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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

PBS’ “Carrier” & Its Lessons For Engaging And Preparing The Public About Our Own Homeland Security

June 24th, 2008 · No Comments

On the train back from Washington last week, I was riveted to my iPod watching one of the best hours of television I’ve seen in a long time – the first segment of “Carrier,” PBS’ 10-part documentary, which follows a six-month deployment of the USS Nimitz to the Persian Gulf.

The episode is wonderful – informative, funny, inspiring, frank, and beautifully shot. There are many interesting moments throughout the show (as a father of two young daughters, I was particularly taken by the stories of the women serving in so many capacities on the ship). But for the purposes of the blog, I want to highlight one theme that comes through right from the start that I think is very much applicable to citizen preparedness back here at home.

The first episode opens with a stirring three-and-a-half minute video overture accompanied by a song from one of my favorites, The Killers, called ”All The Things That I’ve Done”. (You can view the segment at Towards the end of the opening montage, a senior fighter pilot tells the interviewer about the ship’s prevailing team-oriented, management philosophy:

“All the departments are vital to make a jet fly off a carrier to put a piece of precision ordinance onto a target…without one department, without religious ministries, without the legal department, without the reactor department, without supply department, without hot water cold water and steam for the catapults none of it works.”

During the show, that ethic comes through repeatedly from the top levels of the ship, and it filters down throughout the Nimitz — that an aircraft carrier is only as strong as its weakest link and the enterprise will be strongest when everyone is doing their job all down the line. Further, and maybe even more importantly that objective can be compromised by anyone at any level. We need to bring that same approach in communicating with the public about our homeland security

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The deck of the Nimitz from Carrier

I have had the opportunity to interview many political leaders, homeland security and emergency management officials, as well as first responders. And almost all of them tell me how important the public is to preparing, preventing and then responding to emergencies.

If they really believe it (and I think they do) then the first step is for them to more actively tell us how and why we are important. In fact, I would argue that should be a priority of the next President to tell us exactly that – both encouraging and challenging us to take on that responsibility. Understandably, people aren’t going to take on responsibility if you don’t tell them why and how they should.

Obviously, a kitchen dishwasher is not as vital as a Navy top-gun airman to the ultimate objectives of the carrier. Nor is the average citizen as crucial as a first responder to preparing and responding to emergencies. However, as we see over and over, most recently during the recent floods, the public is a key element in dealing with disasters. And we also have the ability to hamper that process as well. It may well be partially propaganda but you get a clear sense in Carrier that even the lowest ranking person on the Nimitz still feels part of a team.

Obviously, we have military — and uniformed responders – that are on the so-called point of the spear. But the rest of us have a role too and right now our talents, energy and spirits are not being tapped fully. Our leaders need to tell us how and why we are important in order to foster the same team mentality at home that, at least according to Carrier, the leaders of the Nimitz have successfully done on the water. 

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Tags: Entertainment · Media · Preparedness Lessons

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