EP 21: Disaster Heroes with Suzanne Bernier
[TODD DEVOE] Hi, and welcome to EM Weekly. This is your host Todd DeVoe and I’m here with Suzanne Bernier. And she is a prolific speaker, and writer on a topic of crisis communication in emergency management, and we’re gonna talk a little bit about her current book that she has out, that I just finished reading most of, and it was really interesting, about the people that she dealt with with crisis. So, Suzanne, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into emergency management, and then on the crisis side of communication?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Thanks, Todd. Sure. Thanks for having me, first of all, on the podcast. I have to ask you this question: do you ever call it the “ToddCast”? Cause that’s what it should be called.
[TODD DEVOE] I don’t, but thank you for the…
[SUZANNE BERNIER] But yes, on that note, I started in the field of emergency management in a very indirect way, which I think a lot of us did, originally. I don’t think many of us, that started in the field 20 years ago, you know, grew up thinking: I wanna be an emergency manager.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] It’s just not one of those careers that you think of that way. But I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. I kind of always knew that. So, that’s how I started in the field of journalism. Graduated from journalism and became a news reporter and anchor, and then, in a very different turn of events, I ended up being the communications advisor to our state level equivalent, in Canada, our state level emergency management organization for the province of Ontario. So, originally, I was hired by our government to be the media relations advisor to our emergency management agency, which is called Emergency Management Ontario, or EMO. And that was over 20 years ago. And as soon as I made that shift, I realized: wait a minute, I didn’t want to just talk about all the great things that these field officers were doing helping communities respond and recover after disasters, I wanted to be one of those officers. So, luckily, the director at the time, when I mentioned that to him, there was the only school in Canada that you could get training back then, was the Canadian Emergency Management College. So, they sent me there, I took all the intensive courses that we needed to take to become an officer. I came out, there happened to be an availability for an officer position, and I competed for it and got it. And spent the next five years going around the province responding to disasters and helping communities evacuate, respond, and rebuild. So, that’s kind of a short summary of how I ended up in emergency management, from journalism into it. So, I’ve had the opportunity to be able to work and volunteer. So, either in a professional capacity or in a volunteer capacity, in a variety of different disasters of different scales and different sizes, and in different countries. And what struck me, and it took me until Katrina, really, when I was on the ground volunteering in New Orleans after Katrina, it just kind of stung on me that what I was seeing in the news… I was not really prepared for what I saw on the ground when I got there, because the news reports, when I was there, several months in, so, what I had heard was not at all what was happening on the ground, and I realized, which happens in every emergency situation: you can to an emergency and there are amazing people working together from all different organizations, volunteer groups, non-profit, and I thought: this is the stuff that we need to be talking about! It’s not just the bad things that we feature in the news that people need to know about after a disaster. Yes, there are tragedies, and I don’t wanna downplay the horrors of some of our disasters that we go through, but I also just thought it was so important to focus on the positive aspects. And as you know, every time we deal with a disaster, there are lessons that we learn from them, and there are some amazing, great people who step up and do amazing things that nobody ever gets to hear about. So I thought, being a former journalist and recognizing that as well, that the media just don’t have the time to be able to do that, you know, go back afterward and look at it and tell all the good positive stories that have come from disasters. So I thought: well, then I’ll do it. So, I kind of made it my goal after Katrina to start finding everyday people. And I wanted to focus on everyday people who come up with some great ideas to be able to help communities recover from disasters. I was inspired, originally, by a gentleman that I met when I was volunteering in New Orleans, who is a New Orleanian, but his story wasn’t about what he did to help his city rebuild; it was about what he did four years prior to that, after 9/11. And so, when I was meeting him (inaudible) and he was telling me his story, and I just thought: here is a perfect example of how anybody can make a difference after a disaster, and you may not necessarily even have been trained in the field of emergency management to have an idea that blossoms into this huge endeavor. So, Ronnie Goldman, the gentleman I’m talking about…
