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The Four Pillars of Emergency Preparedness

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

The traditional approach to emergency preparedness in heritage organisations focuses on logistical preparations such as writing an emergency plan, putting together a salvage kit, learning salvage techniques, and conducting drills. However, in emergency response situations, especially large-scale disasters, technical skills alone are not sufficient to effectively manage crises. There is also a need for more comprehensive training that integrates leadership, communication, and well-being. These I call the four pillars of emergency preparedness: technical skills, leadership in crisis, communication in crisis, and wellbeing. In this blog we will explore the role of leadership, communication, and well-being in emergency preparedness.

Effective leaders in emergency response and recovery are concerned with two things: successful management of crises and ensuring the well-being of their teams. Therefore, equipping leaders with the skills and knowledge to effectively navigate complex and high-stress environments is crucial. This should include learning self-care, resilience building and how to look after the wellbeing of their teams in practice.

It is important to have a people-centric approach in the preparation for and response to disasters. In this we need to recognise that every person taking active part is a critical factor in both the success of an emergency operation and the overall resilience of responders. Having this perspective empowers leaders with the ability to effectively lead teams and address their physical, emotional, and mental health needs. Heritage organisations that prepare their staff for emergencies and disasters not only protect them from the psychological impact of stressors encountered in their role, but also improve their resilience and wellbeing.

Training in communication is crucial in emergency response. By this I do not mean learning only how to use emergency communication tools or to deliver emergency messages. Responders also need to be equipped with the ability to gather and relay information efficiently and to learn how to establish effective communication networks. This is essential for heritage organisations that are moving away from the traditional command and control system during emergencies and are adopting a more agile Network of Teams approach.

A Network of Teams is a coordinated and interconnected group of teams that collaborate during emergency response and recovery. These teams are agile and have a high level of autonomy in decision making and task execution. For this network to work well, communication and collaboration needs to be at their heart. Their training should emphasise clear communication methods, active listening, and opportunities for teams to practice effective communication skills and cross-team collaboration. For example, the collections salvage team can carry out drills or tabletop exercises with the building recovery and security teams. These training sessions, besides addressing technical aspects such as salvaging collections, should include psycho education on aspects of communication such as active listening, empathy, and compassion, and how to ensure that all team members feel heard and understood. From my experience, when these kinds of joint problem-solving exercises are planned and executed well, they create open and transparent communication and foster a sense of trust, collaboration, and resilience within and between teams.

The connection between well-being and emergency response cannot be overstated. Well-being training should encompass not only physical health but also mental, emotional, and social wellness. Responders who practice self-care are better equipped to manage high-stress situations, maintain focus, and make sound decisions. Attention to stress management techniques and the provision of appropriate support are crucial for ensuring the overall well-being of emergency responders.

Incorporating the principles of positive psychology into well-being training, with its emphasis on resilience, optimism, and wellness, is immensely valuable. For example, in resilience-building activities teams can learn how to manage stress and to promote positive mindsets when in crisis. They can focus the power of optimism and positive thinking in enhancing resilience and problem-solving abilities. At the same time, there must be an emphasis on the importance of establishing mental health support and resources that can be made available in crisis, if needed.

To summarise, technical skills alone are insufficient in large-scale disasters, as effective crisis management requires leadership, communication, and well-being training. By providing on-going training that encompasses leadership development, communication skills and well-being support, heritage organisations can optimise their response capabilities, improve outcomes, and ensure the overall well-being of all involved. Incorporating positive psychology principles further enhances these aspects, promoting resilience, and overall wellness among responders. It is through this holistic approach to emergency preparedness that we can truly prepare to face disasters.

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