Thought Leadership by Tom Henkey
Director of Emergency Management, Titan Security Group
Let’s face it, not many of us are going to miss 2020. It has been a brutal year in so many ways – a pandemic, economic collapse, a bitter election cycle. If it were possible to push an enormous “societal reset” button to welcome 2021, most of us would leap at the opportunity.
Make no mistake, our largest challenges will not disappear simply because the calendar changes. The same challenges will be waiting for us on January 1. And regardless of political affiliation, those in the safety and security field should accept neither excuses for failure nor lowered expectations in addressing critical challenges.
Leaders should rather be ready to address multiple high-priority challenges head on, on day one.
Effective COVID response: the COVID-19 pandemic will not magically disappear merely because one or more effective vaccines have been identified. Despite the herculean scientific effort that was required to develop multiple inoculations, significant difficulties remain ahead. Effective hygiene, social distancing, and mask-wearing will continue to be required for months. The raw logistical hurdles to safely and effectively vaccinate hundreds of millions of people are daunting. Widespread disinformation and distrust continue to swirl around any vaccine effort, particularly in such a politically charged environment. We will win the fight against this virus, but it is not over yet.
Prepare for natural hazards: A virus is not the only hazard we are facing. The range of challenges facing us in 2021 certainly includes extreme weather. An utterly unprecedented hurricane season battered Latin America, the Gulf Coast, and the Southeast. Wildfires simultaneously scorched an unprecedented amount of acreage in the Western U.S. These issues are neither regional nor temporary, and must be addressed much more coherently and competently going forward. National and international efforts will be required to effectively counter the impacts posed by climate change and the next pandemic (because there will be a next pandemic).
Prepare for human-caused hazards: Despite years of promises by politicians of all stripes, our critical infrastructure continues to be in dire need of maintenance and repair. These crucial structures, utilities, and technologies are simply too important to ignore any longer. Domestic terrorism has undergone an atmospheric rise in both frequency and death toll in recent years – a trend which will accelerate further without truly decisive action. And international terrorism has been in a period of relative calm, but must not be discounted as a future threat.
Demand qualified agency leaders: Precisely because of the challenges noted above, stellar leadership is required within the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. Organizations must provide fearless leadership in 2021, on issues ranging from the pandemic to terrorism. Emergency management and homeland security leaders must be honest, competent, and transparent. Nothing less is acceptable to the professionals who have dedicated their careers to public safety – nor should it be acceptable to the public itself. When the stakes are this high, failure must not be normalized.
Relight the economic engine: If we manage to get this daunting list right from start to finish, we have a chance to witness a truly historic economic recovery take place. Make no mistake, we are in the midst of a deep recession – it is simply impacting the economy unevenly, with some sectors bearing the brunt of the damage. If we are collectively able to break the back of the pandemic, and to display effective leadership in addressing both natural and human-caused hazards, the broader economy will come roaring back. The broader markets love predictability, and employees are particularly motivated to get back to work. Rarely have the challenges in an economic downturn been so clearly defined and identifiable.
Yes, 2020 has been a year to forget in many ways. Yet 2021 can be made memorable – historic, really – for all the right reasons. We just have to be ready to put in the work, and set our expectations high.
As always, if you “See Something, Say Something.” For life-threatening emergencies, call 911. To report suspicious activity, call 855-RPRT-2-S4 (855-777-8274).