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] … he ended up just having an idea, after 9/11, and witnessing the speech that President Bush, at the time, delivered on ground zero, he realized what the president was standing on, which was a burned down a fire truck. Then he realized, not only have they lost all of these lives of service people, but they lost over 100 service vehicles.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] So, he thought, instead of being the typical armchair critic sometimes, and you’d be watching the news coverage and say: “well, I hope they do something about that, I hope somebody comes up with the money to give them 100 vehicles,” or whatever it is. Ronnie just thought: you know what? Why don’t I start a fundraising campaign? So he called the local talk show the next day, a local radio talk show, and just made the suggestion that they started a fundraising campaign. And individuals across the state of Louisiana could donate money to be able to, originally, their goal was to build and deliver a brand-new fire truck of behalf of the state of Louisiana, the residents themselves, to New York. And it was a beautiful story, because of course, it’s one of the poorest states in the union, getting together and showing how much love, care, and support they had for New York, and doing something about it. In the end, just that one little call, that one idea that Ronnie had, ended up raising over $1 million. Which was enough to be able to build and deliver several brand-new vehicles to New York City after 9/11. A great piece of that story as well is the story of that first fire truck that was delivered to New York on behalf of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, Ronnie said, little did he know, that four years later that truck would come right back to New Orleans with the same amount of firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11 to be able to help rebuild and say thank you to New Orleans for what they did to help New York recover by giving them the service vehicles. It’s just a beautiful representation, I think, of how one man with one idea and taking action and doing something ends up benefitting not only a community halfway across America, but also comes right back to New Orleans again, to save that community.
[TODD DEVOE] A part of the story that resonated with me was when he and his group of people that were kind of tore in New York went to ground zero and saw one of the ceremonies going on, and realized that wasn’t their place for a photo-op and whatnot, and said: hey, let’s move on. And they understood the respect that… I don’t wanna say understood, that’s not the word I’m looking for, but gave the respect that those families and firefighters needed at that time, and that really kind of hit home with me when I read that in your book.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Yeah. Yeah, just… and it was so challenging to be able to pick 10 everyday heroes. Because otherwise, I never would have stopped writing the book, because there are so many people. And I’m sure you’ve met so many of them as well, they’re just amazing people who do amazing things after every disaster, every crisis that happens, and so it was really tough to pick out who I wanted to feature, cause it would never end. And now I’m compiling so many other stories for a future book, because there’s just, you know, once I started focusing on that aspect of disasters, the positive side and the everyday heroes, now I meet them everywhere. I’ve got people calling me, and people emailing me, saying: I’ve got a suggestion for your next book, here’s another hero. There’s just so many of them out there.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] And I think it’s just really important for everyone, not only in our industry, but in general, to know that there are good people out there, not to lose faith in humanity. And I think what’s been happening, even since I first wrote the book, you know, the world’s changed a lot just in the last two years as well. And I think it’s even more important now than ever to get this message out, that we need to continue to focus on the good, and the helpers and heroes, and those stories that come from disasters, to keep us positive. One of the things that I mention a lot when I go on speaking engagement is, and you probably noticed once of the first quotes in the book is from Mr. Rodgers.
[TODD DEVOE] Right, I was gonna ask you about that.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Yeah, and it was a quote that I think some of us are familiar with in the field, maybe not everyone. But he was being interviewed a long time ago, and he had mentioned that when he was a little boy and he would see scary things in the news, he ran to his mother. And for comfort, she would tell him: look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping. And he said that would help him calm down and be less scared. And I think that’s an important message, that I think every child these days, and every adult, should take away with them and think about the next time they’re looking at disturbing coverage on the news, on television, on the internet. Perhaps turn it into somewhat of a game with children and have them point out the helpers and the heroes in these images of disaster, so that it helps shape their perception that yes, bad things happen, but look at all the good people that are around. I think we’re just so focused sometimes on seeing these images of devastation and destruction, that we sometimes lose sight of the periphery around each of those images, where you’ll see the firefighters carrying somebody to safety, the police officer helping somebody, the everyday citizen directing traffic after a terror attack and a power outage. Those are the people that we need to teach our children to keep focus on and remember that if they ever face a disaster, there will be people to help them too. Or, they might be one of those people to help someone else.
