media. I don’t get it. People (i.e. the media, politicians, appointees) are all running around surprised at the prevalent use of social media as a means of calling for help and generally communicating during Harvey and predicting it will be the same as Irma wreaks havoc on the southeast.

Photo Credit: Jill Carson

 

Well…duh.

Hello?! Has everybody forgotten that since – oh I don’t know, 2007 or so people have turned to social media. Virginia Tech saw the widespread use of Facebook. Wildfires in the west over the last decade have all involved a huge social media presence. Superstorm Sandy anyone? Have we all become so focused on the “now” and our phones that we can’t remember a couple of years back? Sadly the answer is apparently yes, and that’s a whole other topic to explore and why that’s bad all the way around.

Social media – or rather it’s slower cousin, blogging, was the catalyst that drove me to institute one of the first social media programs in emergency management when I was the Deputy at San Francisco DEM back in 2008. Costco Busan – a classic tale of ship hits bridge and oil pours into water – taught us that we could NOT ignore what was happening on the internet. People talk.

If you’re not part of the conversation (yes, I’m looking at you government) you’re going to miss out.

In the past week I’ve been interviewed twice for stories on this topic. Once for NPR’s All Things Considered and just a day or so ago for USA Today. In both cases the reporters were a) surprised that government doesn’t actively watch social media for distress calls, and b) that social media use was so prevalent. The only factor that makes social media use in Harvey so much more “prevalent” is the sheer scope of the disaster and the numbers of people using it.

“Communities have been doing this stuff as long as you’ve had humans,” says Dudgeon. “Social media, as far as I’m concerned, is a force multiplier for the inherent good of the community.”

-USA Today

Now before y’all go sideways and want to argue about it I will concede this: the way social media is used and number of actions driven by it has evolved. Why wouldn’t it? Social media is fully integrated now and people are developing more sophisticated ways to utilize it – like self-directed resource allocation in the ad hoc world of convergent disaster relief.

The bottom line here is that government must get up to speed with society at large. People are going to reach out on social media, and while I’m a huge fan of the Cajun Navy and the countless other relief movements sometimes the best resource is an “official” one. It’s ridiculous to tell people the only way to reach government resources is make a phone call.

We might as well tell them to send a pigeon.

Is this a hard problem? Yes. Should we be working like hell to solve it? Yes. So here’s a suggestion: Instead of spending millions every year on Homeland Security grants that are largely used by the states and big cities for “sustainment” (aka salaries and maintenance of stuff they bought years ago), which was never the intent of said grants, why don’t we cut the entitlement spending a bit and put some effort into solving bigger, systemic problems – like effectively integrating social media as a communications platform into emergency response.

The technology exists. NextGen 911 is a thing – deployed in a few areas. With some colleagues I’m starting a(nother) project to look at AI as a way to better manage the data coming in. What’s needed is some leadership and a Moonshot Goal so we can stop being “surprised” by what’s happening every day.

I mean really – the President of the United States is on Twitter…one can argue the value of that all day long…but nonetheless it’s kind of clear sign that social media is an accepted, integrated communications platform and government needs to stop fretting and take action.

People are literally dying as a result of government’s inability to keep pace. From Congress to every city council – you all owe a huge debt of gratitude to every person who sees the social media flare and channels it to somebody on the ground who can take action. People will help each other. I firmly believe in the good of community. However, that does not mean government should be allowed to abdicate its responsibility to keep the peace and protect lives and property. That’s the compact you made with we the people when we agreed to be governed by you. Get on it, or get out of the way.

Inspiration

It’s been a while since I posted. Life has brought a host of challenges, including new work, new skills to learn, and a cross country move. So, the blog fell off the plate. I’m back and pledging to start writing more regularly. Why now, in the midst of chaos you ask? Because I’m inspired to write. And you can’t pass that up.

Ever wonder where inspiration comes from? Have you ever just sat back and thought about why suddenly you felt inspired to do something? Be it going to the gym or the bar, something triggered a desire to act. To break free of the inertia and do something different. Maybe it’s studying physics or running marathons. Maybe it’s writing a blog about inspiration.

Artists sometimes spend their life seeking inspiration, or so I’ve seen in old movies. OK. Cartoons. But I’ve wondered why we do hard things. Why do we challenge the status quo, why do we build new things? Sometimes it’s necessity, I’ll give you that. Be really nice to walk over that river…next thing you know somebody builds a bridge.

For me inspiration comes in many forms. Need, sure…nothing beats filling a void. Beyond that as I grow wiser (notice I didn’t say older. Careful…careful…) I find my inspiration flows from people I know and admire. Achievement’s infectious. We all have great ideas (ok, most of us…there’s always the “hold my beer guy”), but many of us never get the idea in motion.

