Preparedness & Recovery

The 10 Commandments of Emergency Management (Opinion)

"Thou must establish relationships with others" and nine other commandments for disaster preparedness and response officials.

by / August 15, 2012

It was Sunday morning and my wife and I had skipped church. I was in the backyard pruning a burning bush when a voice came into my head and suggested that I could do penance by writing about the ten commandments of emergency management. The woman’s voice said she would show me the way. The conversation went something like this:

“Thou must establish relationships with others,” she said. I asked a clarifying question — not the best thing to do. “With whom?” The answer was simple, “With everyone — public sector, private sector, industries, nonprofits and anyone else who can help build your program.” “Sounds pretty inclusive.” “It is,” she replied.

“Thou shall not construct any programmatic idols.” Dummy me, I asked, “Like what?” She said, “Don’t think you have any magic-bullet solutions. Yes, you have the Incident Command System, but that’s not the solution to every problem. Think outside the box and be creative.”

“Thou shall not complain about not having enough funding. For if you do, what has been given to you might be taken away in an instant.”

“Thou shall take some time off — all work and no play makes Jack and Jill dullards.” This is one that made sense to me. I kept my mouth shut and thought this would be the first commandment I’d pass along to my boss at work the next day. Should I ask for two weeks off? Maybe a month?

“Thou shall honor the DHS and FEMA so that they will be well with thee.” Now I’m thinking that she maybe was getting mixed up with her instructions, since this made no sense to me. So I asked, “Why is that?” Somewhat annoyed, she replied, “You want grants, don’t you? Fill out the paperwork, do the reports and always ask for more money than you need since you know you’re going to be cut.”

“Thou shall not make enemies of others.” She went on to point out that, “Friends come and go — enemies you keep forever. Remember you can’t make people and agencies cooperate with you.”

“Thou shall keep your promises and promise less and deliver more.” This commandment immediately struck home. I was always trying to do more than what my staff and resources would allow. 

“Thou shall steal all the ideas you can.” This one seemed negative to me, based on my memories of the original Ten Commandments, so I suggested that maybe this would be inappropriate. “Nay lad,” she said, “you are to use all good ideas, no matter where they come from. Someone else has plowed that field for you.”

“Thou shall not talk bad about other jurisdictions or persons.” Since this had become a national sport, I was thinking it might be a tough one to give up anytime soon. With a booming voice, she pointed out how this commandment and No. 6 are related.

“Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s grant funding.” This one made me think of all the money that New York City gets and how smaller jurisdictions always complain and think about what they could do with a fraction of the funding that the city receives every year.

With that, and since this column was near its word count limit, the voice stopped talking, and these were the commandments as provided to me.

Eric Holdeman Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.