[TODD DEVOE] One of the things that I tried to do when I was working in the city that I was working for, we had the CERT program, and my goal always was not to have a (inaudible) of volunteers, which came, you know. We’d have a class of 100 people, and out of 100 you would maybe get like 10 that would stick around and volunteer, which is good. But my goal was always to empower people to do good and to be prepared at their own home, but also to do good. And reading through your book, I noticed that there was a thread that I found, and I don’t know if it was just me picking it up, or if this is what you found as well. But the one that comes to mind is “Tenacious People”. The tenacity to finish through and see these through the hard times, to see something through to the end. Is that what you found with most of the people that you interviewed for Disaster Heroes?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] That’s a great observation, and definitely. One that I perceived as well. Tenacity, perseverance, and just not really thinking about… they all had similar personality aspects, which I kind of only discovered at the end, when I was compiling them all together and realized there was certain specific traits, character traits, that each one of them had, and I think that’s what made the difference between them and perhaps somebody else. But definitely, being tenacious and having that perseverance, and thinking that they can do this and not having other people tell them. And you know, there was one story, I’m not sure if you read it, but one about a mother-daughter team who ended up creating the first-ever recognized official community Facebook page in response to a disaster after the (inaudible) tornado.
[TODD DEVOE] Oh yes, yes, I did!
[SUZANNE BERNIER] And even after… yeah! And after, you might recall the story, when they were telling me the story they were being told to shut it down by recognized organizations. But in the end, they didn’t give up anyway. They knew what they were doing was right, it was helping them, it was of most benefit to their community members. So, they stayed on, kept them ongoing, and now, what they created is being used and referenced as a model for FEMA and others across America because of what they did and they stuck to it. And they ended up creating and implementing an amazing program now that other communities have now created based on their model as well.
[TODD DEVOE] When I was first reading and seeing how people were reacting to it, and as a professional responder and emergency manager, you know, at first, I could see why they were upset going: you know, we wanna have a message, we wanna make sure our message is clear and concise and with the right things. And sometimes, as EMs, we can’t get out of our own way when we’re trying to do the right thing, you know, with people. But what I think is kind of cool, and from what I gather from that as well, is that’s the catalyst, I should say, for the Facebook check-in, right? For the “Are you ok?”
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. So, I was like: wow! That is awesome and an end user and a citizen that was just trying to do the right thing, kind of has this whole movement now of the “are you ok” check-in on Facebook, that people know that you’re safe. And that’s, again, one of the really great stories that comes out of tragedy, right?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right, yeah. And it’s just… all of these people too, recognized what they could do. And the skills that they had maybe weren’t your normal skills that you think of we would require during an emergency, to respond to an emergency, but they had other skills and talents that, perhaps, those of us in emergency management might not. Like, back then, for them, their specific skills and talents were that they knew, you know, the daughter was a recent graduate of social media. And so, they had talents and skills that a lot of people back then… and if you think, in 2009, a lot has happened since them, where now we really embrace social media. But back then, it wasn’t so much; it was still kind of a new thing. Especially for people in our field.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] So, we had… and now, pretty much every organization and every agency has some kind of a social media presence. But it took a while, and it’s funny how now it seems like a no-brainer. But even just a few years ago, it was a lot different. So, it was great to see the people step in, who then knew how to be able to use social media or Facebook, specifically, appropriately for their needs. And what they did, they made sure that nothing that they had posted was not… they didn’t post anything that was provided from an official source. So, what they were doing, they were just re-posting whatever it was that was being announced by the police, or fire of different areas. And that was key too. They weren’t just randomly pushing out information without verifying everything first, and making sure they were all attributed to valid sources, which of course, it’s very important.
