Irene Conforti Interviews Jacob Green, Author of See Change Clearly: Leveraging Adversity to Sharpen Your Vision and Build Resilient Teams
Welcome to EM student. I’ve got Jacob Green here, and I’m really excited to have you. How are you doing this morning? I’m doing well. Irene, thanks so much for having me. Definitely, I am very excited to speak with you. So I know that we’re going to be discussing your book and sort of some advice that you have for those in the field of emergency management. But just to begin, how did how did you get into emergency management and what’s sort of your journey through that profession?
Jacob Green 0:36
Sure. So I started in public safety really early. I was at the age of 13. I became a part of the local police explorer program and dived into that all through high school until I graduated and so I was really exposed and interested in areas of public safety. And then through college, I went on to become a police dispatcher to pay my way, first part-time and then full-time through school to pay my way and pay the bills. And then ultimately, in college, my senior year, I was doing a research project on the impact of disasters on vulnerable populations just because I was interested in the area of disaster management, I had done about five years as a Red Cross volunteer. So I had traveled the country a little bit with a red cross and responded to some disasters and always thought it’d be amazing to be professionally in the emergency management industry. And so what I did my senior year, which I highly recommend to all of your listeners and, you know, it’s a tip that really launched my emergency management career is I just reached out to about 10 emergency managers in Orange County in Southern California. I emailed them or, and then followed up with a phone call and I said, Hey, I’m a student at a local university. I would love to come in and interview you about emergency management and all 10 of them said yes. So I scheduled these great appointments, where I went
all around to their various cities and interview them in their working environment, and built these relationships. And after interview number 10, the emergency manager whose name is Randy black, he was a fire Captain at then sent out a fire department now he’s an assistant chief at the Orange County Fire authority. But he said, Hey, are you really interested in emergency management? I said,
Yes. He said, How about you come intern for me, I said, Oh, that’d be incredible. So I started an internship with then Captain black at the Santa Ana Fire Department. And the rest is history that eventually started my whole career trajectory in emergency management and local government leadership.
Irene Conforti 2:42
Great, yeah, that’s a great story. And I think that it is reflective of a lot of people who end up in emergency management, you know, they’re interested in it, and it is such a rewarding career. I want to just express how grateful I am for you to describe sort of your research path into emergency management. And I know that you said that you sort of started, you know, your, your studies in college, how? How do you think that your education prepared you for emergency management and, and also, how do you want others who are going into the field, to use their education for emergency management
Jacob Green 3:30
was an undergrad, you know, at the time, when I was going through undergraduate classes at the University of California, Irvine, there wasn’t any kind of program for emergency management. So I really had to create it. And I did so through the School of Social Sciences and working with our advisors and trying to create sort of an interdisciplinary, customized undergraduate program or field of study. So I had to be a little bit innovative there. And, you know, don’t be frustrated if you’re at your respective University of college. And an immersive management program isn’t being offered, but you haven’t interested in getting into the world of disasters, create it, you know, work with your professors express the interest that your advisors and try to create a program that exposes you to a lot of different areas of government, especially, the more understanding you have about the way that local government operates and public safety where public safety and disaster management fits in, the more effective you’re going to be as an emergency manager, it’s, it’s, I think, sort of a detriment to only focus on the emergency management classes and profession. And then once you land, that local government job as an emergency manager, not really understanding where you fit in the overall structure can be at kind of a detriment and a bit of a transition to get adjusted to. So I think you really have to try to broaden your education as much as possible. And really understand the context in which Emergency Management operates in both the local state and federal levels.
Irene Conforti 5:01
That’s really, really great. And I want to just mention your book, if you want to talk about it for a second. And then I’ll ask a couple of questions. I’m really excited to have you on to discuss this, because I think that there are so many great leadership tips and sort of through your own experience, that are really useful for those who are studying the field. but also those who’ve been in the field a really long time. And I think that you’ve really put very eloquently how important it is to sort of manage up in in how to be a leader in emergency management. So if you don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to discuss your book, that would be really great.