The point is some force within us awakens and suddenly we’re putting one foot in front of the other and eating up the miles despite the pain. And not even being chased by, say, a giant flying purple people eater or anything.

The first marathon was to tell Athens of a great victory over Persia at Marathon…and if my memory serves, Pheidippides collapsed and died after, so there’s that… but we now do this sort of thing for the pure challenge of it. For sport. Why?

If we want to find out who won a battle we either check Twitter or, if you’re close enough look up and see who’s getting blown up fastest, and hope you don’t get blown up in the process. We don’t need to run 26.2 miles. Or even 13.1 miles. But people do. Lots of people. Vets with prosthetic legs. Successful entrepreneurs. Not just elite athletes with something to prove. People who just set their mind to it and do it.

I admire those people. It takes real discipline to push your body that hard. Training day in and day out for a race you pay to run, so you can look up and say “I did it.”

That, my friends, is inspiration. A person must be inspired to take that on. That inspiration is contagious, it makes me want to run a marathon. OK, not really…I barely got through the mile and a half in high school. But they inspire me to tackle the toughest problem with the same discipline and resolve to look up at the end and say, “I did it.”

No matter your marathon, be inspired.

Seek out your muse and embrace the gift of inspiration. Then start running, or in my case, writing.

The Perils of Worst Day Planning

“The notion that one will not survive a particular catastrophe is, in general terms, a comfort since it is equivalent to abolishing the catastrophe.” -Iris Murdoch

In my business, there’s a line of thinking that advocates planning for the absolute worst case scenario. The idea is that if you’re prepared for that, you can handle anything. Using this thinking, exercises end up being things like:

  • The ENTIRE San Andreas ruptured during a 9+ Richter Scale earthquake.
  • All the people between LA and SF are dead or dying.
  • Giant tsunamis are washing away the Coast Range.
  • Fresno is facing coastal flooding from the Pacific rushing inland.
  • FEMA is on holiday.
  • And the terrorists, seeing the chaos, activated a sleeper cell and launched an Ebola/Smallpox bio attack in Sacramento.

What in the hell do you do with that? If you’re running an Emergency Operations Center you sit down, fish your flask out of your go-bag and start figuring out your next job. Somebody is getting fired over this and we all know it won’t be the elected guys. 9057924573_899cef899d_z

In all honesty, this is a bit more exaggerated than what you usually see, but not by much. I’ve seen more than one scenario with one or more of those exact elements in them. The idea is that the exercise must break the system to discover gaps.

I disagree.

Something like this is a non-starter. It’s so overwhelming that there’s literally nothing people in the impact zone can do. It wipes out the ability to respond right out of the gate…which I suppose is great if you’re testing the ability for other states or the military to take over and save you.

Never a good plan, by the way.

Back in the day, a certain single function program inside a behemoth department inside the beltway (one that also makes you take your shoes off to fly) kept insisting that we develop a plan for a nuclear attack. I refused and told them that if San Francisco suffered a nuclear attack it was going to be a Sacramento problem…there wouldn’t be enough Bay Area left to respond to any sort of sizable nuclear attack. It would have been a waste of resources to prepare for that.

Had they asked us to plan for a low yield Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) that would have been a different story. That would have been a very bad day as opposed to a worst day. Don’t get me wrong, bad is a relative term and even a low yield device is awful, but it doesn’t necessarily incapacitate your ability to respond. That’s the difference.

The idea of preparedness is to be prepared right? If you prepare and test for being wiped out, you’re not really preparing yourself or your organization.

062012_0582It’s like planning to back fire the neighborhood if your stove catches on fire. You need a fire extinguisher or some baking soda, but you won’t think of that if you only think about a conflagration.

Here’s the downside of worst day planning:

  • It simultaneously demotivates people and provides an excuse not think through problems (why bother?)
  • It introduces undue fear into a community
  • It makes solving the problem too hard, too expensive, too complicated and resources get diverted (again…why bother?)

Instead, plan for what’s most likely.

Study your risk and the consequences of the bad things that might happen. Then plan for the most likely bad thing(s) with the biggest impact to you. That’s a bad day.

It’s probably far more mundane than you think. Don’t worry about tsunamis in Idaho. Worry about a long term power outage from any source: a blizzard, a suicidal squirrel, or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). In the end you still have no power, that’s the consequence you need to deal with.

Wait, you say? Yes, yes I did say EMP. Why you ask…isn’t that a worst day scenario?

I’m glad you asked.

