How to be an Emergency Ninja

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What does the emergency manager have to learn from Bruce Lee or the martial arts in general for that matter?

Bruce Lee was talking about adaptation and adjusting to suit the situation at hand when he articulated the famous quote to be ‘like water’. The emergency manager that sticks rigidly to emergency instructions or procedures without taking into account the circumstances in which these actions are being applied is bound to fail. Lack of situational awareness is the cornerstone of failure.

The Japanese martial art Ai-ki-do translates roughly as the way of peace and harmony. Strange translation I know, for a martial art. However, the ‘way’ that the martial art advocates to overcome a stronger and more powerful opponent is not to confront their strength head-on, but to adapt to the attack and blend with their strength or power. In Aikido, there are three levels of consciousness for want of a better word. There is focus, attention and awareness. Focus on the attack (punch, kick, grab etc.). Pay attention to your opponent (how they are acting or reacting) and awareness (what’s around you, who’s behind you etc.)

The same can be said for anyone confronting an emergency situation. The emergency manager needs to have focus (what’s the actual problem or cause). Attention – What are the effects of the issue and who/what is effected? And awareness – What are the wider implications of this emergency and how will that effect your response?

Prioritising one level of consciousness for the others may result in:

  • Focussing on that one person who’s injured themselves will mean that you aren’t paying attention to others who may be at risk.
  • Paying attention to only those affected by the emergency may lead to a lack of understanding the big picture and consequently the need for, or lack of flexibility.
  • Having awareness of the situation but losing control of the people who need your help by not focussing on their dilemma and not paying attention to their safety.

The emergency manager will require practice if they are to maintain all three levels of control over a situation. Self-control and teamwork are two factors that enable good control of the entire situation. Leadership under adversity is hard. Mastering the ability to make decisions on incomplete data, under tight timeframes, under rapidly changing circumstances; all this whilst engaging those that you lead to take action, is tough stuff that will require some inner ‘grit’. Planning, preparation and practice will get you 90% of the way but when an emergency strikes that last 10% void will be filled by your focus, attention and awareness.