Official Visits: The Second Disaster?
Do officials on scene help or hinder?
Social media has shown itself to be a powerful tool for community organizing after a disaster. We saw an example of it in the London riots of 2011 when hundreds of people turn out to clean up the damage. We saw other examples recently in Hurricane Sandy.
Facebook is now offering a new tool to make it easier for people to help each other in the wake of disaster. The new feature, called Community Check, is an update to Facebook’s existing Safety Check program. Safety Check was developed in 2014 to allow those potentially affected by a disaster to let friends know that they are okay. When Facebook becomes aware of a crisis, it monitors traffic in the area and, if sufficient volume is noted, activates Safety Check. The program queries people in the affected area and asks if the wish to post that they are okay.
Community Check works as part of Safety Check. People in the affected area can post needs or available resources that can then be searched by category. Once the person finds a match, they can message the other party and match needs to resources. The program is being rolled out in a few countries (including the US) over the next few months.
The concept of people helping people is not new and every emergency manager acknowledges that more people are helped by their neighbors than by first responders. Programs like Community Check merely make that process more efficient. However, it also raises some concerns that we need to consider.
Our emergency planning has long been based on the false belief that the most efficient way to provide disaster relief is through strong central control. Social media is a constant reminder that we are merely one voice in a discussion involving many community actors. As programs like Community Check demonstrate, people aren’t just going to sit around waiting for rescue; they’re going to be proactive and we need to decide how we can best support their efforts.
There’s an old fable that speaks of a king who summoned his wise men and tasked them to gather all the world’s wisdom in one place. After many years, they created a magnificent library housing the sum of all knowledge. The king the challenged them to reduce all this accumulated wisdom to a single book. Many more years passed but eventually the wise men returned to the king with a single volume containing the essence of all knowledge. The king sent them away with a new task: to distill all the world’s wisdom into a single sentence. After much deliberation, the wise men returned to the king and gave him this single sentence, “This too shall pass.”
As I see the concern and fear among my friends over the current political situation, I’m reminded of this phrase and the need to keep things in perspective. In my lifetime, I have experienced many critical events: the battle for civil rights, the Vietnam war protests, the Free Speech Movement, the domestic and international terrorism of the 70’s, to name but a few. As an emergency manager, I have seen the how natural disasters can devastate entire communities. As an amateur historian, I’ve studied the effects of wars and plagues, political unrests, economic collapse, and climate change. Yet somehow, we manage to survive and get on with our lives.
However, don’t think I’m suggesting complacency. I’m a firm believer in the quote by John Stuart Mill that, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” I encourage you to act but make it count. Here are some things you can do:
So to my many friends who are experiencing stress over the recent political change, take a deep breath and get a little perspective. This is not the end of the world. This too shall pass.
Base your plans on strategy, not templates
On entering service, every soldier swears an oath that requires, in part, obedience to the President and the officers appointed over them. But that is only the last part of the oath. First we swear “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” That same oath to the Constitution is also sworn by all government officials and workers. The oath is a reminder that the Constitution is more important than the person who holds the office. Preservation of the system of government established by the Constitution and the rights and freedoms it guarantees is paramount.
Understanding this, it concerns me when I see the demonstrations taking place across the country in protest over the Presidential election results. The simple fact is that there is no hint that there was anything unconstitutional or illegal about the elections and, like it or not, Donald Trump is the legitimate President-elect. The election process and the peaceful transfer of power enshrined in the Constitution is what is important. Those who have sworn the oath have no choice but to support the President unless his actions put him in conflict with the Constitution.
While I understand and share the feelings of fear and disgust that have sparked these gatherings, there is a part of me that fears that they will be perceived as the acts of spoiled children who did not get their way, especially when they descend into violence. However, I am even more disgusted by the reports of hate crimes that have occurred across the nation in the past few days. This, too, is a violation of everything the Constitution stands for and now is not the time to stand silent. The right of assembly was so important that it is enshrined in the First Amendment. People have the right to gather and express their concern.
I do not believe these demonstrations should be focused on showing disgust with President-elect Trump as an individual or about the election. I believe that instead they should be used to send a strong message to our new government in waiting: campaign rhetoric is one thing but you’d best step carefully before seeking to erode the rights of our citizens. There are an awful lot of us out here who understand that the Constitution is much more important than you are.