I began last week with a flight across America, from our Washington to the "other" Washington, D.C. I traveled from one world to another. In less than 24 hours I stood among the tall green forests and open vistas of Pacific County, as well as the history and pride-laden gray monuments of our nation's capital. The contrasts in scenery were visible and stark, mirroring those in lifestyle and daily reality.
Even with such broad natural and man-made diversity reflected in thousands of urban and rural communities, we are truly one nation. The mission that drove me to leave the security and serenity of our home was to go to FEMA headquarters and bring them our views on the many strategic plans being generated there, and to remind them of one critical consideration: even though we are one nation, one plan will not work for everyone. The goal must be the same, but flexibility is key and must be guaranteed for agencies of all sizes in the pursuit of disaster preparedness.
Monday was the dreaded travel day. I've mentioned before my fear of flying. It's getting worse. I thought that booking a non-stop flight might help; only one takeoff and landing to worry about. It didn't help. The interior of the plane began to shrink as the hours dragged by. We shook, rattled, but didn't roll as we bumped our way east. When we finally landed, I gathered my bags, caught a cab to the hotel, and collapsed into bed totally exhausted from worrying my way across the country.
Tuesday was taken up with subcommittee meetings. I have been a member of the NIMS (National Incident Management System) committee for the last two years. We continued our emphasis on allowing local government the flexibility needed to accomplish the goals set by FEMA. A "cookie cutter" approach is not what we need. The new guidelines revised in December 2008 allow more freedom for each jurisdiction to do what works for them to best accomplish the common mission. We're making progress.
Wednesday was spent in our subcommittees, reporting back to the full National Advisory Committee, making recommendations, and waiting for the entire body voting to accept or reject. We also heard from FEMA's acting administrator, Nancy Ward.
Thursday was filled with more subcommittee reports and a briefing on national mitigation plans by senior staff. Our meeting concluded with a presentation by New York City Director of Emergency Management Joe Bruno about the recent "miracle on the Hudson" plane crash. Joe was incident commander for the operation. He said the landing was, indeed, almost miraculous. He couldn't help adding that good people, good equipment, and good training also played a big part in the successful rescue. The only bad part was that I had to climb back aboard a plane to fly home right after watching one crash.
During the even longer flight back to Seattle I had a lot of time to think. Our group is functioning much more smoothly and effectively after two years of work. The difference is that we all brought our own perspective at first. We were trying to find operational and strategic solutions by looking through the big end of the funnel. Our biases were keeping us from working together. Getting to know each other as people, listening with an open mind, and showing respect for differing opinions helped us all turn that funnel around and gain a wider, more inclusive view of the possibilities. We're getting it right. It's slow progress, but worth every effort.