A few weeks ago I attended a regional summit of emergency managers, firefighters, law enforcement and related public officials for a major city and its metro region. My task was to invite these jurisdictions and their agencies to participate in an exercise program that would feature a catastrophic event in another large city a few hundred miles away.
In case of such a horrific event, the creative assistance of those at the summit would be needed. The exercise would especially focus on the movement of supplies toward the impact zone.
First question, “Why should we share our supplies?”
My response, “Thanks for the chance to clairfy, I’m not talking about sharing your emergency inventory or anything owned by your agencies. The focus would be on facilitating a surge of private sector supply chains, private sector goods — water, food, and pharma, for example — that either originate in this area or need to move through this area.”
“I understood you the first time,” the questioner stated. “Why should we do that? If there’s a real catastrophe in (insert city name) we’ll probably need everything we can get here.”
While I offered some answers and justifications, my responses were not persuasive. Several agreed with the need to keep what they had. Others probably disagreed, but they were quiet. If there is ever a real need, I fully expect the first urban area will move mountains to help the second urban area. But for a whole host of reasons, they were not at all interested in thinking through the problems and process in advance.
Last week I was in another meeting in a different urban area, this time with private sector leaders from power, communications, water, food, pharma, banking, trucking, medical care and other key sectors. The issue was more or less the same: it is a very bad day in the big city. Your local capability is offline, even flattened. Will you work with us and participate in some exercises to think through the problem of re-supply?
The response was enthusiastic. “It’s a very interesting problem,” one offered. “Thinking through this worst-case will help us with other everyday issues,” another said. After a wide-ranging conversation one of the private sector leaders at the table stated, “This is in our self-interest. It is also in the common interest. We should have done this a long time ago.”
In each case there are back-stories, details that help explain the very different reactions. This is not an issue of good versus bad. But it is a story of two very different mind-sets.
After a few years –a lifetime? — of such contrasting experiences, I have a heuristic, a rule of thumb: Humankind is divided between those who are inclined to control and those who are inclined to create. There is a continuum with nearly everyone suspended somewhere between these two extremes (among other axes). Where do you fall?
Those who seek to control tend to be more pessimistic. Those who seek to create tend to be more optimistic.
Pessimism may have roots in the past, but is expressed prospectively. Optimism is mostly a matter of how the future is expected to unfold. Each is an orientation that can skew observation and as a result be self-fulfilling. At the extremes, both pessimism and optimism are probably forms of psychological self-protection. Some recent research seems to suggest genetic predispositions are also in play.
The two mind-sets can be complementary, but more often clash and compete. The “control-freak” is an idiot. The “innovator” is a fool.
Any meaningful homeland security strategy must find a way to blend and benefit from both mind-sets and apply them in the here-and-now. Doing so systematically is something that requires much more attention than we currently invest.
Late Thursday afternoon I received a copy of the National Preparedness Report, the first annual as required by PPD-8. It deserves a closer read and more complete analysis. But even on a first read, it is easy to perceive the struggle between control or create. In raw form the tension of these worldviews warps the strength of each. When the tension is synthesized, the resilience of the whole system is enhanced.
IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
“… I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long long to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)