Yes it is, but I wanted to make one last key point about bad day planning. If you’ve planned for not having power you’ve done a few things like obtained generators and figured out how to keep them fueled. You’ve also (or you should have) thought about what to do when the fuel runs dry. How do you operate or survive without power? Your efforts are scalable. The foundation you build buys you time and space to cope with something worse.

An EMP pretty much wipes anything electrical that’s not shielded. It creates a long term power outage, along with a host of really bad downstream consequences (that we’ll discuss in a future post).

If you’ve thought about living without power, then you’re good to go for a while. Your bad day plan is scalable. It’ll get you by for a while as you figure out what comes next, even in the post-apocalyptic world of no Candy Crush and using a card catalog (with a candle).

If you obsess on the EMP you end up digging a bunker and putting Faraday cages on all your stuff. Perfect if it happens, but if all you really need is a flashlight and batteries, you’ve used all your money on one thing (bunkers are expensive and your HOA will probably object) that probably won’t meet your need.

Faraday cages probably won’t help you much if the most likely event with the worst consequences is an earthquake. In that case a backup generator (shield it if you worry about EMP…I’ll meet you half way here), seismically retrofitting your house, and water storage is a much better investment.

My point is use knowledge to plan for the bad days and you’ll have a foundation to scale up to the worst day. If you only plan for the worst day then a relatively minor bad day can rapidly become a worst day.

Or maybe even your last. new-york-4520

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” -Alan Lakein

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The shameless self-promotion bit

Bad days happen. Knowing what to do beforehand can make the difference between a bad day and your last day.

If you’ve not thought about the big picture or managing bad days, we’ll help you figure out what your bad day looks like and develop plans to navigate the event and the aftermath. There’s a lot more to it than evacuating the building and calling 911.

If you already have some plans we’re happy to take a look and give you some feedback on what, if anything, you could do to make them better.

When you’re ready to test, or practice your plans we’ll help you develop exercises and workshops aimed at learning and improvement, not breaking the system looking for failure.

If you’ve recently been through an event and would like an outside expert to help you analyze how things went and determine what worked and what didn’t, we’re here for you.

Remember, preparing for a bad day now may very well save the rest of your days. The investment of time and money is well spent. Think of it like flossing…easy to forget until you’re in the dentist’s chair.

Just click on the contact tab up above and we’ll get back to you straight away.

One Year Later

“Nothing endures but change.” -Heraclitus

2-13-xmasparty-9735Just about a year ago I left behind my team in San Francisco to follow a new path. It’s a been a great year of transition, a year full of growth and new adventures. Not all of it has been easy, but every bit valuable. For this post, I wanted to take a minute and share some thoughts on change.

First thing to know is, I’m not a millennial and I haven’t changed organizations every 3 years or whatever the norm is now. I stay awhile- averaging 13 years in an organization before moving on – long enough to build some cool things and lasting relationships.  That’s enough time to grow some pretty deep roots and clutter your office with several boxes of crap, er… mementos and things.

When you leave, leave.

This is not the first time I’ve moved on and left people I cared about behind. It sucks. It’s also life. None of us are permanent in a job. Gone are the days of staying someplace 30 years and getting a gold watch. We move around, true friendships will follow you and teams will adjust to the new reality and continue without you. It’s just not healthy for you or those left behind to constantly hear from you. In time, you’ll be able to learn about what’s going on at the old place without being emotionally invested. Keep your contacts, stay in touch, but don’t be all stalker about it and for crying out loud don’t let people complain to you about the way things are now. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

Give yourself time to adjust

If you can, take some time between jobs. I never could have done this until this last transition, but I have to tell you it’s truly the way to go if you can pull it off. I was able take 3 months off and just let go. It takes time to shake the dust off and learn to operate without the tether of your old place.

In my case I ran an emergency management organization, so I’d been connected 24/7 for most of the previous 13 years. Even when I’d take my daughter camping I took a sat phone. While in Turkey (for work) I got a phone call in the middle of the night from the City Administrator. I responded to a plane crash over the 4th of July weekend, got called about an escaped tiger one Christmas, spent all night doing live press after the Japanese earthquake in 2011 and managed our response to Napa’s quake in my PJ’s.

Like I said…connected. It took a while to let go. New Year’s Eve 2015 was the first NYE in memory where I relaxed and didn’t worry about having more than one drink.

Burn some terminal leave, take a week or 12 off. You won’t regret it, and you’ll start your new venture with a clearer head.

Nobody cares how you used to do it

Every place is different. Personally, I hate it when somebody joins up and immediately starts telling everybody how they did it before. Your references and experience may be valid – or not. Take some time to learn how the new place does it and keep your compare & contrast comments to a minimum.  We all do it, just be cognizant of it. Understand how it’s done at the new place (and why) before trying to inject change. You’ll be far more successful in your efforts. Even if you were hired to institute change, take your time…without buy-in you’ll get nowhere. And here’s a hint: people don’t buy in to initiatives from “outsiders.”

