Emergency Management Leadership The Skills We All Need

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This week we are discussing leadership and how we can shape the field of emergency management. Jocko Willink in his book Extreme Ownership lays out the path on how to be a good leader. Now it is time to take those principles and implement them in Emergency Management.

Hi and welcome to EM Weekly your emergency management podcast. And this is your host Todd DeVoe. This week we are going to do something a little bit different. This is going to be you and I kind of chit chatting a little bit about some things that are going on in the world. And I think the one that I really want to cover is emergency management leadership and what does it mean? So a couple of things that are going on, you have West Virginia right now going through some trials and tribulations with what to do with the emergency management office. Whether it’s going to be part of the national guard or if it’s going to stay 100% civilian operated, they’re not really sure. And there’s a debate going on between, you know, the emergency managers and the governor’s office and legislature and a lot of things going on with that. And it just came to bear to mind, to me that we really need to discuss, um, exactly what it means to be in leadership.

I got to attend a seminar put on by Jocko Willink, the author of Extreme Ownership and that Dichotomy of Leadership and a lot of the stuff that was in there, you know, we, we’ve kind of discussed before in certain ways, but I think it was a few things that he did that put it together. I really was impressed by and the cool part about this workshop that we went to this seminar if you will. It wasn’t just a guy standing up there, you know, running his mouth about leadership. We actually, yeah. Got some hands on practical experience doing this and it was a lot of fun. If you ever get the opportunity to attend one of those seminars, I highly recommend going.

It was definitely worth the day I spent a there and a couple of things that he talked about, which I really, I want to apply this not just to the business world and not just to, you know, the idea of, of combat, If you will, because this is where he gets his principles from. And I want to apply that to what we do on a daily basis as emergency managers. And so a couple of the core concepts that he has is the cover and move, make things simple, prioritize and execute and uh, the decentralized command. And these are the things that we, we really do practice on a regular basis, but putting them into context and he goes into the concept of covering move and cover movie says is the most fundamental and perhaps the only true kind of fighting tactic right at its core.

And the interesting thing is he’s absolutely right. So when we move, if you’re anybody who’s been in the military when we move, we’re always sending down cover fire and we, you know, we go, I’m moving bounding, and you know, the route to go down range to cover the guy who’s moving. And then when he sat, he yells back, sat on the other guy, starts moving, you know, bounding and then put down a cover, fire form them. And so he explains this in his training, you know, to for the civilian population that’s out there or has never experienced it. And it kind of makes sense, right? And this is what you’re doing. And so, but he brings us back into the business kind of concept of covering for your other divisions when you’re doing business. And I want to bring this down to the idea of covering for the other sections that you’re working for, not just you’re in the EOC type thing, but also we’re covering or put laid down, cover fire, if you will, for the fire department or laying down cover fire, if you will, for the police department in a disaster.

You know, for our politicians, for our city managers, for all those, that’s what we do. And the Emergency Operation Center, we want to make sure that we’re pulling in enough information that we’re going to be able to share this information with the people who need to have it and give it to them in a timely manner. And we never want to have another area fail because we’re holding on to information or we’re not sharing the information, or we’re not putting the information together in a packet where people really understand what’s going on. You know, and if you think about with you know, an incidence happening and whether, for instance, you know, we want to make sure that we have a good weather report to come in there that’s solid because that way people can be prepared for that particular weather. Whatever it is, right? That’s going to be out there.

The troopers that are going to be out doing the job, the firefighters that are going to be out doing the job, those things are going to be highly important. So when we’re putting together our plan intelligence section, they need to be looking out for that section. So that’s the idea of covering fire. cover and move, I should say. Now, in addition to this, during our daily jobs as emergency managers, we should be looking at how we are doing our job. That is going to provide proper cover if you will. I don’t using cover loosely here, not, not cover up, right, not hiding things, but the proper information that’s going to be going to, again, our elected officials and to our city managers on the idea, our jurisdiction prepared. Do we have enough working knowledge of the Fire Department or Police Department that we’re supporting? EMS, public health, you know, do we have enough knowledge about those areas that we’re able to help them?

