The Rocky Road Ahead

Emergency Management Once Removed

January 31, 2023

By Jim Mullen

“Wake me up when it’s all over, when I’m wiser and I’m older…” *

Emergency managers (state and local) may be excused for feeling this way during most election years, when relatively minor incidents can suddenly become HUGE, with the executive’s staff reacting/often overreacting to events that in another year might have gone unnoticed. It’s not unusual, particularly in election years, to have to explain (patiently, and multiple times)to executive -level staff the sometimes-tedious bureaucratic pace of the disaster approval process for a presidential declaration that turns on the federal financial assistance faucet. Election year anxieties often prompt strange, off-the-wall requests from senior officials for less than important information that drive emergency managers – to employ a professional insider’s term – “nuts”(yes, for me it was a short drive!).

2024 promises to be especially stressful for emergency managers and public safety professionals. The potential for violence aimed at elected officials, judges, election workers and even volunteers supporting the process may very well overshadow the election results themselves. The January 6, 2021 attempt to overthrow the government may indeed seem mild in comparison to the passions that could erupt throughout  2024 in cities, states and across the nation. Gracious acceptance of defeat seems a thing of the past in our political discourse, whichever side one is on.

Those whose “side” is protecting the public should be prepared. Emergency managers are uniquely positioned to mitigate easily anticipatable public safety hazards in 2024. It’s in emergency management’s “DNA” to prepare for contingencies, assure an appropriate, measured response, and facilitate the recovery of the social equilibrium during and after traumatic events, as 2024 might deliver. Pre-set plans and procedures that position vital resources, for example, will allow for critical adjustments to be implemented quickly; having the capacity to think ahead is a capability that can minimize “unexpected” developments. In preparing for 2024’s unique challenges,  emergency managers also may have to deal with seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints, even within their own organizations, and would do well to recall Rudyard Kipling’s advice: “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”

The stakes will be high, for all of us in 2024. Sure, it would be easier to await developments and react as best one can in the moment, but that would be a retreat from an emergency manager’s calling. There is no point in “dozing” or waiting for the crisis to be “over” in November 2024 – lest some truly nightmarish possibilities become reality. Emergency managers  don’t need a nap – they’re wise enough and old enough to be thinking about this, right now, with their eyes (and minds) wide open.

*Song by Avicii
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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.