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Emergency Managers as Bridge Builders

Reflections on the need to establish trust.

by Eric Holdeman / July 14, 2020



Jim Mullen and I were contemporary emergency management directors. I was at King County and Jim was at the city of Seattle, the largest city of 39 cities in King County. He wrote the following opinion piece for the Center of Excellence - Homeland Security Emergency Management here in Washington State.

Walls or Bridges?

By Jim Mullen

 July 15, 2020

News about the COVID-19’s rising infection and mortality count is available 24/7. Overwhelming video evidence of police violence and all-too-frequent indifference of the justice system to police misconduct is both inescapable and nauseating.

Despite incontrovertible evidence of a pandemic crisis or the existence of frequently unchecked racially biased policing, some stubbornly doubt what is reliably reported from our streets and our hospitals. Ignorance of uncomfortable truths is exploited by unscrupulous, unethical politicians, journalists, and some activists, all professing moral purity. Racism does not slink away because we have ignored its existence: the pandemic will not ebb because we have decided to pretend it has come and gone.

Physical walls on our southern border or around the White House grounds can neither drown out the voices of change nor permanently alter objective reality. Likewise, barricades separating protestors and police are symptoms of an even larger problem: the erosion of the trust in our social compact.

Physical walls can be torn down or removed. As symbols of separation, they will be short-lived. Invisible walls that block people from the reality that is before us, protect no one. In fact, those “invisible” walls pose a greater threat.

As emergency managers we often must construct “bridges” between “islands of interest”: linking disciplines, jurisdictions, and the public before, during and following a disaster. Emergency managers understand that even subtle, unspoken divisions within and among jurisdictions can impede collaboration. Allowing those invisible, but nonetheless real, barriers to collaboration to stand imperils everyone in a crisis.

Science, not politics must guide a national pandemic response. Police must police their ranks to weed out and hold accountable those officers whose conduct endangers not only the community but also their fellow officers ; likewise protesters must police their ranks as well, lest they allow a few to dilute the power of their message. Those that seek no solution beyond anarchy must be cast out, along with those cops that refuse to alter their unconscionable behavior. We will not require their further participation; nor should protesters or officers condone belligerent or violent behavior.

In case one misses the point: Whether you are in an unorganized/spontaneous group, or a tightly regimented group, the actions of those alongside of you are your responsibility to keep in line. I am acquainted with some wonderful moms of protesters and police officers: they all want their children to come home safely at the end of each day; so should we all.

Facts and the laws of science must win out over those who would challenge or disregard responsible measures to control the pandemic. Similarly, we cannot permit those actively promoting or countenancing racial divisions to win.

Tearing down physical barricades is relatively easy. Bridging the ideological chasm in our country will be difficult, and stressful. Eliminating the invisible walls that inhibit intelligent discourse about racial justice, or pandemic safety measures will be hard. It is the only way, however, to ever start trusting each other again.




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