Photo by: Hilmi Hacaloğlu/VOA

I don’t mean to over dramatize, but leaders make all the difference during a disaster, such as the Nepal Earthquake, pictured above. Leaders process information, make decisions and control resources, so they are the lynchpin of managing a large scale incident or disaster.

Sure, first responders do all they can, but unless we get the right resources to the right place in as little time as possible, people will continue to die while we figure out how to respond. It is the leaders who must decide how to manage the disaster.

“To be fair, we are asking our leaders to do a lot during a disaster. It is a bit like telling them that the World Cup is coming and we want them to win, but they don’t get a ball to play with and they seldom practice.”

Take the earthquake in question. The disaster management leaders are doing the best they can. But their plans are seldom, if ever, tested. They have little training or practical experience on which to lean, and as a result, the response suffers. Again, I am NOT blaming these specific leaders as they are now waist deep in a humanitarian disaster, but the WRONG thing to do is shrug our collective shoulders and say “better luck next time”. It has nothing to do with luck. Sure people will die during a disaster and nothing can be done about it, but there are others who could have been saved if the response was better or quicker. We have a responsibility to ensure our leaders are better trained and prepared for a disaster so that this latter group of people doesn’t have to die.

Case in point. Within the first few hours of the earthquake in Nepal, it was well known that many roads were cut between the airport and the surrounding countryside. However the leadership could not process this fact (and the related second and third order effects) fast enough to ask for road building equipment first from the international community. Instead, this synthesis took place later and the airport ended up being full of aid that could not be distributed (and very likely people have died as a result of this). If only we could intervene and give them the wisdom and forethought….

…but we CAN. Simulation tools exist that allow leaders to test their disaster plans to ensure not only that they work in the desired situation, but also can withstand the worst case scenario.

We have the technology and processes to train our leaders to work together so they know how to collect and process information, how to deploy resources effectively in a disaster, and how to make effective decisions. Again, there are simulation training tools available that can provide leaders with an immersive and realistic training environment that can provide experiential training prior to an actual event. This type of training (Constructive Simulation) has been well known within the military for about 35 years.

To be fair, we are asking our leaders to do a lot during a disaster. It is a bit like telling them that the World Cup is coming and we want them to win, but they don’t get a ball to play with and they seldom practice.

The world HAS the technology, means and opportunity to address this problem – we just aren’t doing enough yet!

My company is taking the lead on changing the world. We believe we can save One Million Lives if we go to countries (especially developing countries) that have large disaster susceptibility and train the leaders. We recreate the worst disasters imaginable within the simulation tools and get them working together to solve realistic problems. At the end, they have quantified many of their “unknown unknowns” and they usually embark on projects to better the response.

We can’t do this all on our own, however. The world is a big place, so we are looking for help from government, other companies, and international aid organizations to work together with us to get this invaluable training as far and as fast as possible.

Just as before Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed”, people used to shrug at each car accident, we are shrugging at each disaster. Now the technology exists to mitigate death and injury – but many of us continue using partial or ineffective planning and training methods like tabletop exercises and fully functional exercises that just don’t exercise leadership well. We have the solution…we just need to get it out there!

Leaders have bear a huge burden of responsibility and as a result they deserve the best training we can give them so they are prepared for the unthinkable.

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