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Strategic Data Across the Emergency Management Stages: How Winning Three Super Bowls Can Teach You to Prepare for Disasters

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Bill Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers to three winning Super Bowls, was obsessed with preparedness. In his management classic, "The Score Takes Care of Itself," Walsh insists great leaders dedicate the majority of their time to considering "every possible scenario that might unfold" and designing specific contingencies to address them. 

Factors beyond control may ultimately determine outcomes, but exceptional managers reduce variables to those beyond reasonable foresight. To be certain his plans were effective, Walsh was passionate about gathering data, any facts about players, coaches, or stadium conditions he could add to his list of "knowns." His winning record resulted directly from connected data - complete, easily-accessed strategic information.

Disasters and crises, by definition, disrupt the expected, the predictable. Contributing factors are even more fluid than players on a field, with infinitely higher stakes. Emergency preparedness mitigates catastrophic harm to life and community stability. Expert coaching requires selecting the precisely-skilled player needed to overcome an equally specific opponent; players are not interchangeable. Effective emergency management demands similar tailored choices between skilled professionals. Without comprehensive knowledge of each team member's capabilities, there can be no serious preparation.

Connected data must drive modern emergency preparedness; the better the data, the fewer variables left to chance. The foundational data needed by every emergency manager centers on personnel credentials, materials, and involved sites.

Directors and managers need to know personnel's identity, credential status, expertise, and in this time of COVID-19, requirement compliance. Access to cross-jurisdictional professional and volunteers' information is equally critical. 

Verifying the actual status and availability of material resources such as heavy equipment, medical supplies, water, and food is essential, as is a comprehensive understanding of potential disaster sites (when possible,) response staging sites, and relief areas. 

Currently, outdated systems capture partial data about these resources but to reduce variables, data has to be connected - complete, up-to-date, and accessible. This is virtually impossible where preparedness teams are still relying on manual or patchwork systems. The need to securely issue, store, and verify the information is the path to complete and valuable data for all-community crisis management.

Something as simple as knowing which teams have access to advanced hazmat equipment or tools for extricating people from an automobile accident involving a fuel leak may later make the difference between life and death. Without mechanisms that deliver this real-time information, effective planning is significantly impaired. 

Beyond just keeping rosters, strategizing with digital data must be part of preparation. Credential-driven planning is not "futuristic," but an existing capability that prevents relegating to the response phase what should be an integral part of preparedness.

With complete data, an emergency director has tools that will allow them to:

  • Establish accurate, real-time identity and credential rosters.
  • Identify certified specialists for specific needs.
  • Pre-establish credential-driven communications lists to allow agile information flow during events.
  • Issue credentials to pre-registered, vetted volunteers for rapid communication and deployment when emergencies occur.
  • Issue smart deployment credentials to first-responders for disaster-site access and time tracking.
  • Train and pre-credential non-professional individuals requesting site-access such as government officials, journalists, and media where appropriate.

In his final comments during Merit's Streamlining Disaster Management Operations to Maximize FEMA Reimbursement, former FEMA Director Craig Fugate stated, "Very few states, very few local governments, and the federal government itself, really spend a lot of money before disasters. If you look at where the dollars are, almost all of it is after the event has occurred. And the first budgets to get cut during a budget crisis, here's your training dollars, your exercise dollars, to preparedness activities. This is the area that I think is the most critical."

Fugate's lament that little emphasis is placed on preparedness echoes Coach Walsh's. Positive outcomes are not improvised but result from intense preparation, especially identifying and acting upon what can be known ahead of time. 

"We do not exercise in training for what can happen. We tend to exercise and train for what we're capable of handling. And we go with the constraints that we have day-to-day, and then say, well, it's going to scale up when it gets bad. It has never worked. I've never seen it do," Fugate continued," the biggest cost is time and preparation. But I think we really need to get out of this mindset that what's happened in the past is preparing us for the future, that exercising for what we're capable of doing isn't really preparing us for the events that will occur. And we need to build rigor into that system."

Walsh would wholeheartedly agree. Preparing demands commitment to consistently thinking about possible crises and what precisely would have to be in place to protect human lives, essential infrastructures, and livelihoods. Testing varied responses to these potential emergencies generate complete information.

This is even more important when budgetary constraints relegate preparation to an after-thought. With digital infrastructure, managers can maximize the return on investment of every dollar by tailoring training operations and exercises to those who are most likely to apply them in real disaster situations. 

It is impossible to guarantee the final score or outcome of any dynamic process. Still, connected data empowers conscientious planners to reduce fluctuating elements of any disaster and respond with greater certainty of success.

Interested in additional Emergency Preparedness content? Join Merit Emergency Services Team and a panel of industry experts including Karen Baker, and Jared Moskowitz as they discuss Essentials of Disaster Preparedness: Never Too Soon or Too Late to Plan.

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