Probably the best presentation at this conference, and one of the best I’ve heard for some time was from the dynamic Dan Neely from the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office. Given that he used music (Vanilla Ice) as a hook, I was hooked. He talked about how they are reconfiguring emergency management to be community driven within this city. And that is no mean feat. But with Dan, an infectious Arizonan with a healthy dose of pragmatism and self-depreciation, you can see where these guys are going.
It’s all about community engagement, and realising asset based community development, building upon what’s there rather than promising lots and not delivering. He spoke about how he learned about community development the hard way in Costa Rica as a Peace Core volunteer. He designed a program to put rubbish bins in the streets to help with the litter problem which he perceived as being the biggest problem they faced. Funnily enough, nobody used the bins, and he realised that he hadn’t asked what was important to them. He illustrated this point by showing a photo of one of his bins surrounded by rubbish, and dog taking a crap next to it. “Sums it up, a crap idea” he said.
The program in Wellington is about conversations, and getting people to talk to people, and it’s not a nice neat org chart, but more of a spaghetti diagram with plenty of dead ends. People influencing people.
The other thing was that they talked about making their messaging about it’s easy to be prepared, because if you tell people it’s easy they will think it’s easy. These materials are great because they talk about preparing inside your household, then what’s outside your gate (your neighbourhood) and your business. Their focus is very much on social capital and the most important thing in an emergency is not a can opener (as he said, we aren’t sending people to a desert island) but your neighbours.
One of the practical demonstrations of the their community development approach was when Tsunami mapping was undertaken in the southern suburbs, the council got together with residents to explain the tsunami zone (and having just visited one, they are a helluva long way up the hill). They worked together to determine the best way to inform people, in fact 15 or so people put their hand up to come up with a solution. It took about three months, and there were some terrible ideas in the process, but then someone said, I guess we can’t draw a big line around the valley, like it s on the map. To which Dan said, we’re council, we draw lines on the roads all the time, and the blue line zone was born.
Through their training of community engagement people, they talk about the key point amongst others, is to be able to have some fun, to be a little bit weird. He’s right, Emergency Management is a “serious industry” dominated by serious types with a predilection of telling people what they must do because it’s good for them. Make something enjoyable, easy and fun, and people will do it.
It also reminded me how you really need people with energy, passion, drive, irreverence, self-depreciation, and lateral thinkers, all of which, qualities that Dan possesses!
So you are thinking, Vanilla Ice, what’s a lamo white boy rapper from texas got to do with resilience. Listen to the first line, and you’ll know why.