Monday, June 10, 2013

The Languages of Disaster

A series of these maps are making the rounds on the internets illustrating the regional differences in vocabulary...the bottom line being, different parts of the country use different words for the same thing: soda = pop / hoagie = sub / sneaker = tennis shoe / etc...

The same can be said for how we talk about disasters, the nomenclature we use is as varied and idiosyncratic as the communities we help. The two camps that exist in the disaster world are those in the traditional emergency management infrastructure and those who are not.

Traditional emergency management is based on the tenants of the command and control structure of NIMS and ICS, and within that camp there's SEMS, the foundational "language" on which NIMS is based. Within this acronym-laden alphabet soup lives a language / structure with it's own HR procedures, protocols, ways of conducting field ops, and ways of requesting assistance from neighboring jurisdictions.

The other camp are the non-profit organizations and everyone else, including people holding positions within local gov't, all of whom speak their own language or are making it up as they go as it relates to response and recovery activities. This is not to say that some of the national organizations / city governments don't have personnel who aren't "versed" in NIMS/ICS, but it's usually only a small percentage and ends up reinforcing a divide between established response organizations and those emergent groups who only stand up after an event.

One of the hurdles that exists in bridging this gap is that a NIMS org chart looks like this:

Nice. Organized. Clear Delineation of Roles and Responsibilities
And a non-profit org chart is more like this:

Too many jobs for too few people
And the org chart for spontaneous groups look like this:

There isn't one

State and Local Emergency Management Agencies speak NIMS/ICS because there are funding strings attached, the non-profit world usually receives their funding from private sources and are beholden to a different set of requirements--none of which have anything to do with ensuring NIMS/ICS compliance.

When NIMS/ICS aren't part of the daily operational vernacular, there are going to be problems in level setting expectations and creating a common place to start from following an event, especially when trying to bring the various players together to create a unified and cohesive response effort.

To help create consistency in operations from a county, state, and federal perspective, a series of frameworks have been created: The National Prevention Framework, The National Mitigation Framework, The National Response Framework, and The National Disaster Recovery Framework. While the debate rages on about whether or not the federal gov't has too many or not enough frameworks, the fact remains that they exist and provide a roadmap in which roles and responsibilities are outlined.

If you turn to the non-profit sector or beyond you'll find that no such guidance exists. National VOAD has consensus and guidance documents but nothing that sets forth expectations around roles and responsibilities following an event, leaving the door open for a re-interpretation of how things should go every time disaster strikes.

The command and control mentality only works to a point, but if the whole of community and community resilience talk is to be anything more than words, a common language and common ground need to be found to bridge the gaps that currently exist. If we don't speak the same language, working together will continue to be a struggle fraught with the same mis-interpretations and mis-understandings that have plagued response for as long as I've been a part of it.

No comments :

Post a Comment