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October 27, 2009

Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness

Earlier this week, I attended a Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness presented by representatives from the CDC, The Department of Homeland Security, numerous government, business, non-profit organizations, and sponsors. The presentation featured high ranking officials in both public health, and security. The primary topic revolved around dealing with large scale crises such as terrorist attack, natural disaster, and public health risks. The focus was on communication skills across multi discipline organizations throughout the city including the city infrastructure, businesses, individuals, and officials. A terrorist attack with multiple casualties on the city of Lexington was used as a model to structure the best possible mode of recovery, and return to normalcy. Numerous problems and their solutions were addressed in what was a very interesting, and informative summit. I will try to present a few valuable points covered in this event that could really make a difference for ones personal well being as well as the well being of the community as a whole.

There was emphasis on cultivating the best leadership abilities possible known as Meta-Leadership. As a Meta-Leader, one must be able to communicate effectively to ones subordinates, as well as superiors. It is important to communicate across a wide spectrum of the community and to bring the area as a whole together as a multifaceted unit capable of covering as many angles of the situation at hand. This means seeing the big picture on all its dimensions. A model of a cone in a box was used to point out the importance of getting the whole picture in order to know what is going on at a given moment. If you view the cone in a box through a small hole on the side of the box, you only see a triangle. If you view it from the top, you see only a circle. Only when viewed in its entirety can it be seen for what it really is, a cone. This example points out common mistakes made when incomplete information is presented without considering the possibility of a bigger picture. It points out the importance of being flexible in the thinking process, and the importance of being creative and thinking outside the box.

Picture a scenario where there is an attack on a public building, and hostages are taken. The police are on the scene, and have the building surrounded. They all have weapons drawn and are awaiting a command as to what action to take. At the same time, one of the perpetrators have started a fire in a portion of the building, and fire officials are on the scene as well. It happens that both police and fire departments are on the same radio frequency, but are not aware of one another's procedures in the event. One of the firemen calls out fire over the radio in an attempt to alert other firemen to assist. Meanwhile the police with weapons drawn hear the word fire, and they discharge their weapons killing dozens of hostages along with the perpetrators, and a terrible tragedy is now happening because of a severe breakdown in communication. A very similar scenario to this actually occurred a few years ago, and many innocent lives were lost. This is why everyone needs to know the intent of the others in a critical situation. All must work together as a unit.

Our brain has three basic levels, upper, mid, and lower. Our lower brain is responsible for the survival instinct as well as the three “F’s” Freeze, Fight, and Flight. The low brain is also what we refer to here as the basement brain. In a crisis, we tend to go to this basement, and either remain there, or make our way back to a more mid brain level, where we can operate based on our training, and conditioned level. This mid-brain region is what allows us to operate a car without thinking through every motion, or the ability to walk without falling over. We have trained ourselves to be able to accomplish many tasks seemingly automatically. This mid-brain region is our tool box. It is here we are able to draw on all of our skills, and training. Our higher brain operates from intuitive, and higher thinking, and decision making.

There is a technique coined in the military I believe known as the OODA loop. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. This is somewhat self explanatory, but I will explain it a little anyway. When a situation happens, collect your wits, and observe what is going on. Don’t rush in aimlessly, but take time to observe in a calm manner. Next orient as to what needs to be done, and in what order, etc. This means getting your bearings, and getting out of the basement thinking that causes us to be ineffective. We have to orient ourselves to the tools we have at hand to deal. Next we must decide what needs to be done, who is to be involved, etc. This involves the ability to lead, or follow effectively in the manner that gets things done as a team. Finally it becomes time to put the whole plan into action.

It is vital to keep things as simple as possible. There will be enough chaos around a crisis so that you will be operating on the simplest solutions there. It is good to drill possible scenarios, and their solutions. Have the framework of action as clear as it can be. Acronyms work well, because they are good memory devices, and can jog the memory to remember the techniques needed when the brain is already under stress. In the process of building tools to deal with situations, remember to always factor calm and order into the plan, whether it involves a whole team of people, or you alone in the woods. The approach is roughly the same.

There were many other valuable things discussed at this summit, along with an opportunity for people around the community to network and get a plan in place before a crisis occurs. It is always better to be prepared, than to have to scramble to get your bearings with no idea of where to start.

In closing, I just want to say, if you ever have a chance to attend a meeting like this, or to participate in safety training, such as first aid, CPR, safety meetings, city meetings, anything that can give you an edge, and help make you a part of the solution rather than the problem in a crisis, then it is a good thing. Take action before it’s too late. Be Prepared!