Many years ago my colleague and great friend, Mairead Doyle came to work, and said “Happy Star Wars Day” I looked at her blankly, and she followed up with “Its May the 4th, and I was thinking “yep, I’m not stupid, I can read a calendar” Then she gave me one of those chemical engineer, Irish looks, and said in her deep irish brogue “May the 4th…..be with you” Major eye rolls (from me) followed.
Star Wars (the original, and the best), was/is probably my all time favourite movie (I know, I know, it should be Citizen Kane, or The Godfather etc but). I saw it when I was thirteen. It had been in the cinemas for 12months before I saw it. My dad took a couple of friends and I to see it for my 13th Birthday. We traipsed into the single screen cinema in the city, and I am still blown away by the opening scene, with the transporter being chased by the star cruiser. Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2D2 and C3PIO are much ingrained. I even have a little Luke Skywalker on my desk, courtesy of Darth Doyle.
As School Council president for the local primary school, one of my roles was to give the end of year address to the graduating classes. These are generally mundane speeches, thanking everyone etc. The first year I did it, I decided to be different, mixing some terrible dad jokes, with popular culture, and philosophy. The kids, I think, couldn’t wait for it to be over, but the parents got it. Around that time I had been reading about global risks and threats, and one that the World Economic Forum had detected as a “weak signal”, that is something they have some concerns about, but there is no data to support it, was the overreliance on a hyperconnected world reducing our ability to problem solve and decision make if that system failed. I thought this had the potential to be a major challenge for the generation that we were farewelling. They had not known a world without the computers, internet, and google. My mind came back to Star Wars, and the penultimate scene (spoiler alert), where the rebels were attacking the Death Star, but getting picked off one by one. Luke prepares to attack, and mid run, he hears the voice of his mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, “use the force Luke. Let Go” he hears, and switches off his guidance system, much to the consternation of rebel commanders. You know where this is going, and the rest, is kinda history.
Data is important in disasters, and we are getting ever more data on situations, models, impacts etc etc. We can make informed decisions. But, this reminded me of when we get overloaded with data, and it is extraordinary trying to sift through and make sense of it all, we try to process it with ever diminishing gains. As I have written previously, I take myself out of the situation, away from the sensory overload, and close my eyes, and make sense of it all. I try to visualise what is going on, and then prioritise from this visualisation. Sometimes you need to switch off to make sense of it. And it doesn’t need to be long, again, as Darth Doyle says, the time you take to make a cup of team and drink it may be all you need.
My favourite character in Star Wars is R2D2. I think R2 is potentially the future of disaster management. It’s loyal, pretty resourceful, can process lots of information, and provide advice. As we are on the top of the wave of the Artificial Intelligence revolution, I can see the potential to be able trawl a lot of data to help make sense of situations. Ultimately, the disaster manager will need to sense make and meaning make the situation. But it may be much more powerful, and nuanced. That is a potentially exciting future for us.
I was hesitant about the new star wars movies, but my girls were very keen (we spent one winter holidays doing a star wars marathon), so we went along to the Force Awakens. I was pretty impressed. And, like Emergency Management has become, the women were central characters, General Leia (ditched the royal title), and Rei, who is fab. Great strides have been made.
So, on this day in the fifth month of the year, “May the force be with you”