Imagine an important grant application deadline approaching next month, delaying the submission for a couple weeks, but then a critical incident happens (perhaps, something like a pandemic) that diverts attention for weeks, months, or much longer. The routine tasks that require action are not performed in a timely manner, and the deadline for that grant application is now gone. Developing some small habits like prioritizing would have significant effect on productivity and effectiveness of response and recovery efforts for a future crisis.

When time permits, in-depth quantitative research offers valuable information for disaster preparedness and response. However, the foundation of preparedness is rooted in the day-to-day activities that prevent small events from becoming big crises and help manage large events that cannot be avoided. As such, the following little habits can have big effects both operationally and administratively for any emergency or disaster.

Key Habits to Better Preparedness

By incorporating the following 10 habits into daily routines, emergency preparedness professionals will be better prepared to manage and adapt to any sudden or evolving events.

Ten small habits can have big effects both operationally and administratively when preparing for any emergency or disaster.

  1. Prioritize – It is vitally important to prioritize. As Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) pointed out, “put first things first.” It is also important not to neglect less important but necessary tasks. These less important – or perhaps not as urgent – responsibilities can become problematic when suddenly faced with a sustained situation that demands significant amounts of time.
  2. Save all contacts and cellphone numbers – It is difficult to predict exactly when help will be needed and from whom. Trying to find the right contact when needed can be an exhausting and time-consuming process when time management is crucial. So, the best practice is to immediately save any new contact. It is an invaluable trait to always have the right contact and phone number at the ready whenever needed.
  3. Get out of the office – This is not a new piece of advice, but a critical one. Getting out of the office enhances situational awareness, builds relationships, and often provides the subtle motivations that drive emergency preparedness efforts.
  4. Write it down – Emergency preparedness professionals are often overwhelmed with tasks and changing priorities, so it can be easy to forget obligations. Relying on an electronic calendar is great, but sometimes having a physical list of tasks posted in strategic locations can serve as a better daily reminder that is more difficult to ignore.
  5. Build relationships – Relationships should be vertical as well as horizontal. One of the tenets of the emergency management profession is to build relationships, with an emphasis on collaboration. However, it is vitally important to continue expanding these relationships with people several levels down. Chiefs, directors, managers, etc. will retire or suddenly leave. As their subordinates move up, how they perform their new roles and treat others may depend on how their superiors treated them.
  6. Build capacity – Emergency managers plan for the worst, but limited resources often collide with competing and more timely needs – especially when planning for less likely scenarios. Building capacity should begin now and continue until all necessary resources are acquired.  For example, when planning for a shelter, there may not be enough funding to purchase 50 cots. Preparedness does not require an all or nothing approach. Start with 10-15 cots this year and continue each year until there are enough for a fully equipped shelter. As an old Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
  7. Tie in the Overarching Organizational Mission With Every Task – Often, simply highlighting public safety or continuity of operations can provide critical reminders to ensure that emergency management functions remain a priority within the organization.
  8. Dress for the Day, but Have a Change of Clothes – Be prepared for sudden and unexpected changes. There are plenty of people who still do not know what emergency managers do daily. The emergency manager’s role is evolving and is often misunderstood, with many people still confusing “emergency management” with “safety and security.” Wearing cargo pants and an emergency management polo is a small, but important, way to demonstrate that emergency management is an integral part within the overall organizational professional staff. In addition, be ready to pivot when suddenly thrust into responding to a crisis out in the rain while when wearing a coat and tie.
  9. Expect to Be Audited – Sometimes emergency managers procure items that raise red flags to those not familiar with the responsibilities and duties of the job.  These red flags may generate an audit. Planning for a worst-case scenario does not fit neatly within the normal supply needs. In addition, most equipment purchases are often subject to auditing.  However, auditing may include plans as well as equipment. Emergency preparedness professionals should welcome any audit that will strengthen these plans and the overall operation.
  10. Think transparency – Keep in mind that most written communications and documents are subject to open records. Although transparency should be the standard, avoid including any personal opinions in emails and social media.

Additional Tips to Maintain Perspective

In addition to the habits above, there are a few more tips that can help emergency preparedness professionals develop more robust professional perspectives:

  • Emergency management demands leadership. Egos do not belong in community-based professions. Become a good listener, build and maintain trust, and never forget the importance of empathy. Give credit often, and fully embrace the enormous benefits of teamwork.
  • Do not forget to be a good follower. This is especially important within the Incident Command System, where emergency managers are seldom the incident commander but are always critical in supporting roles.
  • Finally, have a family plan for times when work takes priority. Not only will such planning prove valuable to family members, but it also will reduce personal stress levels during stressful times. Remember that taking time off is not only deserved but is also needed at times.

Now, with the grant application, knock it out as soon as time permits. Do not wait for downtimes or breaks in schedules because these opportunities are rare. Update “to do” lists to ensure that daily habits provide ample opportunity to knock out less pressing tasks – like submitting a grant!

Andrew (Andy) Altizer

Andrew (Andy) Altizer has over 20 years of emergency management planning experience and another 10 years of planning experience in the military. He is the emergency preparedness coordinator for The Westminster Schools and a Criminal Justice instructor at Georgia State University. Previously, he was the director of emergency management at Kennesaw State University and director of emergency preparedness at Georgia Institute of Technology. He also served as the critical infrastructure protection program manager at the Georgia Office of Homeland Security. In the U.S. Army, his roles included inspector general, public affairs officer, artillery commander, and plans and operations officer.

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