I was only 31 when I started in emergency management. There are a lot of young emergency managers out there faced with some pretty hefty responsibilities. If I were to provide advice to the next generation of emergency managers, I would say this: Don’t let past lessons learned be only lessons observed.
In a crisis, we tend to do what is comfortable. Even experienced emergency managers tend to plan for what will likely happen instead of what may happen in a worst-case scenario. We look at past events – even catastrophic events – and do not change our plans. We simply observe, but do not learn.
Today, we often teach young emergency managers what to do, without teaching them why. Without that “why” factor, they cannot adapt; yet adapting is the key to a successful crisis response. The focus should be more on training and education, more on why we do things, not simply what to do. If we focus on the “why” factor and emphasize adaptive planning, we will be able to adjust much more quickly and effectively when we need to adjust our plans.
For young emergency managers, do not just observe past events, study them, learn from them, and adapt your own strategies accordingly based on the “why” factor. Ask yourself, “Why did things fail, and how can we adapt to ensure a successful response next time?” It is never too late to learn that lesson.