How far can plans and resources take leaders when managing a disaster?
When disaster strikes, we tend to measure the success of responding organizations according to whether resources are readily available for deployment. Consequently, managers look to increasing the capabilities of their organizations according to three factors: speed, communication and resources. For example, organizations leverage social media as a way of providing faster information during disaster situations, or in anticipation of future disasters, they invest in resources such as state-of-the-art technology, computers, airplanes, drones and trucks, among other things.
This is an important aspect of disaster management because it acknowledges the fact that disasters can overwhelm the capacity of organizations to cope with the situation. So you manage it as if you were going to war: you strategize and then come up with an execution plan.
However, there are times when sticking to a plan becomes the very reason disasters are mismanaged. Managers sometimes forget that disasters are dynamic and, in turn, render plans and resources inapplicable. Disaster situations leave people with very little resource.
An example that is close to home is that of Typhoon Yolanda, which had proven too devastating for even the key decision makers to find an alternative means of communication and coordination of rescue efforts when the cellular sites were rendered useless in the midst of the storm. Communication was down for a week after the infrastructure was damaged. There are accounts of utility organizations that had to resort to basic “relay/pass the message” communication technique.
Bricolage, i.e. making do with what you have at the moment, is an important aspect of disaster management. In the same manner, the simultaneous conception and execution of action, which is also known as improvisation, can be a solution when the plan becomes inapplicable to the current context.
As far as resources go, they can be scarce. As far as plans go, they need to be flexible. In disaster situations, a ‘drop your tools’ mentality can sometimes spell the difference in survival. This was evident in the Mann Gulch Fire of 1949.