Strategic Foresight II

Emergency Management Once Removed

June 14, 2024

By Jim Mullen

Emergency management agencies frequently are tasked outside their “normal” duties. Even “way back when” I recall being tasked with a mission to avert public panic that was well out of my  Washington State’s Emergency Management Division’s  (EMD) “lane.” The assignment was affirmed, despite my concern it was an unfunded mandate, accompanied by a candid explanation- in a phrase,  “EMD won’t —- it up!” And we didn’t. Such compliments are nice, but too often emergency managers are victims of their own skill and dedication. Unfunded assignments often result from a head -in – the – sand approach by government leaders.

It’s not only an emergency management problem:  a state or local “strategic foresight” initiative could address current, rapidly developing manpower shortages in fire and police departments, in health services, or key personnel in our supply chains, and other jobs that are noticed only, it seems, when they’re desperately needed!

Major disasters take lives, injure people, damage facilities, disrupt communications; even emergency response personnel may require time to reconsolidate their operations – that interval provides a void where distrust, despair and human suffering can be exploited. Responsible federal officials warn that malign actors have and will continue to seize upon disastrous events to sow doubt, distrust, even rage at government by supplying false information on various platforms. Witless conspiracy theorists/internet voyeurs may exacerbate circumstances by  allowing their own fertile “imaginations” to concoct and disseminate outrageous insinuations about government responses. At Washington EMD and in Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management, we established dedicated teams to monitor and counter misinformation.

A strategic foresight initiative might standardize a process for informing citizens where accurate updates, instructions, and warnings  from government sources can be accessed. Regional coordination of disaster messaging when a disaster crosses jurisdictional boundaries, usually the province of individual jurisdictions, also is acutely important.

Strategic foresight is critical to anticipating and countering  future threats. That requires allocation of  money upfront. It takes a clear-headed acceptance that another, unexpected challenge may  lurk around the corner. Finally, I daresay it takes courage for an elected official to assign resources to prepare for events that may not even occur on his/her watch.

Strategic foresight primarily requires visionary leadership – a willingness to look on the dark side while the sun is shining.

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Jim has spent 3 decades in emergency management, including 12 years at the local level as director of the City of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management and 8 and a half years as Washington State’s Emergency Management Division Director. Jim retired from state service in March 2013. Jim also served as President of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) from January 2011 to October 2012. He is currently sole proprietor of “EM Northwest Consulting” based in Seattle.

Information on this Blog is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering professional advice or services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an professional adviser. Opinions expressed here represent the viewpoints of individuals authoring the blog and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Center of Excellence.