We’ve all got a sense of what disasters may lay in wait for us and plans for how to deal with them so that we can reasonably expect that we, much as the recent tornado victims, will be able to dig out, police up, rebuild, and in time overcome the terrible consequences of natural or unnatural catastrophe. But is the issue remediation alone or there other dimensions we should be thinking about?
We would all probably agree that emergency plans should be living documents rather than monuments to some statutory requirement that resulted in a tidy paper drill sometime in the distant past…but it’s been my experience that the latter is most often the case. Far from criticism, this is a reasonable assessment of how we manage our time in the face of certainties—many more demands on what will always be inadequate resources of time and materials—versus the virtually endless list of uncertainties lurking in the mists of the future. So how do we deal with such an impasse?
Over the years I’ve had an opportunity to write, amend, review, and shudder in fright over quite a number of emergency plans. Some have been so thorough and precise in their framing that you’d think that no contingency could go unchecked. Others have had little more than a list of phone numbers to call, often hopelessly out of date. The best I’ve seen have been relatively short, but armed with a hard and fast requirement for regular, hands-on, get-out-of-bed-in-the-middle-of-night, disaster drills followed immediately by after-action meetings to assess results. The key of course lies in the commitment of elected officials and senior staff in making these drills as realistic and demanding as possible, but that’s only part of the equation. Since waste managers are sure to get the short end of the stick when it comes to picking up the pieces, these drills may be your best opportunity for getting and honing the tools, equipment, and support you’re going to need to achieve the success your citizenry has every right to expect.