[TODD DEVOE] Something like that also helps quell the rumors. Because as you know, in any emergency and disaster, these rumors are all over the place.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right. And that’s the thing. One of the topics I talk about a lot now is using social media in emergency management. And I think that now people get it, and if we can use it in the right way it really is such a great additional tool. Not the only tool that we should be using now to communicate during a crisis, but definitely, a really great additional tool. And we’re seeing it every day, the benefits of it. There’s some challenges too, which is the rumor control. But now, because… I mean, if you’re plugged in to social media, now we have an opportunity to catch those rumors as quickly as they start, and (quash) them as quickly as they get out as well.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] By responding through social media. Where before, we didn’t have social media, if there’d be a rumor out there, we’d have to wait for the next… or misinformation, we’d have to wait until the next news cycle or the next news day for them to publish the error or whatever it was. Now, we can really within five minutes turn around and address the piece of misinformation or rumor and (quash) it within the first thirty minutes. Which was something that we just didn’t have that capability before. So, in a way, I really view it as a positive thing. Yeah, you can distribute rumors a lot easier, and quicker, and faster through social media. But you can also shut them down just as quickly.
[TODD DEVOE] I wanna take a quick break here for a second, and when we come back, I really want to hear about Mr. Kobayashi, and what he did on the recovery aspects after the tsunami in Japan. And welcome back from the break. So, before we went to the break, I kind of asked you the question regarding Mr. Kobayashi and the great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. I read the story and again, it touched my heart a little bit. Can you tell me a bit about Mr. Kobayashi, and what he did, and how he really helped the people in Japan recover to some sort of normalcy after that terrible event?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] I would be honored to talk about Nobuyuki Kobayashi. So, he’s a pretty famous and well-known photographer based out of Tokyo. And after the tsunami occurred, he felt that he wanted to do something to be able to help that community recover. And originally, he was sent with the mission of getting photographs and images of the devastation. But he realized that what he could do to help the community rebuild and recover was not taking photographs of the destruction and the devastation. But instead, what he wanted to do, was to give them a new beginning. What he realized was these people who, if you think about it, they lost everything. And a lot of what they lost could be bought back or built back. But what could never be given back to them were all the photos that they lost. And many, if not all of those families, lost everything, including all of their family photos and their family portraits that usually they would have hanging up on their wall. So Nobuyuki thought: what if I give back to them their family portraits? And so, he enlisted some other photographers, and makeup artists, and designers, and they went near where the devastated communities were, and they set up a photo studio, and they took free family portraits of everybody, all the families who lost everything in the tsunami. And it’s amazing to see how incredible these images, and you saw them in the book, when there are so many other ones that Nobuyuki took. But he just thought that this would be a way to give back to them something that they would never normally ever be able to get back or regain. And also realized that it would be sort of a representation of a new beginning for those families as well. And it ends up, Nobuyuki had told me when I was interviewing him, because if you go through these pictures in the book, everybody looks joyful, and happy. And you would have no idea that the people in these photos that Nobuyuki took, all lost everything they owned. And I asked him: did he tell them to pose a certain way, or smile, or…? And he said that he didn’t ask them to do anything, he just wanted them to be themselves and pose. Yet, remarkably, I think that these photos when you see each one of them, each photo really demonstrates personal… the human resilience that we, humans, really have. You see people who lost everything they owned, yet can pose for a new photo and be happy and look ahead to their future, instead of look behind at what they experienced. I just thought it was so beautiful. Not only touching from Nobuyuki’s perspective of recognizing that this is something that he would be able to give to them, that they would never be able to get from anybody else, but also, how strong these photos end up showing everybody who survived that disaster really are.
[TODD DEVOE] That was a super touching story, and again, as I read some of these stories I just get chills through my body of thinking about, you know, what they’ve gone through. And sometimes we personalize things, so far as… you know, as responders and as emergency managers, and to see these people just being able to be joyful for what they still have, it just… it made read this book well worth the price of the mission, I tell that to everybody, just so you know.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] That’s good. Yeah, Nobuyuki is great. I was able to meet up with him. So, we ended up presenting together and sharing his story together in Japan last summer, so I was able to go back and share a stage now with Nobuyuki, my Japan hero. So, that was wonderful. He’s an amazing, amazing man, as is everybody that I feature. And as is everybody who responds during an emergency all over the world. So, it’s just to great to be able to have a little bit of a voice, to be able to just let people know about some of these small snippets of these amazing people that are out there helping all the time.
[TODD DEVOE] I wanna ask you about one more person in your book.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Sure.