And in turn, we need to build these relationships, right? And these relationships that we’re going to build are going to really make people want to do it for us. And even in training, uh, Jocko goes into the idea of relationships and, and as emergency managers, that’s what we do. We’re coordinators; we coordinate things. We had these relationships, and that’s what we really get paid the big dollars for, for lack of better term. Is to go and build these relationships among not just other emergency managers, but other divisions. Other counties, other states, if you will. That’s why we do things like the International Association of Emergency Managers or state associations or NEMA, those things. We do all of these to build these relationships.

So, when we pick up the phone and we can make that phone call and say, hey, we need some help over here, and it’s not the first time that you’re hearing from me, and this is what we do here. The community that we’re trying to create or that we have created, I should say, uh, with, with Ian Weekly is that we’re creating those relationships across the board, right? We’re bringing people in to have the conversations, uh, about what the best practices are in emergency management. And I think that comes into what the I concepts of the cover and move our, uh, that he has with the, uh, with combat leadership, right? It’s really; it’s creating those relationships and creating those divisions that, uh, I want to work together and not trying to back by to each other. It’s for those dollars in pennies that are out there from the federal government, right?

That we are going to be able to share this resource and stuff, and we’re going to work together to make sure that our communities are safe. I think that’s at the end of the day, the other part of it he goes into is the concept of simple, and he sees combat. Like anything else in life has inherent layers of complexities. He goes simple flying as much as possible, as crucial. And that was one of the principles that Brock long was bringing the FEMA, and he wanted to make FEMA less complex. Think about that for a second because I think that that was one of the driving forces for, for FEMA at this point is to make things as complex. He wanted to take this big behemoth and make it simpler to work, and we needed to do the same thing as local and state and county emergency managers is we need to kill the bureaucracy.

We need to cut those onion layers down to this as simple as possible. Why make so difficult when you’re processing, you know the ID 10 T form, right? You know why? Why can’t we just make it so we’re a plain language like we tried to do or things like this that would make it easier for us to process that, pick up the phone and make the phone call? Right. And half the things on the way. Yeah. We need to track paperwork. I get that we need to have the ICS forms filled out, right, which are, which are a pain. But if you even need to talk to Craig Fugate, he talks about the idea of the ICS zealot, right? And he goes into the concept that we don’t, ICS as a system. It’s not the only system. It is a system. Is it effective? Sure. Can it be improved for sure. But we get caught up in like these form numbers and what they are.

Why can’t we just do yellow pad if we need to write? Do you walk around with ICS forums in the back of your car? You know, your personal car, I’m talking about. And, and if you need to get someplace to start doing ICS forums now, but we can get a yellow pad of paper and start working things out, all right. You know, we talk about the, 201 forms, the paper Napkin form, right? Where we do our first plan on the back of the, of the squad car or in the cab of the engine, right? We make things so complicated when it comes to our forms and our processes. We need to look at how can we simplify those processes because once you have the process made and simplified, it becomes easy to use.

And there’s a reason why we break things down the way we do in the military. It’s crossed the board. We use the same concepts, right? Troop movements, you know, we might use different words occasionally, for different things, but, you know, squad size, platoon size, division, site, right? They’re all very similar. And the reason why is because it works. And the concepts of, of warfare, if you will, have not changed much over the tens of thousands of years that we’ve been trying to kill each other. You know, the concepts of what we do as firefighters and police officers, you know, although some of the tactics may have changed, the basic concepts are pretty much the same. Put the wet stuff on the red stuff, right? Make sure the bad guy goes to jail. You know, those things are pretty simple, right? We need to simplify those processes and not make them more complex that we don’t need to be. Right. I think that’s really the takeaway on this, uh, on this part of it here.