Starting a business is easy, being successful is hard

Honestly, it was way easier than I imagined to start Union Foxtrot International, LLC. I spent my aforementioned time off doing research and getting things in place.  File a few forms, pick up insurance and set up back office systems and you’re good to go. Easy peasy.

But…go where?

That’s where it gets real. I was lucky and had a client waiting. Then what? It’s hard to market yourself as a small business, identify your market, what makes you different and find the leads that put money in the bank. Focus too narrow and you miss opportunities, but focus too broadly and you’re ineffective. There’s a thousand books on how to do all of this, so I’ll keep my advice simple:

  1. Make sure you like doing what you’re doing. If you don’t like being a salesperson, don’t try and do business development for clients who want access to your contact list to sell their stuff. If you don’t enjoy that kind of work, you won’t be effective. Trust me. Don’t judge yourself harshly for not enjoying something…either learn to get good at it and enjoy it or do something else, it’s that simple.
  2. Whatever you do…do it well. Take time to create quality products. Learn how to make your documents beautiful and professional. Hire a proofreader (or beg your spouse to help you like I did). Get good quality business cards and make sure your website looks clean and fresh. Nobody wants to hire an amateur.
  3. Action matters most. It’s not enough to have great ideas or think about stuff…you actually need to do it. You must take action. I’ve got dozens of great ideas…which will all stay just that unless I get off my butt and act.
  4. To act, you must ditch fear. It’s been said that courage is action in the face of fear, not the absence of fear. I’ve gone over the side, fought with drugged out dudes twice my size and played dodge ball with trucks on the freeway (thanks again there CHP…you were supposed to CLOSE the road) but when it comes time to get on the phone I’ll find a dozen things that need doing. I just don’t like making calls…hell, I barely call my mom since we both started texting. True story. You gotta ditch the fear. Every time I push past it and make the calls good things happen.
  5. Network. I’ve told my kid for years: bigger network, more options. It’s true. Sales comes from relationships, so the more people you have some sort of link with, the more people who might know somebody who needs you. Heck, one of those friends might need you themselves, it does happen.
  6. Be generous, but not stupid. Relationships matter and sometimes that means helping friends out. At the same time, every hour you spend helping a friend for free is an hour you could be getting paid (it’s called opportunity cost, it’s in those books I mentioned). The trick is finding the balance between giving enough away that people want to talk about your skills while not giving so much away that they don’t need you. It’s an individual thing you just have to figure out. For me I’ll spend an hour with someone and if they get what they need that’s awesome…if they need more then we talk engagement.
  7. Refer a friend. If you send people to providers you know as potential customers, they’re more likely to do the same for you in return (see network and generosity above).

Never quit learning, and never give up

This year has been one of growth, new ways of thinking and building new skills. I’ve gone from pushing away new work so my team can focus on their primary missions to seeking out work and building a business. That was a huge change…from swatting away good idea fairies to being one.

It’s also been about understanding what I do well and where I add the most value.  I’ve also discovered some things I don’t enjoy…that’s all part of it.  In the end this is a work in progress. Every day is an adventure and an opportunity. The coming year looks to be even more exciting than the last, and honestly I can’t wait to strap in and push the throttle.

If you’re about to make a change, I hope my thoughts added some timely things to consider. If not, file this away because you will soon enough. It’s the way of the world these days. 97

“The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That’s the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!” -Gen. George S. Patton

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The shameless self-promotion bit

Bad days happen. Knowing what to do beforehand can make the difference between a bad day and your last day.

If you’ve not thought about the big picture or managing bad days, we’ll help you figure out what your bad day looks like and develop plans to navigate the event and the aftermath. There’s a lot more to it than evacuating the building and calling 911.

If you already have some plans we’re happy to take a look and give you some feedback on what, if anything, you could do to make them better.

When you’re ready to test, or practice your plans we’ll help you develop exercises and workshops aimed at learning and improvement, not breaking the system looking for failure.

If you’ve recently been through an event and would like an outside expert to help you analyze how things went and determine what worked and what didn’t, we’re here for you.

Remember, preparing for a bad day now may very well save the rest of your days. The investment of time and money is well spent. Think of it like flossing…easy to forget until you’re in the dentist’s chair.

Just click on the contact tab up above and we’ll get back to you straight away.

Bad Days Happen (and a bit of shameless self promotion)

I’m a subject matter expert in emergency management and EMS with an emphasis on human centric solutions and interfacing with local government.

How’s that for sounding like a consultant?