[TODD DEVOE] We always talk about the human cost of disaster, and there’s one piece that you have here that talks about the animals that get caught up in disasters. And I know that we have plans for large animals, a (reunification) with like, you know, horses and whatnot here in California. But we don’t really have a huge thing. I mean, we’re working on it, but we don’t really talk a lot about the small animals. Now, we have some volunteer organizations that take care of it, but this piece about (inaudible) Alberta is one I’d like you to talk about a little bit. How did you find her, and you tell the story.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] So, you’re talking about Denise McIntyre’s story. And she’s a local pet groomer from a community up in Northern Canada that went through and suffered a devastating fire that swept through the community a few years ago. A community of a couple of thousand people. And they were all (inaudible) quickly, very quickly evacuate. What is sometimes the case in communities when you’ve got a wildfire coming, or other instances. So, the whole community evacuated. They thought, most people thought they were only evacuating for a night or two. So because of that, most people left their pets in their home or their yards, thinking they’d be able to go back and take care of them within a day or two. It ends up that a lot of people weren’t able to go back home for a couple of weeks. So, a local pet groomer who stayed behind because her husband had a role in responding to the fire, she stayed behind, and when she realized all of these pets, and how people we not going to be re-entering as quickly as they thought they were, she realized: wait a minute, all of these pets are not going to be around anymore when their owners come back if somebody doesn’t do something about it. She ended up creating this whole volunteer team, but also with the first responders that stayed on site as well to allow access into these homes and permission to be able to either remove, or just go in and feed and water the animal. So, they ended up rescuing, I believe, over 300 pets. Everything from birds, to reptile, to cats, and dogs. She said the only animals, there were pets that they were not able to save, unfortunately, were fish. Because it’s a very delicate system with fish. But otherwise… and I believe there were perhaps two dogs that were lost as well. Other than that, she was able to save hundreds of pets’ lives.
[TODD DEVOE] Another one of those stories that you read and you go: wow! I mean, people are just really able to give back. This book… if you’re like me, and you start to get a hard heart sometimes regarding humanity, and you read this and you go: ok, humanity is still really there. People really do care for each other, you know?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Yeah, I mean, it was definitely one I wanted to include because of what you’re saying. Sometimes we still kind of lose sight of the whole (planning to our pets), so this was a really important one I think to include. And for her to be able to think about that and be able to actually activate a whole volunteer team, and look for shelter areas, it’s an amazing thing that she was able to lead. And oh, and you would ask me how I even found her; so, some of them, randomly, I just found on my own, or other people recommended me. For this specific emergency, I wanted to have a Canadian disaster, because I am, technically, Canadian, even though I spent most of my time in the US for the last several years. But I thought that I wanted to find a Canadian story, and then I reached out to the mayor at the time, of this community. And I had after… because it was one of the biggest disasters that we had had at that time, in Canada. And it was the mayor who was giving me a few different suggestions of who she would recommend at the local everyday hero. And when she listed her name and what she did, I knew right away that that was the person that I wanted to feature. She didn’t want to… that’s another thing that I found with each one of these heroes, and that’s probably what makes them a hero too, right? Is that heroes don’t call themselves heroes and don’t like to be called heroes at all. So she did not even want to talk to me, originally. Denise did not. And a lot of them, when I reached out to them, I kind of had a tough time convincing them, because they really didn’t want. They all thought that they didn’t do enough and they could have done more. Every single person! And you read most of the stories, if anything, I think it would be the opposite that they should be feeling, right? But every single person just they thought: why me? I didn’t really do much. And yeah, that was another common trait I saw. But that’s probably something that makes sense, to be a hero, you’re selfless and you’re not doing it to be recognized as a hero.
[TODD DEVOE] Right, and I agree with you there. Sometimes the people with the hero complex are the people that don’t do enough.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right.
