By: Anastasia Ovodova
Our experiences and training shape our thoughts and beliefs, in turn influencing our decisions and actions. For Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) personnel, this could mean that their reactions and actions can make or break their response processes, while their critical thinking skills may shape decision making. To build a resilient community, the personnel responding to a crisis must be resilient themselves.
The purpose of the research on “Assessing strategic thinking in police and fire personnel in the Burnaby EOC” was to make the EOC a stronger team through: building resiliency and professional comfort in first responders and other EOC workers; increasing the strategic thinking knowledgebase in disaster management; and, making recommendations for the EOC and first response agencies on increasing capacities in personnel and bridging gaps between agencies. The results of the first responder interviews indicate that there are gaps in training and collaboration within and between the agencies and departments that are represented in the EOC. This research showcased that change is needed to create a functional EOC capable of responding to all levels of disasters based on adequate levels of preparedness. In other words, the EOC needs to be resilient just as the rest of the community. This research proposed that strategic thinking is the key to becoming resilient in the EOC.
During disasters, agencies have a “whatever it takes” attitude (Donahue, 2006, p. 142) because “real events have socially mobilizing effects” (Berlin & Carlstrom, 2008, p. 183). EOCs show that personnel need to build strategic thinking capacity to help them succeed in their EOC roles. A command and control background may not be as fitting for disaster and emergency management when the latter is based on collaboration and coordination (Heaton, 2013). A strong EOC member needs to understand several disciplines and have both first response and project management experience (Heaton, 2013), whereas the current situation in EOCs shows that it is usually either one of the above. Unlike tactical thinking which directs actions to solve immediate problems, strategic thinking is the basis of creating strategic decisions and plans in order to implement change, thus directing current actions in improving future performance (Wootton & Horne, 2010).
Strategic thinking also allows people to continue leading in disasters when others may not (Wootton & Horne, 2010). ). It consists of other types of thinking, such as predictive, critical, reflective, creative, ethical and visual thinking, and it involves “getting difficult things done in difficult times” (Wootton & Horne, 2010, p. i). As well, strategizing includes forward thinking, capacity building, goal identification or achievement, and professionalization, all of which are mirrored in great leadership (Choi, 2008). Collaboration and collaborative incidents are the types of events that allow strategic thinking to strengthen since the collective thinking makes strategizing more powerful with the inclusion of a variety of expertise and ideas (Choi, 2008). Understanding how strategizing differs from tactical thinking will allow for better EOC operations and decision-making.
Creating a Stronger EOC
The five key research themes found from the study findings are: training perseverance; personal characteristics; adaptation; trust and collaboration; and, courage and belonging. When these themes are nurtured in an EOC through strategic thinking improvements, the specific disaster management community becomes more resilient to critical incidents.
The key study recommendations are:
- Training perseverance:
- Strengthen the training system
- Train more staff
- Offer more courses
- Provide different learning methods
- Cross train personnel in other roles
- Strive to be the best, train always, do not stop
- Personal characteristics:
- Choose the correct personnel for the job
- Train the weaknesses, use the individual strengths
- Roll with the punches and be flexible in your decisions
- Enhance the EOC with technology and tools to increase communications and situational awareness
- Seek support from superiors
- Trust and collaboration:
- Do your job, let others do theirs, and work with others; have two way conversations
- Know your neighbour, collaborate with and learn about other agencies
- More of the same scenario, exercise together
- Trust yourself and others; EOC supports the site
- Courage and belonging:
- Become a team, let EOC staff get to know each other
- Provide briefings and debriefings, even for small events
The most advanced EOC personnel in the research study identified courage as one of the main characteristics required for EOC staff. Emergency Operations Centre work requires personnel to put aside fears and concerns about ongoing personal and major emergencies, which is another way of strengthening strategic thinking and building capacities (McGuire & Schneck, 2010). Boyd (2011) notes that “we as humans are limited in our ability to recognize and analyze information, especially under stressful conditions” and even more so when dealing with group dynamics such as in an EOC (p. 56). EOC staff, no matter what agency they could be from, must trust one another, themselves, and site personnel to do their jobs. Through a focus on addressing the gaps in training, personal development, adaptation, collaboration, and a team environment, the EOC can increase capacities, and thus strategic thinking, while becoming a stronger and a more resilient system. Have courage in what you do, and always strive to reach your potential.
Berlin, J. M., & Carlstrom, E. D. (2008). The 90-second collaboration: A Critical study of collaboration exercises at extensive accident sites. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 16(4), 177-185.
Boyd, C. (2011). Cognitive bias and group think: The real threats to good decision making. Carolina Fire Rescue EMS Journal, 26(1), 26-27, 56-57. Retrieved from http://www.carolinafirejournal.com/articles/current-issue/issue-26-1-summer-2011.aspx
Choi, S. O. (2008). Emergency Management: Implications from a strategic management perspective. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 5(1). doi:10.2202/1547-7355.1372
Donahue, A. K. (2006). The space shuttle Columbia recovery operation: How collaboration enabled disaster response. Public Administrative Review (Special Edition), 141-142.
Heaton, B. (2013, November 08). Are Emergency Management graduates finding jobs? Retrieved from Emergency Management: http://www.emergencymgmt.com/templates/gov_print_article?id=231178771
McGuire, M., & Schneck, D. (2010). What if Hurricane Katrina hit in 2020? The need for strategic management of disasters. Part IV: The future of strategic management. Public Administration Review, 70(S1), S201-S207. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.royalroads.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/docview/853426222?accountid=8056
Wootton, S., & Horne, T. (2010). Strategic Thinking: A Nine Step Approach to Strategy and Leadership for Managers and Marketers (3rd ed.). Kogan Page. Retrieved from http://www.books24x7.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/marc.asp?bookid=36869
Anastasia Ovodova is the Training and Volunteer Coordinator and Emergency Support Services Director for North Shore Emergency Management. In 2015, Anastasia graduated with a Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management from Royal Roads University.