Don’t let it scare you off. At the end of the day I’m a pretty simple guy…I try to keep solutions as uncomplicated as possible, put people first, and know my way around city hall.

So, what’s all that matter to you?

Well, bad days happen. More often than you might think. And it’s not the catastrophe that’ll sink you, it’s the little things (don’t get me wrong…they can…they’re just a lost less common). The “everyday” emergencies that we think we can just handle in the moment.

A bad day is anything from a power outage to a tsunami…anything that might interrupt regular programming you might say. Fire, earthquake, violence, rumors, product defects, and something bad in the same neighborhood are just a few of the things that can ruin a day.

Knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time makes the difference between a bad day and your last day.

Unfortunately, most places emergency planning goes as far as evacuating the building and calling 911. Or the focus is entirely IT disaster recovery. Things tend to be procedure based. Which is great, but if you’re not planning and practicing how to manage the event you’re missing the key part.

What happens after you evacuate? What if there’s a problem but you really don’t need to evacuate? How do you share information and make decisions? Did you think about options ahead of time? You need a strategy…a contingency plan to manage any event beyond the obvious. The last thing you want to ask on a bad day is “and now what?” without having a plan to get from where you are to where you need to be in short order.

There’s a reason quarterbacks just don’t call plays from the field. Tactically critical, they’re in the middle of the action and don’t necessarily have the perspective of the coaching team or the manager. There’s plan, a strategy on how to best engage the opponent. The folks on the sidelines focus on the plan and the game…not just the current play. It’s about knowing the larger strategy and what the plan is to meet the objectives. If needed the quarterback can make on the field adjustments, but it just that, an adjustment to a larger strategy everybody agreed too before the game. They don’t just show up and wing it if they expect to win.

You can’t either. You gotta have a plan. You can tweak it when Mr. Murphy arrives…and he will…but trust me when I say it’s a hell of a lot easier to adjust a known plan for the Murphy factor than trying to compensate when you’re trying to two-step your way out of a charlie foxtrot “live.”

We can help identify what your bad days look like and develop contingency plans to guide you through the worst of days. We’ll get way beyond stacks of freeze dried food and phone trees. We’ll develop scripts to help you hit the ground with both feet and start setting things straight. We’ll develop tools & processes that help you navigate the oh so wrong tweet or the roof collapse. Tools based on how you operate, what you have, and what you need…not what some formula says you need.

One size does not fit all.

We’ll help you figure out contingency plans that fit you. That’s what we do.
We’re also happy to look at what you already have, develop exercises to practice your plans and do post event analysis to help you understand what worked and what didn’t. Resilience is constant, you can’t just write a plan and put it on a bookshelf. If you do, just about when you need it you’ll forget all about it or you’ll open it up and it’ll be obsolete.

Like exercise…belonging to a gym doesn’t do much good if you only go use the equipment once a year. You get out of it what you put into it.
What you invest in preparing for a bad day may very well save the rest of your days. Think of it like floss, a little effort and money now will save you a bunch of pain and money later. I’m pretty sure those dentist chairs are the most expensive recliners on the planet.

If you need to do some planning, would like a second look at your plans, need to practice your plans or want to do some analysis of a recent or past event give us a call. We’d be happy to help.

“Let our advance worrying become our advance thinking and planning.” – Winston Churchill

All Frosting, No Cake

So I was catching up on my reading while watching most of my football picks choke this morning (some weeks are just like that right?) when I came across this bit of wisdom from Seth Godin:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/10/hardware-is-sexy-but-its-software-that-matters.html

Essentially he makes the case that the hardware is a pretty case, but it’s software that makes it useful. He’s right and it got me to thinking about an analogy I’ve been using for years.

It goes like this: you work for a boss or an organization that’s only really concerned with the frosting, not the cake. I mean. who doesn’t love a beautiful cake? Then you get it home and cut into it only to discover it’s what my wife and I call a “look at cake.” It’s dry, falling apart and tastes like sawdust. Will you ever go back? Do you feel cheated? Is the credibility of the baker now in question?

Unfortunately this how far too many programs are run. Particularly if the boss is an appointee and doesn’t really have a background doing the job (yes government…I’m looking at you here). When the focus is on the pretty part – the next public event, the next presser, and the next chance to appease the boss’ boss then what you have is an organization that’s all frosting, no cake.

It’s all well and good until somebody really needs the organization to perform. Once they realize that the competence is just a thin veneer of sugar and color everybody loses credibility. And in the case of a public safety organization, people can end up dead.

Don’t get me wrong – I fully understand the need to be visible and perceived as relevant in this world. Just make sure you don’t lose focus and end up frosting a cardboard box.

