Three Types of People in an Emergency

Dennis Hoiberg Lessons Learnt Consulting Blog

Written ByDennis

February 26, 2020

IT IS OFTEN said that there are three types of people; “Those that make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who ask – what happened?”

Having spent a large amount of time in January working with the second responders in community bushfire recovery strategies, I can only vouch for this description. Second responders are those who come behind the first responders such as fire fighters, police, ambos but before the more structured organisations such as Red Cross, BlazeAid and others. All three levels are critical and must work together. The second responders were best described by one of the local community workers as those people who fill the void and makes things happen.

And what magnificent people the second responders are. Many of them just turn up to volunteer and do. To provide the emergency fencing, to coordinate donations, to prepare and distribute meals, to knock on doors or visit relief centres to check on people’s well-being and to spread hope.

They make things happen.

Following these beacons of hope are those who watch things happen and at times, get in the way of the first category. These people are slow to respond and quite frankly, seem driven by their own ego, need to control and to be the centre. This, in contrast to the first group, who to me appear egoless and quite happy to do the job, have a beer and to go back to their real life.

These “watchers” actually ask good questions and raise valid concerns about safety, process and governance and make people think. These people happily turn up with policy manuals, procedures and appear to absolutely love committee structures. In another life, or maybe even in this life, they will be excellent auditors. However, when people are grieving, stock are missing, and homes are destroyed with people living in sheds and tents, I must question their value at that point.

Finally, we have the last type of people – those who ask, “What the heck happened?” (and yes, I have cleaned that up for our broad readership). These people turn up just at the very end of the exercise and express amazement at what actually was achieved and how grateful people should be to the tremendous effort people have exhausted – even their own effort which, I need to say, is minimal.

Which are you? We can’t be first category all the time. There are times when you do need to step back – for reasons of safety, efficiency and others. Equally, we can’t be the watchers all the time. – there are times when all that good stuff about procedures and questions need to be set aside, there is time for action. Also, we can’t always ask what happened. Sometimes we need to step up, put our hands up and be involved – early!

Given my experience this last month, there are many ways we can turn up and do. There is the actual work – the fencing, the stock control (and sadly dealing with injured wildlife and stock). There are also the critical support jobs – making of meals, coffees, activities. All are important!

Just try and be that person who turns up and does things – not talk or watch. You will be gratefully appreciated and it’s also food for the soul.

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