Think Before Writing Your Plan
Base your plans on strategy, not templates
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.
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.”
Four ways to gain political support for your program
In his weekly column in the Chronicle this past Sunday, my old boss, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Jr, drew some interesting contrasts in how local governments responded to the officer-involved shootings in Tulsa OK and Charlotte NC. In Tulsa, police released video of the shooting and charged the officer involved with manslaughter. In Charlotte, police have still not released any footage of the shooting, leading to assumptions by members of the public that the police are lying about the victim having a gun. The result was that Charlotte has seen nights of often violent protest while Tulsa has remained quiet. Brown’s recommendation is blunt:
Lesson one for police agencies throughout the nation: Release the video immediately after every incident. Eliminate the speculation that you’re hiding something. It’ll come out one way or the other, so you might as well be the one to do it.
I believe that we are seeing in Charlotte is one of the “four traps of decision making” I’ve written about previously: using the need for gathering more information as an excuse for inaction. One of the things you have to accept up front in any crisis is that you will not have all the information you need to make a good decision. There is a good chance that your initial decisions might turn out to have not been the best course of action or may be completely wrong. However, failing to take the risk of making a decision that may seem wrong in hindsight frequently allows the crisis to escalate, often to the point where you lose control. Acting decisively on the best information you have available at the time can be justified and explained; failing to act and allowing things to get of hand cannot.
Remember that Botterell’s Fourth Law of Emergency Management is, “Perception is reality.” If you give the appearance of concealing the truth, this is what the public will believe. You need to be seen to act decisively and quickly if you are to retain the public turst. One of the sayings attributed to General George Patton is, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” This applies as well in crisis management as it does in war.