The Power of a Network

Papa Johns Driver Checks on Grandma After Hurricane

I came across this story today while perusing a food blog (hey feedly doesn’t need to be populated with all serious stuff ya know). It struck me as a great example of how people will find ways to solve problems. Our networks today span the globe, not just our block or our home town. With technology and social media we in the emergency preparedness business need to stop thinking in terms of the community being proximal. It’s not. It’s global and our support networks can easily cross multiple time zones.

During Sandy a friend of mine in North Carolina loaded up a bunch of gas cans and drove fuel to his boss in the affected area. Others did similar things to help out people in need. Once a need is known via whatever media channel people will rally to help. The support networks have evolved and adapted to the availability of information. Action matters, and a motivated network won’t be deterred by time or distance challenges.

In this case a family used a pizza for not only a hot meal but a truly creative way to check on a elderly family member. Well done! Papa Johns deserves a shout out for helping. They didn’t have to. Yet, here’s a pizza driver using his own phone to help out a stranger. That’s what the majority of people do in times of need. They help.

Never underestimate the power of a network.

Imagine That

What does 2035 look like? Who knows. That’s not the point.

When we were kids it was nothing to simply invent a tool, power, or state of being that solved our problems. Your buddy just zap you with his laser? No problem…now you’re self- healing and activated your invisibility cloak. It was just that simple. And while your buddy might argue the validity of your new-found status of immortal invisible being, the game went on. New worlds to conquer, new problems to solve, new things to imagine.

What the hell happened? When, exactly, did we lose the ability to truly imagine things beyond constraints?

Partly the games got real and we started to learn that dirt clods hurt (hey..I was raised in central California, we didn’t have snowballs…so we improvised. Don’t judge.) and when you crashed your bike that bright red mercurochrome (aka Indian Juice) stung like a bitch when your mom held you down and coated your road rash.

No matter how much you imagined you could fly your bike, gravity is a thing. So are tar roads and gravel. When it’s 110 F outside, gravel embedded tar burned road rash sucks. True story.

So, our introduction to constrained thinking started with red stained knees and tear stained faces.

On a side note, I’m convinced they coated us in that red stuff more as a stupidity deterrent than an antiseptic.  Pain relieving ointment and hurt free band aids?

I don’t think so. For you millennials the phrase “rip off the band aid” came from your predecessors doing just that. And screaming. You’re welcome.

Fast forward 40 something years and I’m sitting in a hotel bar in Rome with MTV playing American Pop videos on a pull-down movie screen writing a blog about breaking free of constraints to imagine solutions to future problems.

Yes…it’s a bit surrealistic. You can’t make this up.

Yet, here I am working with NATO and offering a non-military perspective to a great project: figuring out what skills, doctrine, and equipment needs developing between now and 2035.

It’s really hard. Letting go of constraints is way harder than you think.

Think about it, in the 70’s when I was getting painted red the idea of mobile communications was the stuff of SciFi. Unless you had a HAM radio or a CB good buddy, you, the average bubba wasn’t talking to anybody wirelessly. That Star Trek communicator was just crazy talk…now drag that 42 foot phone cord to your room if you want a private call and on your way by the TV switch it to Wide World of Sports for Dad. That was reality of the time. Your dad couldn’t comprehend the iPhone any more than he could ESPN, both wondrous things but unimaginable when the best thing going was boxing between golf segments on Wide World.

What does 2035 look like? Who knows. That’s not the point. The point is how do we imagine what both the problem set and the solutions will look like? If we constantly imagine the future within today’s constraints, we’ll completely miss the mark.

The capabilities of the future will evolve incrementally, each evolutionary cycle changing and expanding the known constraints. The cell phone evolved from the radio phone. Computers shrunk from room sized calculators to laptops connected to more information than anyone in history could imagine. The iPhone combined shrinking computer technology with the cell phone and a new mobile computing data processing platform that destroyed our ability to think was born.

Very few saw that coming. But a few imagined it. Even if they didn’t have all the details, they shook off the constraints of the day to imagine what could be. Remember Uhura’s earpiece and her tablet? Bluetooth and the iPad. Yes, it was fantasy then and the props were probably Styrofoam, but Gene Roddenberry could see that things were generally moving that way and something like it would eventually come to pass. star-trek-uhura

When we think about the future we absolutely must let go of constraints and imagine what would be useful…even if it seems impossible now. Whether we’re talking about pizza delivering drones and self-driving cars or lighter, more agile protective equipment for the soldier of the future.

