Pressure Test

I recently replaced the radiator in my vehicle.  Not a monumental undertaking by any means, but it brought to mind some interesting comparisons and analogies.

I did my best to install this part exactly to the manufacturer’s specifications.  I checked and double checked all of the hoses and connections made.  I visually inspected every piece that I could to ensure proper alignment and that any obstacles had been avoided.  But it wasn’t until I filled the system with fluid, started the engine and allowed pressure to build could I really be sure there weren’t any leaks or defects.  There were no other real tests that could simulate it.

This exercise came to mind as I watched preparations being made across the southeastern U.S. as yet another winter storm took aim.  The stories have been widely reported how motorists and residents suddenly found themselves stranded on ice and snow covered roads as they attempted to make it home following ill-timed closures of businesses and schools during the previous storm a few weeks ago.  Miscalculations in forecasts, unprepared resources and dealing with unfamiliar circumstances had laid plans to waste.  Plans that when pressure was applied, failed.  I’m sure that these plans had been well-thought out, vetted and discussed.  But they hadn’t been tested under these circumstances, under this pressure; because they couldn’t have been.  You cannot simulate the implementation of such a massive movement of people and resources.  You can plan as best as you can, and when the day calls for the plan to be put in place, you await results.

Evaluating the results of such a pressure test and incorporating improvements are crucial parts to the planning process.  The development of the plan is not the end.  While you hope you have covered every potential contingency, you know that a real-life, pressurized test may indeed reveal flaws, or at least areas for potential improvement.

This evaluation of results is recognizable by the steps the leaders have taken in the face of this week’s storm.  Drawing on the results of the previous plans, there is a much more concerted, pro-active effort to keep people out of harm’s way, realizing it would be more effective to keep people home rather than try to send people home.  Is this time an overreaction as compared to what some may have considered an under-reaction previously?  Possible, but again, the results will be reviewed and analyzed following this round of pressurized testing.

A local example rings very true for me.  In the days and hours leading up to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state and local leaders revealed their plan to “evacuate” the greater New Orleans area.  This led to thousands of vehicles pouring on to northbound interstates, which had been hastily converted to one-way, four-lane thoroughfares, and stranding many without access to transportation.  This plan, once implemented under pressure, showed many unforeseen barriers.  Lack of communication on the roadways, lack of direction and lack of resources left many residents, evacuees and rescue workers stuck and hopeless.  Fortunately in 2008, when the area was threatened once again by another storm in the form of Hurricane Gustav, the results of the previously flawed plan had been analyzed and the plan was updated.  More lead time was incorporated, more resources were made available to those in need and better coordination was evident.  When the call came to evacuate, it was a much improved process.  Were their flaws as a result of this test?  Absolutely, but they were fewer and different.  And I am certain those results will be reviewed and changes applied.

Hurricanes, winter storms or other disasters are never desirable, but at times, they are inevitable.  But they can provide a pressurized test for our plans and processes.  While we work diligently in the planning stage to prevent or minimize failures under these stressors, the added tragedy would be if we didn’t take the results to improve our efforts.  So that in the end, we have tested, proven plans that will hold up under pressure, allowing us and those we serve to feel secure.


Posted in Communication, Crisis, Government.

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