With a cyclone bearing down on the country, it’s worth learning lessons to avoid a repeat of the panic that the unexpected floods of last week created. Now that MetService and Niwa have given the warning, we have until Sunday to prepare.
There are two connected prongs to the management of dire events. Emergency management (the first responders on the ground such as police, search and rescue and fire services) and crisis management. And both require practice. Often. Without warning, safety specialists would set up scenarios to see how quickly the teams could mobilize. Then they kept making the event worse to test us. One such practice scenario, as it happens, started with mobilization as a cyclone was supposedly forecasted to be bearing down on where we were in northwest Australia.
So, the answer was well known: Release any affected vessels from their moorings and head out to open waters. Then the scenario escalated because one vessel’s mooring release mechanism failed. And then the scenario escalated to the engines and power failing. How to look after the vessel, the crew and the cargo?
Crisis management is all about communications and information transfer. There were squads of trained folks on a bank of phones to take calls from affected people. They were ready to inform family and colleagues of the personnel experiencing the event. Real-time information was passed onto the facility’s top brass through open lines and continuous reporting. Interview training with aggressive journalists was made available where you were taught to never apportion blame, get personal or be defensive.
These incidents are presented to demonstrate that good practice in emergency response and crisis management saves lives. The conclusion is pertinent to the management of all disasters, be they the Air New Zealand Erebus disaster or the recent floods that turned deadly, in a situation exacerbated by poor communications.
There are many lessons that can be borrowed from previous disaster. Establish teams and have specialists interact with them to come up with emergency scenarios. Invest in both crisis management and maintenance (too often a victim of cost cutting) to avoid those scenarios becoming disasters through a defect caused by poor maintenance or poor messaging. And practice, practice, practice.
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