Again, prioritize and execute. I think we do a really good job here. Uh, on that part of it. We do look at what our priorities are, and I think we execute them pretty well when it comes to response recovery. We fail at recovery a lot of times because again, we don’t think about recovery until it’s too late at recovery. Really needs to be started to think about, right? Right. When the disaster starts, what occurs, right? When that tornado rips through, yeah, we’re going to do rescue until the rescues did, but people need to get hold again. And how do we prioritize and execute on the recovery is hard? We, don’t tend to do that. Well, and I think this is one of the areas in emergency management where if we use leadership properly prior to a disaster occurring, we can get into the concepts here of, of what the resiliency, what a resilient community is, how we can use that to really reflect the values of our, of our community and to prioritize that recovery.

When this occurs, we, it’s not a matter of if a disaster’s going to occur. It’s not, we all know that some point in our community we’re going to have a major event. Now, some communities have less vulnerability to it than others, but every community is going to have something happen. Whether it’s a train wreck, a bad bus accident, a large building fire, things that really take them by surprise and are unable to handle it right outside of the tornadoes or hurricanes, the floods, the things that happen, like in these areas that we know that are happening in the wild land fires in California, which we know are going to be happening. The earthquake that could potentially come right. But every community is faced with some sort of hazard that they know is going to occur. And if you plan for that hazard for a response, you need to plan for that hazard for recovery.

You need to keep the concept of resiliency in the fore when it comes to what you do as emergency managers. And I think that’s important as well; you need to recognize a situation that you’re in. We need to recognize a situation that we might be in the right. And plan for that and work it out. And then the idea of decentralized command, and again, we used that pretty well in emergency management and the idea of having, you know, incident commanders doing what they do, you know, and, and the EOC doing what they do, you know, it’s not top down. You’re not getting direct orders from the mayor. It’s going down to the troops. So I think we do that as well. And he talks a little bit about the idea of everybody needs to lead and that comes into this process here.

We need to start developing our leaders by giving trust to those that are subordinate to us in the chain of command of emergency management. We need to allow them to run some of the smaller events and not step in and take over just because you’re the director of emergency management for the county of X. Develop those leaders to handle because you’re not always going to be there. You’re not always going to be there. One of the things that I really stressed, to the people who worked for me, in different areas is that I might be gone at some point for some reason and you’re going to have to take over and run this thing.

And I think I did a pretty decent job at a couple of places where I was at and then I left, and they were able to, to step up and do what they needed to do to make the place run. And you know, it sounds bad when they go, oh, okay, you’re gone, and they don’t miss what you’re doing. That’s because I train people to do what I needed to have them do, and when I was gone, they were able to keep doing it. But the thing that I loved about it is the idea that when I created programs and those programs are still there and the new people that come in are running them, are still running the programs that I created; it kind of says something about the legacy that we created.

You don’t do that by micromanaging the people that are underneath you. Your legacy is created by giving them the ability to run and letting them make plans and letting them have failures and letting them do what needs to be done and trusting that it’s going to be done. It doesn’t mean that you don’t look over the plans and take a look at it and have the conversations with them, but you need to have the trust in your people that work for you or that you, that are subordinate to you that they’re going to be able to get things done. And I love the idea here of the decentralized command, allowing the junior people in your organization to do some of the heavy work, to be able to fail if they need to fail, right? We’re not looking for them to fail on the big disaster, right?

We’re talking about training exercises, things like this where if they can make those mistakes there, that’s where you want them to make the mistakes. I think it’s important to really have that understanding and concept of what they mean by failing first and you learn more from failures. And that’s one of the things that we do poorly. Also, as emergency managers, as when we do us, our, our after-action reports and our debriefs are hot washes, whatever you want to call them. And I think that is something that we need to discuss.

The thing here is that we can’t grow unless we know what we did wrong. And you know, I had, um, we had a guest on Joe Bernard who was a PJ, and he was a PJ commander. And he talks about the fact that they come back in from training or they come back from in from a rescue. And we know that they did 90% of the stuff, right? We all do, right? We go out there, we do, or 90%, but they want to talk about that 10% that they did poorly or not, didn’t necessarily poorly. Maybe they could have done just a little bit better.

