Thursday, December 10, 2009

ERM-BC-COOP: It's how you say it


The other day Google reported that someone had looked for articles on "language."

An article I cobbled together a few days more than 4 years ago became a search engine "hit."

What I wrote then in the piece called "Heard, but not understood" ( was valid then and it remains valid today - on several levels.

The first level is the fact that practitioners need to help clients - be they internal or external - understand the need to select the best people for the jobs at hand.

In this case, the "job at hand" is notification, telling staff and others what's going on and what to do - or not to do.

The concern highlighted in the article is the audience's ability to understand what is being communicated.

The article focused most on accents, pronunciation. We've all struggled with off-shore "Help" staff. We had a hard time understanding their English and they probably had an equally hard time understanding our English. Very often before the problem was resolved, there was frustration and anger on both sides of the connection.

But there is more than simply how a word is spoken.

It also is the choice of words.

Some of us have a limited vocabulary and almost all of us lack familiarity with all the acronyms and buzz words floating around. We need to keep that in mind when talking to others, especially those not "in the know" about an incident at work, or even at home.

The goal is comprehension, understanding. Lacking that means the communication effort failed.

When I was a young reporter I was impressed with the fact that I had to "write to the audience." When I wore a Sports Reporter hat I wrote one way; when I wrote Society news I wore a different chapeau. As an Enterprise Risk Management practitioner, I write certain sections of the overall document to one audience (executive management) and other sections for a different audience (responders).

That does not mean "talking down" either to the executives or the responders; it only means communicating at the reader's comprehension level. Education, by the way, has little or nothing to do with comprehension. (Maybe I should put a "bang" at the end of the previous sentence. You do know what I mean by "bang*," correct?)

On a second level, I was reminded that, as Solomon allegedly claimed, there is nothing new under the sun - even if we practitioners conveniently let something slip our minds.

That was brought to my attention by a IAEM** post that starts off:

    S.F. State students seize business building

    (12-09) 17:47 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- A few dozen students at San Francisco State University seized the business school building early Wednesday, the latest in a rash of student takeovers to protest soaring tuition and diminished course offerings at California's public universities.

    Read more:

    The occupation follows building takeovers at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz last month, and a round-the-clock student campout in an auditorium on the Berkeley campus that began Monday and is expected to last through Friday.

Back in the 60s the San Francisco area was famous for anti-war demonstrations. Other cities also had "events," but the Bay area, especially UC Berkeley, were famous - or infamous - for demonstrations.

The folks at San Francisco State should have been prepared for the takeover of a building. The campus police, city, and state police also should have had a joint plan; maybe they do. Most assuredly, the university and the local Emergency management folks should have worked together long before the takeover for just such an event.

As one correspondent pointed out, planning for a takeover ever is difficult at best since, unlike a hurricane, the threat follows the response. What the writer way presenting is that had there been a plan and had the plan been advertized, the people who took over the building would have been able to counter the school's response.

Assuming they had copies of the plan and assuming the people responding lacked the ability to think dynamically, to change the plan as necessary.

Enterprise Risk Management is not a process that is documented to become shelfware - a binder or several sitting unused and gathering dust on a book shelf.

The core answer to both issues is selecting the right people for the job.

Normally, practitioners have little say in selection of responders, but they should try to recommend requirements for the people who will fill the various roles. That's not always easy, especially when the CEO wants to be the spokesperson yet he, or she, freezes before the cameras.

In regard to identifying threats that are less than obvious - after all, there were no sit-ins since the 60s, almost half a century ago - practitioners need people who think not only "outside the box" but sometimes "off the wall" as well.

Solomon was right.

* Bang is a Unix term for exclamation point.

** The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting the goals of saving lives and protecting property during emergencies and disasters. (

John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management practitioner
Looking for work in - or from - southeast Florida


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