A Year of COVID: Looking Back, Looking Around, Looking Ahead

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

It has been more than a year since the pandemic turned life upside down for everybody. Emergency managers and homeland security professionals should soon begin to assess what went right, as well as identifying any missteps along the way.

“Emergency Management Once Removed”(aka “Jim”) merely poses these questions from a comfortable chair: individual jurisdictional answers will vary.

Looking Back

  • How did the preset comprehensive disaster framework hold up? ? Was a system super-imposed for the pandemic that eclipsed the existing planning framework? Were plans useful, or abandoned, or amended? Why?
  • Were emergency managers central to the pandemic’s management, either in an active support role or in the lead? Did that role and the jurisdictional role play out as expected?
  • Were leaders leading, and supporters, supporting?
  • What workarounds or innovations should be kept?

Looking Around

  • How is your emergency management operation doing today? Has there been any change in status/influence within the public /private organizations in which they work?
  • How are emergency management staff doing psychologically, professionally? Because the disaster “hits” will keep coming, how much more can some emergency management personnel handle?
  • Is the overall system of managing the next pandemic (there will be another one), communicating with the public and other participants improved or weakened post-COVID?
  • Are supply chains more resilient? Resilient enough?

 Looking Ahead

  • What have we learned about what we think “normal operations” of society means now?
  • Who are essential workers? A better question: who are not essential workers? Given the importance to human dignity, not to mention the economy, that having a job fosters, could we not find a more appropriate descriptive term for those positions necessary for crisis management?
  • How much was emergency management reserve capacity for the pandemic necessary? Did requirements for “reserve capacity” illuminate existing staffing inadequacies? Will “after-action” assessments address staff levels?
  • Do disaster recovery preparations merit permanent ongoing attention from the public/private sectors in advance of the next disaster? Should the pandemic experience and its aftermath trigger renewed emphasis on engagement to address the unique hazards facing communities, regions, states, and even the nation?
  • Should the increasing disregard for laws and recommendations to protect the public, fostered partially by some in government and the media, be injected into future planning for disaster exercises? Should we not practice how to anticipate and counter disinformation/lies?

And a Comment

We also should have learned (if we did not already know) that ignorant, uncaring government leaders are inherently dangerous. When paired with a pandemic, willful ignorance accompanied by craven ambition may lead to a worse country crisis than any medical emergency because there is no vaccine for dishonesty or ignorance, or venality in political leadership. The “cure” for that can only be administered in a  free society through orderly processes. That medicine will have a healing effect only if those who should know better accept the validity of the electoral “treatment” prescribed by the citizenry.