Four keys to successful emergency decision making

As we continue through the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are all forced into emergency management mode. Things are happening faster than most of us can keep up with, and many have compared it to a wartime scenario. At this time, military decision-making systems may help us navigate the chaos in a more manageable way. During my time in the U.S. Army, I learned many lessons from fast paced operational tempos. Whether in combat operations or in response to Hurricane Katrina, these lessons have served me well. Below are a few that have proven helpful.

The first is a decision-making process that many like me have discussed. The process is outlined in three steps: prioritize, execute, and evaluate. Each of these steps forms a continuous cycle of prioritization, execution and evaluation in order to come back to prioritization again. It is a process that repeats over and over until there is nothing left to prioritize, and it can happen in real time to match the pace of events. Let’s look at each step.

Prioritize – The central truth in any crisis is the inundation of events and information that needs to be acted upon. Things happen fast, and there is hardly any time to think or breathe as the rush of needs and information overwhelms you. Most failures happen when people try to act on everything at once. This means nothing is given the thought or resources needed to ensure a measure of success. Before anything, we must prioritize what is in front of us. Prioritizing allows us to single out the one thing that needs the most attention right now. Make a list of everything, rank the list and act. That ensures you are putting your best effort into everything you are doing.

Execute – Once you prioritize, it is time to act and adapt it on the fly. Now, it is time to make moves and start to effectively reduce the list. Emergency management doesn’t mean long discussions or having endless meetings to evaluate every possible outcome. You don’t have time for that. “Execute” means to carry out, to do. Try, adapt and try again. Work until the problem is solved.

Evaluate – Is what you have done or are doing working? Often, execution and evaluation happen simultaneously, but evaluation is far more critical than most people assume. You must take time to evaluate whether what you have done or are doing is effective. Unless you evaluate you may move on to something else without having addressed the problem at hand. Evaluation can also create new priorities as it refines what you know about your operational environment.

Finally, I want to leave you with a principle I learned in marksmanship training; slow is smooth and smooth is fast. This is a fundamental principle for ensuring you hit your target. What it means is that it is better to be a little slower and hit your target than to rush and miss. Hitting your target the first time is faster than having to shoot twice or more. Slow means you are breathing, and you are less bumpy and jerky… less reactionary. Being smooth allows us to keep our eye on the target. Missing the target wastes resources, and it forces us to take time for another shot. That slows everything down.

So, remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast when you are working through prioritization, execution, and evaluation. We will get through this together.

How do you process through emergent decision making? How do you prioritize when you are inundated? How is your facility managing this crisis? Join the conversation in the comments below, and don’t for get to like, follow and share to support The Proactive Security blog!

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