Risk Insider: Marilyn Rivers

Herding Cats

By: | May 9, 2016 • 2 min read

Marilyn Rivers, CPCU, ARM, AIC, currently serves as the director of risk and safety — city safety and compliance officer for a municipality in Upstate New York and is a director at large and delegate for the government and public sector division of the National Safety Council. She can be reached at [email protected]

The most enjoyable commercial I’ve ever seen is of a cowboy herding cats. It reminds me of the struggle public risk professionals face in emergency management programming.

Mention emergency management to civilians and you often get a blank stare straight through to oblivion. It’s as if the person is looking for the nearest exit, regardless of who may be standing in their way.

Emergency management planning is serious, though, for the public safety sector. It provides a comprehensive mechanism to fulfill government functions in the time of natural and man-made disasters.

Due diligence requires participation. Participation requires cat herding.

What seems simple and straightforward to emergency management personnel through education, training and table-top exercises often falls horribly short when funds or other resources are requested for that preparation.

We’ve all heard those budget folks at one time or another: “Why so negative? Let’s focus on the positive and not be Debbie Downer, shall we?”

“Hazard mitigation? Are you talking about my last golf game?”

“Are you sure it’s my responsibility? Seems like an awful lot of paperwork for something that may not happen … .”

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Let’s focus, folks. Risk professionals know that due diligence in the planning stages allows government to successfully mitigate impending disaster by utilizing known resources to their fullest potential. Due diligence requires participation. Participation requires cat herding.

I have found it’s best to discuss emergency management planning with your workforce in their terms.

For engineering, that means land surveys, water mitigation, facility management, and mechanical and electrical redundancies.

For public works: Think asphalt, sand, roadways and environmental management.

Finance thinks in budgets. Purchasing is equipment, supplies, energy and fuel. Human resources provides the people who move all the parts to make the whole.

Law, fire and emergency management personnel … well … let’s all think of them as the cowboys who try and keep us all on track in the event of our emergency.

The federal government does an admirable job putting together basic emergency management templates we may all use to communicate across this vast country during a time of need.

This basic programming provides step-by-step planning for a myriad of circumstances — identifying roles and responsibilities and provoking questions for each of us in order to best identify our roles as needed and to speak in one language as necessary.

It’s important to explain to local municipal officials that federal funding follows federal education, training, planning and preparation. The better prepared your community is, the more likely is its ability to best manage a disaster at its onset and during recovery.

Encourage the use of the universal language of the National Incident Management System. It might go a long way in providing useful dialogue for even the smallest of community disruptions, including your local parade, an electrical outage or a bad storm headed your way.

Encouraging independence, innovation and trust in the details will go a long way in managing your emergent situations.

Marilyn Rivers’ views are her own and don’t represent the City of Saratoga Springs.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]