For a good while it was my task to imagine, research, write and execute plausible worst-case scenarios for everything from natural disasters to pandemics to terror attacks.
My little outfit was called Apocalypse (noun) and we were the in-house bad-stuff-no-one-wants-to-consider creators for many executive-level exercises on this little globe of ours.
My colleagues and mentors would serve as reality checkers – ‘Let me see the science research on this one’ or ‘Did you actually check the ventilation system in the Governor’s offices?’
The answer to that last one was, “Yes.” I spent a great deal of time on the ground, researching the areas of interest and doing time-date-weather checks to ensure we had every detail down right.
Occasionally, the scenarios we crafted were so realistic they caused raised eyebrows among the most senior command staff who would be running through them as part of large-scale tabletop and/or functional exercises.
Sometimes they’d ask my handlers how we knew the exact details of what they thought were closely guarded secrets. “Research. And did we mention – Hal’s a foreign national?” was the reply they seemed to enjoy the most.
Many of our scenarios resulted in major changes to the emergency planning process – and more than a few times – were the basis for large-scale awareness/planning programs.
Colleagues who were part of the process would call and say, “Did you see the new DHS directives? Look familiar? Good job.”
Those immersive environments included high-def media produced by some of the most creative minds in the world. We were playing for keeps. And play we did.
Unfortunately, every now and again, a worst-case scenario would play out in real life with casualty counts measured in real lives altered forever.
I take solace in the fact we worked hard to try to get people to imagine what happened if all the ‘What ifs’ fell into place… and made the scenarios so real we captured their imaginations – forcing them to work through every aspect of their response in a controlled albeit extremely high stress environment.
No regrets. Only the occasional rattling reminder that real-life often is far worse than what we considered to be the worst-case scenario.
Be well. Practice big medicine.*
Hal Newman, Executive Director, NEMRC
*Big Medicine = the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.