Bush Shares Disaster Recovery Lessons At ASIS Event

By Laura Spadanuta

Bush urged attendees to use as many people as possible in their organizations to make a difference. States need to take advantage of the “megacommunity” of state government, counties, cities, towns, and other resources, and Bush added that private sector companies can do the same within their organizations.

Additionally, Bush told attendees to surround themselves with people who are talented—the right kind of people for a disaster. He said government is dysfunctional and you end up having to deal with many small crises, and those skills later help to deal with bigger issues.

“People who are tasked with disaster preparedness need to have that instinct for Murphy’s Law and the experience to back it up.” Bush said that if you have someone on your team whose standard response to any challenge is “everything will be fine,” then you should move them somewhere else. “You want people to worry. You want people to know that bad things happen.” Combat veterans are particularly good at crisis preparedness and response, said Bush, because they know that things will go wrong and they are ready to deal with it when that happens.

No matter how experienced your team is, you still need to focus on training, said Bush. He added that you can’t just train people who have risk or security in their job titles; “you need to train everybody who’s going to be a key person in a crisis or disaster.” Although there is no way to train for every potential crisis, Bush said that the exercises taught his team valuable lessons. “We learned the difference between a manmade and natural disaster could be found in how we acted—even when circumstances completely overwhelmed us.”

And Bush reiterated the importance of disaster training during his interview with Security Management. Regarding the recent preparations for Hurricane Irene, which hit the east coast last month, Bush said that New York City’s terrorist training was likely helpful in crisis response preparation. “All that training, you can transfer it. These are skills that can be applied to other types of disasters.”

The final lesson learned that Bush provided attendees was “don’t pass the buck.” Bush said. “In a crisis, there’s no time to lay blame at people’s feet—and sometimes you have to take blame when it’s not your fault for the good of the response and recovery.” He provided an example of post-Hurricane Wilma recovery in Miami-Dade County in 2005, when Miami-Dade turned down water and ice from the state.

During a press conference, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was asked what FEMA was doing about the lack of water and ice in the county. Bush said he took the microphone and accepted personal responsibility for the situation and promised to fix it, though it wasn’t his fault.

When the truth came out, Bush explained that he accepted the blame because “the controversy would have distracted from the central mission, which was helping Floridians recover. I knew that if I accepted fault, everyone would get back to work.”

Bush told Security Management that taking the blame in that situation had no downside in retrospect; he said that acceptance of responsibility is a trait that people are not going to get too critical of. They are more critical of the other side, which is “blaming somebody else.”

Bush said the people who do crisis management and preparedness best “understand that if your job is thinking about the worst-case scenario, planning for it, and averting it, no one notices when you succeed, but if you do your job wrong, everybody notices,” much like with baseball umpires. “Make one wrong call, and they remember your name until the day you die.”

Bush added that it’s not a job for people who get bored by another quiet day in the office, because another quiet day in the office without a disaster is a great day. Bush closed with, “I want to wish all of you more quiet days in the office.”

caption: Governor Jeb Bush and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Key West on October 25, 2005 after Hurricane Wilma. photo by Florida Keys Public Libaries/flickr


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