The message of hope on the big screen television of the Washington National Cathedral, posted the day after President Barack Obama, now Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was inaugurated in Washington, D.C. in January 2009.
I have been doing emergency work for some two and half decades now, as a former public health professional.

During a crisis, we valued the positive traits of our staff. When they became overloaded and overwhelmed, we would recommend that they rest and regroup. We discouraged negativity as negative critiques have a way of assuming their own legs and discouraging teamwork.

However, when we found mistakes, we dealt with them quickly through positive solutions. We also reminded each other that during this moment of disaster relief, it is not about them, it is not about venting their fears and anxieties, but it is about helping the small businesses and families.

We reminded them during the Northridge earthquake that our sole purpose is to enable small businesses and people in dire need to recover. As an example, we had our scientists compute how much chlorine to add to a gallon of water and figure out the simplest way folks can disinfect their water and they came through.

We provided simple flyers and became partners in recovery efforts to small businessmen, triaging the needs on a daily basis, and making conference calls twice or thrice with federal, state and local agencies to make sure we are not stepping on each others' toes and that we stay grounded and focused on what needs to be done.

But, with each quick decision we made, we looked into possible consequences, as well as strategic impact.

We also asked for written reports in the field. We encouraged our staff to be decisive and not to worry about making mistakes. We told them that mistakes can be corrected, but lives lost cannot be reversed if they failed to act. We kept them going, not by second - guessing what they did, but by encouraging them to give us the full story and to share with us their decisions. While we were only a small staff at the state agency level, because we stayed engaged with the federal and local county authorities, we were able to carry through our purpose and moved our staff in the field where they were needed the most.

Sharing some tidbits of past experience and observations:

a. Constant communication is key, especially during rapid developing events. A communication post is important, and that communication post has to be credible and must disseminate information to key persona in different agencies and field staff and to the public. That is what we did during the Northridge earthquake.

It took two conference calls a day to get information, summarize it and synthesize it for others to act upon. At the crack of dawn, I make sure I could plan the staff's field visits and that they can be reached through pagers or beepers. The last thing we need during a disaster is an unresponsive staff.

During Katrina, the federal government was inaccessible, amongst the disaster efforts for at least three days.

For Typhoon Ondoy, private bloggers, the likes of Manuel Quezon III, Violet Imperial, and ABS-CBN Foundation's Kris Aquino, Boy Abunda and Ruffa Gutierrez were the first to respond and coordinate rescue and relief efforts for the first three days of the disaster. Kris was especially effective in showing and sharing her heart. She used her communication skills to help out.

It was only on the third day of the calamity that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Secretary of Defense Gilberto Teodoro took action. In Los Angeles, Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon, together with various Fil-Am groups and organizations, convened a meeting on the fourth day.

b. Key government officials not only stay on top of decision-making, but they work the hardest. We were working sixteen hours and more each day. That was true for state, local and federal agencies. We had a decision council to make sure that a collective verdict based on careful study is made every time. Credit is given when and where it is due.

c. No Egos Involved. No Excuses Allowed. Only Positive Actions together count! Only positive communication was encouraged.

When the field staff get emotional and hyper, we request them to write down their observations. That act of stopping the anxiety at the source, prevented them from being replicated and being elevated.

When we noticed that some egos needed stroking, we encouraged them to document what they have done as they will be asked to report them fully. This way, we give them an outlet to reflect on what they did and to distance themselves from the situation and give their best to help others.

We kept doing our best each day and thanked everyone for their smallest contribution. We reminded them that their field assistance must not harm businesses and families, but instead, improve their situations.

Lastly, we keep everything positive. A note of thanks and gratitude each day from their supervisors assures them that they are not alone and gives them a moment of affirmation for their next day's work!

During Operation Katrina, the government took a while to decide what to do. The locals pointed to the states, and the states pointed their blame on the federal government. Finger pointing only sustains the negativity of the situation. It does not provide relief, nor recovery, nor rehabilitation.

So, folks for those doing disaster, recovery and relief efforts, let us draw inspiration from our fellow Filipinos whose selflessness are so enviable and inspirational! Our love and prayers go to them!


Post a Comment