[TODD DEVOE] So you have another book kind of in you right now. Is it gonna be the same type of thing, or are you looking at doing something at a little bit different direction, or…?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Yeah, you know, I keep changing my mind. Because there are so many great people that I meet and great stories that I hear about. And one of the things that I’ve been more working with lately on the last couple of years is on the survivors’ side. So, I’ve been with a lot of these active shooter incidents that have been happening over the last couple of years. Specifically after San Bernardino and onwards. I’ve been doing work specifically with the survivors to get lessons learned from them and how we can help the community plan and respond to the next attack better, based on their experiences. And so, with San Bernardino, Orlando, some of the other terror attacks in Europe. And I’m meeting and recognizing how many survivor heroes that are too. So now, I’m thinking… I mean, I could totally write a book just on survivor heroes, just based on some of the heroes that I’ve met who survived these horrific attacks that I can’t even imagine. So, I’m thinking of that as a book, but there’s another exciting project that is in the works as well. A local PBS affiliate station out of New Orleans, they found out about the book and I was interviewed on one of their shows, and now they want to create Disaster Heroes, the Documentary series.
[TODD DEVOE] Really?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Yeah! So, we’re hoping, you know, getting the right sponsors to sponsor it. They think… I think that we all agree that this is something that people need to hear about, and we’ve got so many stories, you know? You can sew up an episode no problem with heroes all around the world responding to disasters. So yeah, so that’s the next big project, I met with them a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got this fancy pamphlet now to try to get a couple of good sponsors to sponsor our first season of Disaster Heroes, the Documentary. But I think, you know, now more than ever, people need… like you said, people need to have something to restore their faith in humanity. And every day, or every second day, it looks like we turn on the news and there’s something else bad happening. But wouldn’t it be great to counter and balance that out by being able to turn something on that’s showing you now about all the positive people and things that are happening out of these disasters that you hear about, and you only get one side of it?
[TODD DEVOE] That’s not a sexy news story, right? So the news kind of goes away.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right.
[TODD DEVOE] I know, I’ve experienced that a little bit myself. Ok, so if people… you know, emergency managers and anybody in general, I suppose, is listening to this podcast really would like to get a hold of you and see what you’re all about, how can they contact you?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Sure! They can look me up. My website is my name, so pretty easy: suzannebernier.com, and that’s spelled out S-U-Z-A-N-N-E B-E-R-N-I-E-R .com, and you’ll be able to find out how to reach me. They can find my email there, telephone, and I would love to… I love being able to share experiences with colleagues as well, and it links them to people that might help them. So, I love being that connector in the industry, connecting people to other people that might help them. So, I would love anybody who has either any questions about the book or the stories or anything else in emergency management or crisis communications, or social media in emergency management. Please, feel free to reach out to me anytime.
[TODD DEVOE] Ok, so now, outside of your book, which I highly recommend anybody who is in this business and outside, it’s human interest in general to buy the book. What would you recommend? What book would you recommend – outside disaster heroes, cause I already recommend that one for you. Which book to you recommend for somebody who… or articles, or any kind of publication, for that matter. Just getting into emergency management and crisis communications?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Well, I have a couple that I would suggest for people. On the crisis communications topic, there’s a really great one, and it’s the textbook I’ve been using to teach crisis communications, which is: Crisis Communications – A Casebook Approach, and it’s by Kathleen Fearn-Banks. And it’s really, really great, and the 5th edition just came out to be able to reflect a lot more on social media and some of the newer things that have happened since it was first published. But it’s just a really great guidebook on how to develop a crisis communications plan, how to use social media effectively, how to use traditional media to be able to get your message across during a crisis. It’s just something I would recommend to anybody. You know that every one of us in this field, one of the biggest things that we see, one of the biggest challenges every time we have to run an exercise or a real event happens, one of the biggest observations and failures is crisis communications.
[TODD DEVOE] Yes.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] That’s why I’m mentioning this book first, because anybody who is in this field really needs to have some kind of a base knowledge of crisis communication. So that’s one I highly recommend, if you could pick one book.
[TODD DEVOE] If you’re in this business long enough, at some point you’re gonna have a microphone shoved in your face, you’re gonna have to answer some questions, and it’s good to have that plan.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right. And “no comments” doesn’t work anymore.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s worse, right?