In this case, I’m working with military visionaries who are trying to imagine how best to engage enemies in the future environment while not destroying the environment or non-combatants (which deserves admiration all by itself, seeing how historically blowing up neighborhoods was never much of a concern). In your case, it may be trying to imagine the next iteration of mobile computing so you can get a jump patenting the OtterBox case for our neural-implanted communicators. Or perhaps you’re thinking about a whole new level of cyber-kinetic violence and how to protect people from the criminal element that will exploit people with batteries and networks connected to their brains (um…that’s a real concern BTW).

So let go. Imagine. Fly the bike, invent active protection for vehicles that defeats rockets, invent a vacuum that cleans the carpet and terrorizes the dog autonomously…wait…never mind. That last bit’s done, too late.

My point is simple. Let go. Imagine crazy things. You can always go back and apply analysis and reality later, but to start really anticipating the future you have to imagine what might be, what could be.  And if you happen to crash your bike trying to fly within today’s constraints…fear not, the new generation of first aid is nothing like yesterday’s.

Somebody had to imagine what it would feel like to disinfect a wound without red stained fire searing your leg. Somebody imagined THAT. Just saying.

9/11: Remembering or Dwelling?

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” -Winston Churchill

ny-2It’s that time of year again. September 11. Fifteen years ago, life changed for every single one of us. It was our Pearl Harbor. Our Fort Sumter. Our Lexington and Concord. What followed changed the course of the nation, shattered our illusions of safety in the Post-Cold War Era. On that day, thousands lost their lives and millions were affected. From pilots who were prepared to ram United Flight 93 to the firefighters who climbed the Towers knowing the odds, the sacrifices, the well known and the barely heard of, shaped the day. Ben Sliney acted on his own initiative and shut down the US airspace on his first day as a FAA National Operations Manager. Colonels and Generals took orders from Fire Chiefs and paramedics at the Pentagon while the nation looked on, stunned and silent as people leaped from the Towers and passengers rushed a cockpit with a last “Let’s roll.”

We all changed that day.ny-5

It’s a day we should never forget. The lesson that America is vulnerable to something other than another super power isn’t something any of us should ever forget. We cannot let the lessons fade from memory lest we fall victim again.

Now I’m going to say something controversial: we need to stop dwelling on 9/11. What you say? Didn’t he just say never forget? Yes. Yes, I did. I did not contradict myself.

Dwell: verb (used without object), dwelt or dwelled, dwelling.
1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside.
2. to live or continue in a given condition or state:
to dwell in happiness.
3. to linger over, emphasize, or ponder in thought, speech, or writing (often followed by on or upon):
to dwell on a particular point in an argument.
4. (of a moving tool or machine part) to be motionless for a certain interval during operation.

ny-1We must remember the lessons: how it happened, what worked, what didn’t and the fact that the whole nation came together for even the briefest of periods before we began the blame game (we’re way too good at that one). We need to stop dwelling on the loss and memorializing it every September 11th with solemn ceremonies and dredging up the sense of loss. It’s time to move on. It happened, the dead are dead and lives are forever changed.

Each time we televise the reading of the names we give power to those that wish us harm. Our solemn remembrance is their victory, their inspiration. We need to take a lesson from Israel. When a bus is bombed the bus stop is back in service within a couple of days. No weeks on end investigation. No hallowed ground memorial that lives in perpetuity to iconize their enemies. The attack is seen as what it is: an act of war.

Care for the victims, bury the dead, comfort the survivors and clean up the mess. Carrying on and redoubling your efforts to prevent it from happening again is a thumb in the eye to the perpetrators. No different than London during the Battle of Britain. No different than Ireland during the Troubles. ny3

Remaining motionless and living with pain and loss isn’t healthy for anybody. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand times over: humans are naturally resilient. We’re hardwired to adapt, improvise and move on. It’s programmed survival instinct. And it’s served us well for the most part.

Remembering that a Woolly Mammoth crushed Grog because he got too close is a lesson. Mourning Grog for years on end serves no purpose in our primal brain. As harsh as it sounds: Grog is no more, remember to dodge the beast and let the rest go.

Each year we short circuit our natural resilience because nobody wants to be seen as insensitive to the victims. Everyone must be seen to grieve and relive the day as a sort of national tribute on the altar of loss. It’s been 15 years. It’s time to stop.

I’m not saying forget. Never forget. In the same way a small group comes together each December 7th to honor the fallen and remember the sacrifices in Pearl Harbor, we should remember 9/11. Quietly. Personally. It’s time for the huge events and media coverage to fade into memory.ny-4

It’s time to release the pain and redouble the resolve to never let it happen again. To remember the lessons, to say a silent prayer for the fallen and to look forward, not back.

“Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.” – Margaret Thatcher

On Loss

“Every human being must find his own way to cope with severe loss, and the only job of a true friend is to facilitate whatever method he chooses.” -Caleb Carr

49074776.cachedLast week two parts of the world shook, another part was under water and yet others were on fire. Add to that ongoing conflicts and crime and one might say it was a bad week. A week full of death and destruction. Families and communities ripped apart, towns that are essentially gone. A week of loss.

Unfortunately, more weeks than not are bad weeks. We become so inundated with tragedy that it takes something really awful to get our attention anymore. The videos of rubble and victims and funerals sort of numb us to the reality of the situation. For those involved it’s likely the worst day of their lives. The fire that destroyed their home, the rubble that buried their family…the loss is real. It’s tangible. There’s no replacing what’s lost. More than stuff, the lost are memories and futures yet unwritten. The loss leaves a gaping void in the survivors, one that no amount of money or material goods can possibly fill.

A man cries in front of a coffin, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, before the start of the mass funerals in Ascoli Piceno, central Italy, for some of the victims of a major earthquake that devastated a large area in central Italy. Italian president Sergio Mattrella and Italian premier Matteo Renzi will attend the funerals. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

A man cries in front of a coffin, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016, before the start of the mass funerals in Ascoli Piceno, central Italy, for some of the victims of a major earthquake that devastated a large area in central Italy. Italian president Sergio Mattrella and Italian premier Matteo Renzi will attend the funerals. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

In a disaster, more so than “everyday” tragedies, the loss is collective. The entire community shares the loss and the ripple sweeps across families, towns, regions and nations growing less tangible and more surreal the farther from the epicenter it travels.

In my line of work tragedy has been an everyday occurrence. When you’re a paramedic, nobody calls you on a good day. They generally only call on exceptionally bad days. As an emergency manager the direct interaction with loss is less frequent, but on a much larger scale. For those of us who choose to spend our lives preparing for and dealing with loss it’s important to maintain an emotional detachment. You can’t focus or be effective if you don’t. Make no mistake though, every interaction leaves a mark. Sometimes you look back and know you made lives a bit better in the middle of so much loss. Other times all you can do is cry.

cc4923f97df4e76403f344969bd0da4eYet we carry on, we human beings. The survivors and the responders, indeed the entire world, we move forward. Go on to clear the physical and emotional rubble and live. Mostly.

Blandyn LeBlanc, left, helps his friend Logan Green, bring Green's dogs off a boat, after picking them up at Green's flooded house in Central, La., Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says more than 1,000 people in south Louisiana have been rescued from homes, vehicles and even clinging to trees as a slow-moving storm hammers the state with flooding. (Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)

Blandyn LeBlanc, left, helps his friend Logan Green, bring Green’s dogs off a boat, after picking them up at Green’s flooded house in Central, La., Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says more than 1,000 people in south Louisiana have been rescued from homes, vehicles and even clinging to trees as a slow-moving storm hammers the state with flooding. (Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)

Unfortunately, there are always a few who succumb and lose even more to drink, drugs, depression or suicide. Whether it’s the inability to recover from one catastrophic loss or a lifetime of carrying the loss of others some just can’t move on. That’s not a judgement. But for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes. I’ve been lucky in that I have a wife that props me up, kicks my ass, and stays with me no matter how bad the day. Honestly, without her who knows where I’d be.

Our understanding of loss and the impact on individuals and communities has grown dramatically over the years. We’re finally starting to plan for and put resources in place to help people move through the loss in different ways. See, that’s the thing – we all deal with loss differently. Some talk, others don’t. Some get up and clean, others need to sit amongst the rubble for a bit. The point is that we recognize that people are, well, people, and need different support at different times. There’s no shame in feeling loss or needing help. renzo-piano-italy-earthquake-rebuilding_dezeen_2364_ss_0

That support and help comes from a variety of places, starting with each other. Families, friends and communities rally together in that shared loss and help each other move through together. Government is the least of it. So while we plan for mental health teams and emotional support, we need to recognize that the best thing government can do is provide the safety and security necessary for a community to heal at its own pace. Clear the roads, secure the area and put out the fires. Do those things and people will tell you what they need in terms of emotional support. People are naturally resilient; respect that.

dog-rescue-sorrento-louisiana-weathernation-5-900x364So the next time you watch a video or read the news about a disaster on the other side of the globe remember those are real people, suffering real loss. It may be surreal to watch carpet bombing in Ukraine, but on the ground it’s pure hell and the lives destroyed are real. The soaking wet dog rescued in the floods was likely part of a family that’s just lost everything, including their four-legged child. Pray for them, those in the rubble and those who go to help. Pray for them and look around, for tomorrow you may very well hope they’re praying for you.

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” -Winston Churchill