Jacob Green 5:50
Sure, and maybe I’ll give you a little bit of background on you know, how the book came to be. And so after that internship experience in emergency management with the City of Santa Ana and the Santa Ana Fire Department, I got a phone call from another neighboring city that said, Hey, we understand you’re interning for free will pay like five bucks an hour if you want, you know, to pay for a little bit of pizza and a few of your bills. And so I jumped over there and got that paid internship gig, which I thought was absolutely incredible that I could be paid to do emergency management.
Irene Conforti 6:21
Definitely. Was that… it wasn’t Costa Mesa, was it?
Jacob Green 6:25
Irene Conforti 6:25
Fountain Valley, my apologies.
Jacob Green 6:28
Yeah, Fountain Valley Fire Department, they they called me up and had an amazing time there. I love the people in the team there. And then Santa Ana called me up again and said, Hey, we’ll pay you like six bucks an hour, if you want to come back here to Santa Ana and have a good time here with us. And so a six bucks was better than five bucks. But so I jumped over there and did some more time, there’s a paid intern, and then ultimately, kind of slowly worked my way up. And then I landed my real first official gig, as a disaster analyst for the city of Ontario, California. Then I got promoted to emergency manager and Ontario. And then after three years working in the fire department in emergency management, I had an opportunity, thankfully to some, as a result of some great mentors that I talked about in the book, the city manager gave me an opportunity to go to the police department at Ontario and become the police Administrative Director, did that for three years. Then I went into economic development and did that for three years. And then I went into deputy city manager, and then assistant city manager and I was in the city manager’s office there for three years. And the Emergency Management Program kind of followed me, I took that with me into the city manager’s office and had a great crew and some great emergency managers I got to hire and work with and people that I really admire and respect. Toni Collette has the emergency manager right now at the city of Ontario, along with rain, and over there, they’re there to my favorite people, and just phenomenal folks. And then after three years of being in the city manager’s office in Ontario, I got an opportunity to help rebuild the city of San Juan Capistrano and the organization there, once again, overseeing emergency management and as their assistant city manager, and hiring a long time emergency veteran to work for us named Lynn Mata, who’s phenomenal. And so I’ve had quite the local government sort of journey in a lot of different areas. And I thought, you know, I need to capture some of these stories and some of these adventures and some of these lessons learned for others out there. And so the book is called sea change, clearly. And the subtitle is leveraging adversity to sharpen your vision, and build resilient teams. And so what it does is, it’s essentially a book about how you and your work environment can use the lessons I learned from the adversity in my early life, and apply that to growing professionally and becoming a local government leader in emergency management or otherwise. And essentially, when I was in college, my first year in college, I interrupted a robbery and stained a series of injuries, including a brain injury, had to drop out of school and go through almost three years of rehabilitation before I got my way back in the world. And so the book is about the lessons I learned at rehabilitation process, and how later on like, I have explained to your listeners here, how I ultimately apply those lessons learned to my emergency management, local government profession, and work my way up city manager’s office. So the book is lots of different stories and adventures, and many, many Emergency Management tales and tips and resources, throughout based on the lessons had learned in rehabilitation.
Irene Conforti 9:40
Right, and I, I, I’m reading I’m about halfway through right now, and I’m really enjoying it. And I want to just express to the listeners that, you know, like, you know, Jacob said about his book it, it is for emergency managers, but it’s also for anybody in local government, or county government or state government who’s interested in in, you know, the way that Jacobs gone through his career, and we’ve incorporated different resources into that, that path that you’ve gone through. So I really appreciate that. And I appreciate all the stories. Because I think, when it comes to, you know, reading some, some books can be a bit dry. But this one really incorporates a lot of the stories and sort of the reasons and the methods behind what resources you’ve chosen. And one of them that I wanted to talk about was you were describing when a gap can be a bridge and embracing cognitive diversity. And I just wondering a little bit about, you know, when you’re describing, seeing those functional blind spots, and you know, I know that you’re seeing, being able to understand clearly, when you’re overcoming adversity, if you can describe a little bit more about that, that’d be really great.
