Lessons Learned from Emergency Management

As I mentioned before, I am an environmental engineer.

And, for a while, I was involved in a statewide program revolving around Radiological Emergency Preparedness. Briefly, this program consists in preparing for a wide range of nuclear emergency scenarios, from a terrorist attack to the release of radioactive substances from a Nuclear Power Plant (note that nuclear energy is one of the most clean energies out there, but unfortunately it comes with a lot of stigmas). This program, as you can imagine, involves many players and implies that many organizations learn to play in the sandbox together, where they usually never had to.

Evidently, because it involves so many people from the entire spectrum of the society, we need to exercise through regular drills – just to make sure that’s it’s not total chaos when a situation does occur. I don’t want to digress to much, so let’s leave it as that: each player in the program needs to train and practice its role regularly.

My participation to such a complex and structured program has taught me so many valuable lessons. Most can apply to life in general, but here are my favorite ones, to apply generously when pursuing a sustainable habit.  

Lessons Learned from Emergency Management

1. Preparation is the Key

If you are not prepared when shit hits the fence… you will end up… covered in shit. Or is it just your fence? I never really got that expression…

The point is, you want to avoid being in a situation where you have to clean up shit. Right?

The only way to combat, or MITIGATE (minimize the risk or impact of the threat) that is to (over)prepare. Yes, unfortunately, there’s no way around preparation. Good preparation involves education, testing and failing. In emergency drills, 100% of the times, something goes wrong, sometimes it’s only a minor mistake and sometimes the field team gets the wrong coordinates and …fictional people die. That’s why we practice, so that we fail, we learn, we talk about it and we improve.

You should have the same mindset when undertaking any change or project. Everything is linked together, and systems are complex in a way that there’s more space for mistakes than for success… so understand, try, fail, adapt and repeat. That’s all you can ever do to improve.

2. Begin with the End in Mind

Again, I wish I was original, but I can’t help but reference Stephen Covey in his book “the seven habits of highly successful people” (amazing read by the way)! It is CRITICAL to begin with the end in mind! When undertaking anything, and I mean anything, you need to consciously take a step back and visualize the end goal, define what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it!

In Emergency Preparedness – the why is protecting human life, and the what is designing a system with procedures that will ensure the safety of the most people, as fast as possible, then, minimize property, environmental, and economic damage.  

Ask yourself, what is it you want to achieve, and what are the actual result you want to see? It’s a good starting point.

3. Efficient Communications are Underrated

When working on something that involves two people or more: communications will often make the difference between success, and failure. That is the honest truth. We can all relate to a frustrating situation where we can pinpoint exactly where the lack of communication happened, in the aftermath of the event… and isn’t that the baseline for all romantic comedies?  

I have been struggling internally with this for a big part of my life – and still am – but it is really simple: you need to say exactly what need to say: relay the right information to the right person, ask questions to understand better, and NEVER make assumptions (on something that you could get an answer to, of course).

Don’t be afraid to use your words, the human language is there to help you, and it’s by practicing that you will learn how to improve on communications efficiency (see point number 1).   

4. Enthusiasm Matters

I think this one is pretty obvious for anyone who has experimented it in action (and I think we all have in an aspect of our life or another), but it needs to be redefined as a subset of leadership. Enthusiasm and making the first step with a smile will always have a positive impact on others.

The tricky part is this, off course enthusiasm will make a difference in a team environment (everyone can relate to an experience where an enthusiastic leader painted an optimistic vision for them, and made them push extra hard), but it also matter for your individual projects. Yes, you need to find the silverlinings in everything, and take the first step of every journey with a smile? Why? Well, physiologically, your body will be tricked into thinking that you’re undertaking something that is actually pleasant, and maybe (probably) it will have an impact on the rest of the process.

Secondly, never forget that we live in a complex system, where individuals are interacting, and that you’re never really alone, and people are always observing you (especially if you’re bragging about it on social media ;)) . Then, remember you are always encouraging someone else to take this step, when you do it with a smile. And if you continue to harbor this smile along the jourey… listen… you won’t even be able to quantify the ramifications of your habits/acts/intents/ and actions. Congratulations, and more power to you if you have already internalized this. I admit, that portraying positive energy outside must be one of my pitfalls, because I wear my emotions on my face… but I am working on that.  

5. When Reaching for Something Bigger, there’s no Room for Selfishness

Wait… what? Was that sentence confusing, or is it just me? Let’s restructure this way:

if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together


Isn’t that self explanatory and doesn’t it highly resonate with each one of us? There’s just so much we can do alone… We have limited time (yes, even if you dedicate 24h/7 to a project), resources, knowledge, and… well strengths!

I believe, this is essential to internalize because it highlights how much humans need to work together (for better or for worse) to build a better society/community/future.

I often thought of the metaphor of the human body, when playing in an emergency preparedness drill. Where, each individual that plays in the drill consists of a cell, and work as a part of an distinct organ, working towards its effectiveness (achieving its function). In the drill, this organs could be logistics, planning, finances, or field teams, and many more. Zoom-out and each individual organ is working towards the maintaining and equilibrium of the larger organism that a human being is. Thus, each individual cell has a role in keeping the body alive and healthy. Of course, I hear you debating that some organs are more essential than others, and that is true, but all have their function and work in harmony towards the same goal: optimizing the body’s utilization of energy.

Isn’t it beautiful?

I feel like I have a lot more to write about the subject, but I also feel like this post is getting to long.

I hope there’s enough to spark a little train of thought.

To be continued, maybe