Band-aids or Cures?

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On July 27th, Emergency Management published an article that quoted an Allstate Insurance survey in which two-thirds of parents, although personally affected by a disaster, did not know about their children’s school’s emergency plans. Forty-two percent did not know where to find their children if the school were evacuated because of some disruptive event.

Those are alarming results. If those results were presented to a Parent-Teachers’ Association, the most likely results would be a decision to publish information in the Parents’ Handbook or send information home with the children, or publish the necessary information on the school website.are you prepared

Problem solved! Not so fast! The first question to ask in the face of data such as that included in the Allstate survey is, “What is the root cause of these failings?” That’s engineering-speak for “What’s the real problem?” Absent other information, it’s almost impossible to answer that question, but a good bet would be that the school’s preparedness program and its associated plans are inadequate. By inadequate, I mean that they are missing key information and actions. The missing parts may be “preaction” (prior to any disruptive event) or they may be “performance” (during a disruptive event), or, most likely, there are gaps in both preaction and performance.

If the real problem (or root cause) is the inadequacy of the preparedness program and plans, what will publishing information on emergency plans and reunification plans do to correct the problem? The answer is that those focused actions are band-aids. They are “treating” a symptom and not the disease. I once asked a senior executive what would happen if you applied continuous improvement to a dysfunctional system. His answer, after a brief moment of reflection was, “You’d have a very efficient dysfunctional system.” If you address symptoms of the real problem one at a time, you’re band-aiding a dysfunctional system. The real answer is to fix the system – not the symptoms.

The best way to start addressing the effectiveness of your preparedness program is to understand whether or not it’s dysfunctional, or outdated, or incomplete, or suffering from some other problems. There are two excellent tools to help achieve that understanding. First is a high-level assessment, conducted by a knowledgeable third party, with a person or persons who know your organization’s program. The results of that interview can be turned into an insightful report, highlighting areas of excellence and opportunities for improvement. Second, an in-depth, third-party critical review of your preparedness program and related documentation can provide an exceptionally good picture of exactly where problems exist and what those problems are.

With this information in hand, an organization can address the root cause and not band-aid the symptoms. While this may seems a daunting effort, requiring significant resources, it is actually much faster and much less resource intensive than spending time and resources to achieve an “efficient dysfunctional” preparedness program.


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