Amanda Ripley


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What a Real Drill Looks Like

9th Jun 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

IN AMERICA, THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT spend millions of dollars a year holding training drills and tabletop exercises. All well and good. But when was the last time that you—the most important person on the scene—got invited?

Thanks to John Solomon for flagging last week’s 5-day nationwide drill in Israel as a model for a meaningful drill. Imagine: a drill that includes the entire population—and features surprise scenarios that require people to take action.

This is the way the brain works. The brain doesn’t learn by reading lists and listening to occasional public statements of officials in grey suits. The brain learns by doing. If we want to train the people who matter most in major disasters—the people who do the majority of life saving—we should invite them to the drill. Otherwise, we’re just play acting—designing emergency plans for emergency officials. Round and round the meta emergencies go.

It’s worth pointing out that Israel’s Home Front Command (similar to our Homeland Security Department) figured this out a long time ago. Human behavior matters more than technology. Look at the English version of their web site and notice the large button at the top labeled: “How to Act in an Emergency.” Click here to find out “How to Behave in a Terrorist Attack” or an earthquake or a fire or a flood. Downright elegant.

In general, I am not quick to point to Israel as a model for the U.S. The threats and context are very different, and I think some of our police departments tend to over-learn from Israel. But not in this case. On this subject, we under-learn.

Israel has got this exactly right. By comparison, DHS offers a mind-numbing list of preparedness and response publications, resources and regulations. From NIMS to NIPP to HSEEP. Ugh. I am unusually obsessed with this subject, and even I cannot bear to stay on this page for more than 6 seconds.