Are New Emergency Managers “Reinventing the Wheel?”
Like many professions, the emergency management field is seeing an influx of new technology, new procedures, and new personnel. Some are saying that “reinventing the wheel” has become common practice for emergency managers because new emergency managers aren’t gleaning valuable information from their predecessors, Jim McKay writes for Emergency Management.
“We haven’t really prepared for succession in terms of having a group of people with a lot of institutional knowledge and a lot of activation experience, and I think that’s probably our biggest challenge,” said Curry Mayer, emergency manager of Bellevue, Wash.
Transferring institutional knowledge
Director of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Moterey, Calif., said concerns regarding lost institutional knowledge are neither new, nor unique to the emergency management field. He recommends newer emergency managers simply seek counsel from more seasonsed professionals to learn this institutional knowledge. He expressed confidence that the newer generations are very capable of facing upcoming crises and that it’s OK for them to try new strategies.
McKay also notes that emergency managers sometimes forget about documentation of past crises. These records can provide valuable information about what worked in the past and what didn’t, giving new emergency managers a wealth of experiences to glean from and the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Advice for emergency managers
Looking to begin learning from seasoned emergency managers today? Mayer draws from her 25 years in the field to offer advice to up-and-coming emergency managers.
- Get field experience: Though training and exercises can be invaluable, “there’s nothing like a real disaster,” Mayer said. She notes that some emergency responders do not have any experience working through a real disaster. People in this situation should seek out experience with a real crisis, even if it means looking outside their region.
- Work hard: Mayer observed that many new emergency managers seem to be so focused on achieving work/life balance that they miss out on valuable experiences, McKay writes. While also discussing the importance of learning what it’s like to face a real crisis, Mayer said, “If you don’t have the opportunity to really do 12-hour shifts for a long period of time without a break, then you’re not in the same kind of environment [as a real crisis.]”
- Don’t over-rely on technology: “I think we’ve lost some of the problem-solving, figuring things out without using electronics,” Mayer said. While technological advances in the field of emergency management have certainly saved lives, there is value in learning what to do in its absence, McKay writes. After all, sometimes technology fails, and all we’re left to work with are our brains and our two hands.