Jacob Green 11:11
Sure, well, there thanks Irene, I really appreciate all the all the comments and thoughts there. And I’m glad you’re enjoying the book. And, you know, for your listeners, there’s all kinds of stories in there about emergency operations centers, and mobile command posts, and, you know, various experiences and challenges and failures and successes, and all those things all wrapped in one that certainly apply to emergency management. But, you know, in specifically the tool you just mentioned, there’s really two thoughts that are discussed here in the book that you just mentioned, the first is about gaps. So in the rehabilitation process after my brain injury, you know, I spent years in rehabilitation, focused on and studying on the gaps, the issues and the challenges, basically, the deficit, what areas of the brain no longer function properly, and how to then create compensatory techniques, you know, what kind of tools and resources are going to use to compensate for those gaps for that injury. And so, this is the process and rehab. And so later on in life, when I got into local government, I realized that, hey, the reality is, it’s not a big deal, all of us, you know, struggle and have challenges in certain areas. But what sets us apart is our ability to really fill that gap, and figure out what the tools and resources are, or people are, that can be brought together and incorporated to fill that gap, and be a strong team and tackle a project successfully and move forward. So I really, you know, spent years of my life looking at my own weaknesses and my own challenges. And that ends up being quite a strength later on in the workplace, when you have to really get in touch with what you can do well, and in the areas that you need a little bit more support on. So that’s, you know, there’s there’s this three step process that is the Book about how you can identify your own gap and challenges it and part of that is the second resource that you mentioned, which is the E m cube a like Apple like elephant and like Mike cube, which is an assessment tool that you can take yourself or it can be used with your team and local government, you’re a really good use of it would be for your EEOC team that’s coming together and operating in your city to take this assessment. And essentially, this assessment is is the result of a series of concepts developed by Peter Robertson in the late 1980s. And the actual assessment cube was finalized and validated in the 1990s and early 2000s. And then, years later, Allison Reynolds and David Lewis did some extraordinary research regarding these concepts that was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017. And that article is called teams solve problems faster, when they’re more cognitively diverse, I highly recommend that article for all of your listeners. And essentially what the ATM cube assessment does, and what all this research is all about is, if we’re going to tackle problems, if we’re going to effectively work together and, and address challenges in the workplace, we have to be cognitively diverse, we have to be a group of people that looks at knowledge processing and expertise from various perspectives. And, you know, essentially making sure that we’re not a team of people that come together and look at the world the same way. And so they described diversity, not in terms of race, religion, and gender, and sexual orientation, and these things that we generally think of, of diversity. But they think of diversity as cognitive diversity, the real power of a group of people coming together with different perspectives and different ways in which they take in knowledge and information and expertise. And what they showed through their series of tests and studying various teams is that those teams that have cognitive diversity, are best able to solve challenges, and best able to deal with change in the workplace. And so this is an assessment tool that I’m using for a few years now with lots of different private and public sector entities throughout the country. And it gives you a way to figure out where the gaps on your team, and how can you build a more powerful and successful team and dealing with change and challenge and for emergency management. As you know Irene very well, and all of your studies and all of your work and background, that’s exactly what we need, we need a team that’s going to be trained and the EEOC that can come together and effectively deal with what ever the crisis of the day or the moment it is, based on that disaster that’s happening. So the more cognitively diverse, your EEOC team can be, the more effective and successful you’ll be at serving your community.
