Former Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Team of Teams is an excellent book about leadership and the need to adapt to changing circumstances. In the book, he explains how the U.S. Special Operations Task Force in Iraq had to become a more nimble and networked organization to combat al-Qaida. Many of the lessons and strategies discussed are directly relatable to other disciplines, including emergency management.
The importance of networks within emergency management is not a new concept, as our thinking has evolved to embrace “whole community” partners, including the private sector and nonprofit organizations. Although a fair amount of effort has gone into the idea of networked emergency management, I would like to offer some additional perspectives on what it means to be a networked emergency manager. In doing so, it is helpful to consider the management consulting theory that organizational success stems from three factors: people, process and technology.
In terms of people, the networked emergency manager must be willing and able to work with people and all types of personalities. Building and maintaining relationships takes time, but it is well worth the effort, particularly when you need to rely on other people for information or assistance during an emergency. Emergency managers also play an important role in helping to organize people and in bringing different groups and individuals together to tackle problems, often during a crisis. Investing in these people and relationships ahead of time will help build trust and increase the likelihood of success when it matters the most.
Emergency managers must understand, process and navigate bureaucracy, especially when dealing with multiple layers of government or complex issues that involve different stakeholders. A firm understanding of the Incident Command System is important, but knowing who does what, how they do it and why they do it is also helpful, which is why planning and other preparedness activities are so critical. Taking the time to plan, train and exercise with different agencies and organizations will allow all parties involved to better understand each other’s processes and potential challenges. The networked emergency manager will seek out these collaborative preparedness opportunities and new partnerships.
Finally, the networked emergency manager must understand and embrace technology and appreciate the rate at which technology is changing. Social media, emergency alerting apps, mobile devices and other emerging technologies, such as unmanned aircraft systems, are changing the way we receive and share information. The days of relying on tri-fold pamphlets and traditional press releases are over. Today, you need to have a social media strategy and ability to use multiple forms of technology to communicate and connect with an increasingly networked population. Given the rate at which technology changes, it is also important to stay current and explore ways to use new technology to your advantage.
Emergency management has evolved greatly over the last several decades and will continue to evolve as we work to address climate change, terrorism, cyberthreats and other new challenges. Like Gen. McChrystal’s Special Operations Task Force, we must be able to adapt to the changing environment. Doing so will require networked emergency managers with the ability to understand people, process and technology.
Terry Hastings is the Senior Policy Adviser for the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and an Adjunct Instructor for the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the State University of New York at Albany.