And I think that’s a really important thing to take away. And in this training, and they talk about the same thing, right? The SEALs do it, and the Rangers do it, the Force Recon guys do it. They come back, and a debrief. What went bad? Cause if you sit around and just pat yourself on the back and say, oh, we did such a great job on this, you’re not going to learn anything from, from that event. Right. And we tend to do this in emergency management. We sit around and going, oh, what a great job you guys did.

You know this is awesome. There might be a couple of things here, and here we could do a little bit better, but we really focus on the victory, and I get it because no one wants to walk away feeling like they did poorly. But you know, you need to be brutal on yourself when you talk about, what we did wrong because if we don’t bring this up, it’s going to fail again. And I’ll tell you, every time we do a debrief, what’s the first thing that they put on the board? Communications, communications sucked. We are getting information to and from. We do that, but we don’t fix it, right?

We don’t take time to fix that issue. We just go, Yep, it’s going to be a problem. And that’s it. Why is that? You know, why? Why is that? Why can’t we sit down? I mean, yeah. Is it an easy answer? No, it’s not an easy answer. All right? It’s going to be a hard process to fix the communication issue. And you know, that being said, they talked about this in training, that communication was a problem, for them as well in combat. Not just the fog of war type stuff, but just because too many people are yip, yapping. And on the radio. And it happens during the large scale events, right. Too many people get on the radio. They, yip yap. And you can’t communicate. And so, you know, he said to his troops, hey, no one’s talking on the radio. Nobody. A matter of fact, you know, in some cases they just turn the radio off because it was better to talk face to face. No, not saying that’s the solution that we have to add, but there has to be something that’s done better for our communication should. Because if it’s always on the board when we have a disaster,

that means it’s a known quantity, and that means it’s something that we can really put our teeth into and fix. Now there are various different ways we could do it. All right. Talk to the HAM guys are all HAM radio is the answer or you talk to other people? Oh, everybody used to have a satellite phone, you know, you know what, what is the answer? But I think sitting down through and really taking a hard look at what it is; I think we can come up with that pro, that a solution.

The other idea that I really took away from this training was the idea of subordinate your ego. And most of us that are in this field are A type personalities. high driven, our ideas are going to be the best. We’re the ones who can have the solution to everything, but we aren’t, right? I mean, everybody has really good input, and I think we’re coming to the point to where if you can subordinate your ego and somebody comes up with a damn good plan, and you go, okay, we’re going to go with it, go with it. Right. And I think we do a halfway decent job with this. Uh, but you see this come into play a lot of times where fire and police kind of get into it, uh, of who’s going to be in charge of this incident and who’s going to do this or that.

And the leaders need to subordinate their ego when they, when it comes into this, because the concept that we hear here, right, is that we need to put the public safety first, not our badges and patches. And I think sometimes we run into that problem and we run into that problem again during our debriefs or hot wash if something did go wrong because then we get to point the finger at the other agency set well, they screwed up, right? They made a mistake, not our guys or you know, that team was screwed up. They weren’t where they’re supposed to be, not our guys. And the funny part about it is when Jocko was giving his presentation, he really used those types of stories that happened, with training and things that happened in the seals that people would point fingers at, at things. And he’s talking about the idea with leadership is that we own it.

Own your outcomes, learn from that, learn from the mistakes that you’ve made or that your team has made and figure out how can we improve on that by owning those outcomes. Because if you start laying out blame at these things, you never will learn from them. Right. You know, a couple of the things that came out of here that I thought was really interesting is the concept of doing what he called a blender training, right? The blender training, and what is this? It’s when you take your sop, just jumble them all up and go out there and train that way. And I thought that was kind of interesting concept because when we train, we have our training plan or exercise plan up there and we have our measles on there put in there, and we got this and this and that and that.

We’re ready to go. And I sometimes think if you take that, go through the planning process and then just take it up and jumbled up a little bit to, to put people on their toes. I think that’s actually a really a really cool idea. Continuous training doesn’t wait for that yearly or biannual, tabletop exercise or, or functional exercise, do quick drills, quick tabletop exercises, understand it’s going to occur and do them that day. You know, when I was over in Okinawa doing EMS As a Navy Corpsman, um, we would do our drills, um, daily or every other day, uh, with the ambulance crews that are out there. And because there weren’t enough regular calls daily for us, right. We would get to our clinic stuff done, but outside in the field and the, uh, and the austere environment, if you will. So, we would set up drills every day, and it was worth it, right?

