One of my pet peeves with emergency planning is the over-reliance we place on the one-size-fits none guidance we receive from the Federal government. Don’t misunderstand me; the guidance overall is good and well-intentioned. But there is subtle and not so subtle pressure put on local jurisdictions through grant requirements and reviews to develop plans that mirror the guidance.
The simple fact is that all jurisdictions are not alike and to expect each to use the same plan fails to take this fact into account. Resources are not the same, risk tolerance is not the same, even the threats each jurisdiction faces are not the same. The problem as I see it is that we focus on the tangible result, the plan, without considering the importance of the strategy behind the plan.
I was recently in a plan development meeting with a major utility department seeking to consolidate multiple division plans into a single unified department plan. The planning team supported the concept and saw the benefits of using an enterprise approach. Things started to get uncomfortable when I started asking questions about how they planned to manage their new operating structure. For example, each division had its own logistics operation and the team agreed that establishing a combined logistics team would save time and money but they had not thought about who would manage that team or how the team would operate. They had never thought to discuss the strategy behind the plan they were writing.
There is certainly a commonality among plans. Most rely on central coordination through an emergency operations center and decentralized tactical operations at the department level. But even this simple concept can cause problems if you haven’t worked out your strategy. Does the EOC serve as a command center, actively directing operations, or as a point of coordination? Do department heads report through the EOC or directly to the senior executive? These are not issues you want to decide during a crisis.
Develop your strategy before you begin revising your plan. Ask the hard questions. Once you understand strategy, the tactical component will be much easier to develop. In the words of Sun Tzu, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”