Irene Conforti 15:55
Right and thinking through, you know, applying that concept to it an EOC you know, if you’ve got a background, where you understand the religious community, you understand, you know, the community with access and functional needs, if you understand, you know, different pockets of the community, you’re better able to serve the EOC and better able to, you know, serve the community during a disaster during emergency. So I, I could definitely see that application. And it’s also, you know, a personal reflection and being able to be introspective and saying, I know that I’m going to be coming at any meeting through my own lens, and I only have my own eyes with which to view the problem at hand or the problem at work. And I sort of need the diversity of thought, diversity of opinions of my colleagues in order to best solve this problem. And sort of it, it harkens back to not doing it alone, and being able to understand that, you know, it’s, it’s always a team effort when it comes to emergency management, or city government in general. And, and I really appreciated sort of that concept and the way it’s laid out, it’s really easy to understand, and I really appreciate you explaining it to.
Jacob Green 17:21
Sure, thank you very much. I hope it helps. And, you know, like I said, I weave in the incident command system, and ICS and EOCs and all kinds of practical examples of, you know, how these things are all related and, and work to form a really strong emergency management or local program.
Irene Conforti 17:36
Definitely, and that I am wondering, what, what advice or tools or resources would you give to those of us who are in our master’s program, you know, interested in setting out in our experiences in emergency management? What’s, what’s something that you’d like to give an impact as a piece of advice?
Jacob Green 18:02
Sure, well, you know, the, the educational and academic programs are important and good for, you know, everybody for pursuing those programs and making sure that you get some great classroom, you know, background and education, but I can’t say it enough, the volunteer opportunities that are available right now in emergency management are extraordinary. And, you know, I would try to focus as much of your time as possible, volunteering, and interning and getting, you know, real world practical experience in the area of emergency management, you know, there’s, there’s, you know, Never before has Emergency Management been so popular and have so many organizations around the world that are dedicated and focused on areas of emergency management, you know, there’s, at the time, you know, for me, really, it was just Red Cross and local government, but now there are so many different organizations, you know, Team Rubicon that’s doing some incredible work with veterans and emergency management, and then all the different local, state and federal programs that are sprouting out in America or, and, you know, all the other various opportunities for emergency management students to really get engaged and involved. And, you know, those are the kinds of opportunities that lead to full time, professional spots, and and gigs and emergency management. So I would really encourage everybody to, if you’re, you’re, you’re getting your bachelor’s or getting your masters emergency management, that’s phenomenal. That’s fantastic. But try to spend as much time as possible evenings, weekends, whatever you can give, volunteering for and engaging in those Emergency Management organizations, they will lead to building your network, and ultimately landing your full time Emergency Management opportunity.
Irene Conforti 19:47
That’s, that’s really great advice. Thank you for that. And I’m wondering, where do you see the field of emergency management going? I know that you said that, you know, it’s more popular than ever. And when you started, the American Red Cross was, you know, really, really big. But where do you see the future of emergency management as a field? heading? Now?
Jacob Green 20:09
That’s a really great question Irene and I thought a lot about this. And my perspective on this has changed as I moved in and up in my own cities, and moved into the city manager’s office. And one thing that’s not discussed a lot about in emergency management circles that I would provide for your listeners regarding, you know, developing their careers and looking at the future is, is advice that I was given, which is try to provide as much value as possible. And what I mean by that is, unfortunately, emergency management, the profession, and the popularity of profession really only spikes right after disaster. So right after we have a flood or a major Firestorm like we’ve had in Calif, near the Northridge earthquake or whatever, there’s just a huge influx and pressure on studies to hire emergency management and fun, their urgency manager programs. But as years go by, and that particular community doesn’t experience major disaster or crisis, the popularity of emergency management diminishes, certainly in the city manager’s office oftentimes, or in the community or by council members. And so you’ve really got to think as, as an emergency manager, how can I add and build value to my roles and emergency managers such that no matter what if it’s been 10 years, since a major disaster, we’ve never had to open our Emergency Operations Center for real? How can I make sure that my city manager and my bosses think about, wow, we could never lose? Jennifer, she’s amazing. And we have to make sure Jennifer stays here is our emergency manager forever, for example. And so what we looked at in armor as his manager program, certainly in the city of Ontario, was, what ways can we apply Emergency Management throughout the city to provide value, so started applying emergency management to issues of homelessness, to issues of big local public policy issues, like transfer at the Ontario airport to local control, managing grades and events, and really trying to think about and pick the different directors minds about how emergency management can be applied and can be valuable, because we wanted to make sure that our emergency management program was always funded and strong. So I would do a lot of outreach as an emergency manager and interview all the department heads in the city management staff and find out what kind of value can I add and provide to this overall local government operation or state operation or federal operation, such that my position is so valuable above and beyond what people think emergency managers solely do on a daily basis, which is kind of like sit and wait for the big one. But that’s not our professional at all. And we’ve got to make sure we as emergency managers convey the overall value that we can provide. So we have a very strong future, in the industry in every community.