Because the guy’s got to go out, you know, go code three to a place, get in there and start working on a victim, And it’s doing those, right. If you don’t have the drill, every you a hundred a disaster happening, you know, once a week or something, you’re going to get rusty, you know, and there’s, the concept there is solid because we do it with, with fire where the fire guys go out and they, they burn a tower or whatever because you don’t get fires every week, you know, uh, the coppers, they go out and they shoot guns every quarter, at least where we’re here. And they get used to, you know, the muscle memory of doing that because obviously, they’re not in gun battles every day. So doing these quick tabletop exercises for emergency management really makes sense to me. And the other thing too is we had to get asking better questions, and I have to get better at asking better questions even in my daily job.

There are assumptions that you make, and sometimes those assumptions aren’t really what are there. And so really having a, asking those better questions and then understanding the commander’s intent. I think those are all really important. And we do a good job with getting the commander’s orders right and put it in our goals and objectives based upon what the the commander wants, right? But what does the commander’s intent and does everybody, when I say everybody, not just the person right in the plan because everybody from the top down understands what that is. And so you need to really have this communication right back to that question. We need to have this communication. Does everybody know? Does the guy who is driving the food van, you know who works for us, know what the commander’s intent is. If you look at the large campaign fires, right? That’s the other question that we have to ask of everybody, and that command post is everybody who was on that fire from the hot shot to the, you know, the smoke jumper. Does everybody know what the commander’s intent is

in emergency management? We need to become more innovative. We need to look not just at the new technology that’s coming out, but what are the trends that are going on in the field of science, in the field of management, in the field of leadership, right? What are we doing to reach out to the community to get them involved in what we do on a daily basis? How do we build that resilient community? I think we need to be more innovative about what we do. You know, we get so caught up into the concepts of all this is what they used to do. This is the way we’ve always done it. You know, we come from this history of whatever and we need to change some of that, and we need to get better at being innovative in this field of emergency management. And I think we see this coming out of some of the, um, literature for emergency management today.

But are we implementing a lot of those looking at new tactics, if you will, looking at the emerging technology, looking at, what is going on in the journals? How many of you all read the Journal of Emergency Management? You know, I’d like to see that. I like to see more people are reading that journal. How many of you guys read the dispatch from IAME or disaster resiliency blog or whatever else is out there that say that you can get educated on with the trends that are happening in emergency management. Now you guys all probably a little bit more likely to be engaged in this stuff because I mean, obviously you’re here listening to you and EM Weekly and then that means you’re probably more interested in learning more about emergency management, but we can all do better at doing this.

We’re at the time of the day here where we’re over with what we have. I want to keep these, uh, you know, around 30 minutes or so. I am so happy to have you guys listening in, and I have a lot of heavy stuff that we just brought up during this conversation. So I would really love to have you guys reach out to me. Let’s chat about what I discussed here today and what do you think specifically about leadership that we can bring to emergency management and help elevate the profession of emergency management? Yeah. Hey, Nick Crossley, the past president of IAEM, you know, gets mad when we talk about the elevation of the profession of an emergency manager because he says, I am in a professional emergency manager. And Nick, you’re absolutely right. And those of us that are here listening probably are professional emergency managers, right?

But we also have positions to where, they’re being done by collateral officer’s collateral, firefighters, things like this that are doing emergency management that doesn’t do it as a profession. They do it as a collateral duty. And what can we do to lead emergency management into that next threshold to where we are just as recognized as a firefighter police officer.

Am I ending note here? The other day I was at a veteran’s mixer, and I was wearing a shirt that said emergency management on it and people would ask me, what is an emergency manager? And it’s a great question, and I answered it strongly, but the funny part about it, how many people ask that question? Because if I walked in there wearing something, I said, police or firefighter, they wouldn’t have that question. Lead strong, lead faithfully and see you guys next week.


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