10/15/2007 18:27

Emergency Operations Center

I was reading a continuing education article about designing Emergency Operations Centers for emergency government services. The brand new centers are full of shiny conference tables and bright computer displays (which are always turned on for the pictures).

Behind the photos, the buildings are said to have special features to protect the structure, the occupants, and the operational functions from such probable risks as earthquakes, windstorms, power outages, and errant drivers. Those same features may be protective against less likely risks such as terrorists or nuclear attacks.

There are also intelligent additions such as personal environmental control systems which, the article says, "not only improve building performance, but also ... generally create a more comfortable environment for employees". (What a concept! Improve the building's performance and the people's performance.)

Well, it all seemed pretty cool.

Being the analytical type, you can guess that I immediately wondered Why? Being locked inside a large room with computer displays and scores of people "in stressful situations" (as the article understates) will never be my ideal employment. Yet there is something immensely appealing about the Emergency Operations Center. What?

My conclusion is that what is appealing is working together on an important mission.

Being a part of the team is half this appeal. No one films movies about loners who wander through life without any purpose. Almost no one. There isn't a lot of appeal there. (It is true that some movie anti-heroes are presented as loners, but most really aren't. And they are always working with a team when they are at their most heroic.)

The mission must be real, too. Something on the order of saving the world from destruction or (should I repeat this jibe?) Making the World Safe For Democracy will work. Even gaining control over energy waste might be sufficient if there could be a direct connection between the heroic action and the result.

I tend to think there needs to be a mission so that you, either as hero or as audience, can tell whether whether success is being achieved.

You have to be able to keep score, or what kind of a game is it?

Part of the appeal is playing the part, watching yourself be the hero carrying out your mission. Think of 7-year-old boys playing make-believe. For introverts, the score might be any realistic measure showing how close we have come to actual and final victory. For others, the applause meter might be a sufficient metric.

As I said, this article I was reading was presented as professional continuing education. It is followed by a mail-in multiple-choice quiz. This has the unfortunate effect of revealing how far continuing education strays from imagining myself as a key member of an Emergency Operations Center team saving the city from clear and present danger.

The reality of emergency government is probably far more mundane than the imagination, but continuing education is pretty much dead opposite. I wonder if actual reality would be more pleasant if we could make it just a little more like being part of a team with an important mission and a little less like continuing education.