September IAEM Disaster Zone Column

Technology and the fear of failure hinders many.

by Eric Holdeman / September 25, 2019

Check out my September 2019 IAEM Disaster Zone Column below:

Technology and the Fear of Failure

If you are not failing, you are not making any real progress. The easiest path is always paved with playing it safe. People, and I’ll call out emergency managers in particular, are “mostly” unwilling to take some chances, and incur some risk in order to make their program substantively better.

I have some theories and a bit of practical experience on the above issue. To start with emergency managers already have full plates. Likely you don’t have all the plans that you need to have in place and they are not up-to-date. You do some training and exercises, but both are not frequent enough to really establish a hard-core ability to respond to disasters. This is true for your internal staff, the jurisdiction or organization you support or all the partners with whom you are supposed to be engaged with before, during and after a disaster.

Thus, anything new you try that is beyond the basics, means that you are ignoring some core aspect of your program. The cost of technology is always a consideration. Costs include either time or money and oftentimes both, to bring newer technology into a program. Determining the best way to use the technology and how to implement and then training personnel takes much more time than waiting until an item is already in use elsewhere and then incorporating procedures and training aides already developed to your own jurisdiction.

I have also run into the issue of people who are wedded to the concept that they only do what the boss wants done. If your supervisor is not interested in some aspect of your program or doing something new and different, then there is no reason to undertake that effort, especially if they have expressed a dislike or lack of concern for what you might feel is important to do. I for one ran into that with my emphasis on inter-jurisdictional and regional coordination and planning. Governments and even companies by their nature have strong inclinations to only focus inwardly on what provides an immediate dividend to them and their bottom line.

My next observation is the avoidance of risk by avoiding technology solutions. Which one should I pursue, what are my chances of it being successfully implemented? Is anyone pushing me to use this technology or is my safest course of action to wait until I’m forced to adapt a technology that appears to be “proven” and thus is a low risk choice?

On this latter point, I can highlight the slow adoption of social media by emergency management agencies. What a terrific tool for communicating preparedness information out to the public, gathering situational information during disasters and also responding to rumors by knowing what the rumors being generated are saying. Yet, six years ago when I was pushing the use of social media and a tool that could help with situational awareness and rumor control — I got a poor reception. “I don’t use social media!” was one common answer I got. Well, “you” don’t need to use it, but your program should be using it.

Four years ago I started talking about using drones for emergency management, and while many organizations are now on a path to use and expand their use, still others are reluctant to delve into that technology because of numerous fears.

We are on the cusp of a technological revolution that will challenge all of us to keep up with the changes arriving soon at your doorstep. Your only need is to have the intestinal fortitude to open the door and take a chance with what these new tools can do for your emergency management and business continuity program. These tools will include artificial intelligence (AI), camera’s everywhere (tied to AI), self-driving vehicles — cars and trucks, and the list goes on.

We have been given a great opportunity to live in a time of history of great change. I’m sure there were those monks in monasteries who sneered at the thought of a printing press making books available to everyone. Don’t be a monk, be a Gutenberg!

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