Irene Conforti 23:17
That’s really phenomenal. Yeah, there’s not a lot of sitting around and waiting, but I can understand during a blue sky day, why that that advice really resonates, to make yourself useful and find value, you know, when they’re when there isn’t a disaster so that you are liaising with folks, that would would be impacted during a disaster and in building those connections and making sure that you’re not, you know, passing your business card during a disaster that you’re, you know, really engaged and making yourself a known entity during during those blue sky days.
Lastly, I just, I just want to sort of touch back to your book, before we close up this interview, I just, again, want you to mention your book. And I want to encourage everybody to read it, because it’s got so many great pieces of advice, whether you’re, you know, 20 years into your career, or whether you’re just starting out. I think I think that it’s, it’s really valuable. So if you don’t mind mentioning it again. Sure. Thanks Irene
Jacob Green 24:29
Yeah, so the book is called See Change Clearly. And it’s sort of a play on the fact that I wear dark sunglasses everyday indoors, because I have a visual impairment as a result of the injury. So See Change Clearly. And it’s available on Amazon, it’s available at Barnes and Noble, it became an Amazon bestseller, and we hit Amazon’s number one new release in five business categories. So really excited about that. And I would love for your listeners, if they pick up the book, and they read the book. If they could just drop me an email and let me know their thoughts on the book, I’d love to engage in a conversation with them or if they have any questions or follow up, or they want to know more about the ATM cube or any of the other tools and resources that are in the book. My email is really simple. It’s just Jacob at Jacob green.com. No “e” at the end of Green. And my website is also very easy. It’s just jacobgreen.com. And lots more information about the book and, and all the other work and activities and tools and resources I that I value. And you know, one just final little side note a really exciting moment for me is when I was in rehabilitation for those three years. One of the things that got me through was I had hoped that there’d be some way that I could win one time in my future. Give back to the rehabilitation program, coastline aquatic injury program that did so much for me. And so if the front page of your book, you’ll see that it says a portion of the proceeds will be donated directly to the coastline acquired brain injury Foundation, which helps support patient the brain injuries or rehabilitation journey. And the book launched last month. And I was able at that book launch based on presales alone, to present the coastline foundation with $1,000 check. And I hope that’s the first of many. And you know, I’ve always believed it’s really important to help support and get back to those people and programs that gave me so much and got me back on my feet. So little quick shout out to coastlines acquired brain injury program in Newport Beach, California. And, and thank you to you Irene and thank you to all your listeners for doing such noble work and getting into a profession that’s really, really important in government. And I know it’s often a very thankless job and emergency management, but it’s a very important and critical job and I so appreciate that your audience is getting into the profession and going to really make an impact on on local communities.
Irene Conforti 27:04
Thanks so much, Jacob. And I will be putting those links to both your email, the book itself and your website at the bottom of the page. And I really appreciate you spending the time talking to us. And also the fact that you are giving back to coastline, I think it is sort of indicative of that type of people who are getting into emergency management. Generally they are the type to pay it forward. So we are excited to be reading your book and I really thank you for being on the program today.
Jacob Green 27:42
Thanks so much Irene.
Irene Conforti 27:44
All right. Thanks so much.
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