Are we Ready?

The national Ready Campaign ( recently turned ten years old. The campaign asks “Are you ready?” and provides information to get everyone thinking about disaster. It suggests people can do three things to get ready: stay informed, make a plan, and build a kit.

As emergency managers, we’re obligated to ask ourselves similar questions. Is our program ready? Are all of our program pieces in place?

We speak with many emergency managers about getting their programs ready for disaster.  At first, about 80% say they are ready. However, when we discuss how they come to this conclusion, most acknowledge they have no definition or way of measuring readiness. In the past year, we have only spoken with one emergency manager who firmly believes his program is ready simply because he continues to meet all state and federal grant requirements.

Somewhere along the way, meeting grant requirements became synonymous with being ready or readiness, itself, became moot. Most programs today are busy and appear to be getting busier but all the extra work does not seem to significantly impact readiness. In fact, the typical program now spends over 40% of its time on work that has no direct impact on being ready.

It seems the tendency today is to measure time and stuff. Programs feel that because they have no spare time, they must be doing all they can.  Few programs are evaluated on a regular basis, so it’s easy to confuse working hard with being ready. Continuing to pursue grants also adds stuff like plans, equipment, and supplies. Programs cannot help but feel more ready when they add stuff. Working harder and adding stuff can, of course, lead to readiness but doing so has never equated to being ready.

Most emergency managers now have over 150 different program outcomes to accomplish.  Effective grant management is only one. Revising an emergency operations plan is another. If we are ever to accomplish all 150 outcomes and become ready, we need to work smarter, not harder.

Emergency managers work smarter by clearly defining local readiness, organizing their programs accordingly, and simplifying the work necessary to achieve each outcome. As a result, they recover 1-2 hours per day, increase productivity by 50%, and accomplish more. We also see that certain tools reduce program labor and discretionary expenditures by about 20%. For the typical emergency manager working 40-50 hours per week, adopting this approach saves time, creates measurable progress, restores discretionary budget, and feels like adding a half-time staff member.

Obtaining grants and meeting administrative requirements is important work, but not as important as being ready. Emergency managers engineer order out of chaos and try to make that coordination work look easy so others can jump in and help. Defining readiness, organizing outcomes accordingly, and implementing very simple, effective methods are critical to achieving and maintaining program readiness.

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