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Exactly! You don’t wanna have this meme repeating yourself constantly over social media for ever saying “no comments”. We’ve seen that happen to some leaders who, unfortunately, make some statements that… you know, they might regret. So, the other book that I just recently read and I have to mention just because even though we were talking about the positive side of disasters. However, the reality is that over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot more active shooter and active (intruder) attack. In America but also across the world. And so, I recently just finished a book called “The Power to Recover”, and it’s a dive to managing trauma in your workplace. Specifically, it could be anything, but active intruder events. And it was written by a really brilliant doctor of psychotherapy in the UK, Liz Royle, and her colleague, Catherine Kerr. And it’s just a really great, it’s a small, short read. But everything in it really talks about what to consider and how to be able to consider your human element after something like that happens. And I think that, and what I’m seeing, meeting with survivors of active intruder attacks, and seeing how some of the unfortunate mistakes or challenges that have happened since the event that they have been a part of. And it seems that there are a lot of basic things, that sometimes because we’re so caught up in the plans with all the procedures, that we lose sight of what really is important. And that it’s about dealing with humans and knowing how to be able to support not only their physical recovery, but their mental health recovery. And I think it’s something that I’ve noticed every single time I talked to a community who has gone through these things (but) something that sometimes gets missed along the way. And Liz and her colleague, in “The Power to Recover” book, really talk about, and it’s really basic stuff. When you read it, it’s all stuff that yea, it totally makes sense. As if your company wouldn’t have this in place; or that you wouldn’t think of this, or providing this to someone who was just in an active shooter attack at your workplace. But it’s amazing to see how we just sometimes don’t think of this stuff. So it’s a great way to just sort of: oh yeah, remind organizations and communities what they should be thinking about. Or when something happens, to grab this book off the shelf. And then it really is a step-by-step guide from that first five minutes of what happened after that event right through the months later, what you should be doing to be able to provide them with the needs that they need; to be able to healthily recover and go back to work and be productive members again in their community.
[TODD DEVOE] People would never criticize you for running a fire drill at your place of business, or school, or anything like that. And in the United States, I don’t know what the statistics are in Canada, but we haven’t had a death to a fire in a public building, being a school or something like that, since 1956.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Wow.
[TODD DEVOE] But yeah, people are still afraid to do active shooter and/or active shooter recovery exercises in their place of business, in schools, it’s the big taboo here. I don’t really understand what the fear of that is, but anyway, it’s just one of those things. But at least if you could table top that along yourselves in the closed doors and not drill, I suppose, this is something that needs to be done. I tell you that from personal experience, that it is definitely a long recovery aspect after something like that goes down.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right. It was really remarkable to see how simple, really, these thoughts are on what we can do to be able to help, and how a lot of these things that we can provide to people don’t cost anything. It’s more about just knowing what people might need. Or even just letting, you know, the whole critical incident stress management. And making sure that people recognize what they might be going through, and then pointing them in the right direction to be able to seek help. When a lot of these active intruder incidents are kind of different than, let’s say, a first responder death, when you’ve got people who are all in the same industry, they’re all kind of a family, but there’s a lot of different circumstances nowadays that we’re seeing with active shooter attacks, where you’ve got people who are all from random different backgrounds, and different… we’re not even, it’s not even, a lot of these aren’t even in the workplace.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] You know, you’ve got, like if you look at the Orlando nightclub shooting. That, itself, is a huge challenge to manage how you’re going to, now, be able to support the recovery of every single person who was in that club that managed to survive. Or also, how you’re gonna support the families of those who lost members who did not survive?
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] In that club. And they’re all different people, from different ages, and different cities, and different areas, and different workplaces. So, that’s a new challenge that we have too, is that it’s not really just violence in the workplace, but there’s a lot more things happening where you’ve got a bunch of people together, but they’re all kind of random strangers together, but now are all experiencing the same incidents.
[TODD DEVOE] It’s more than just those that were physically wounded, it’s also the psychological trauma of being in a beauty salon and somebody coming in and making that day dramatic for you. You know, so yeah, that’s a really… The Power to Recover, that’s a real important aspect of day-to-day life nowadays.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] Right. I mean, and this little guidebook, to me I think, every single company should have this on their desk. And every single person, every employee. Because when I was reading it, I’m thinking: wow, this would actually help someone manage through a trauma that they’ve gone through themselves. Not only, you know, how to help an organization know how to help people manage through it. But it would help an individual themselves to do so. So yes, that’s my other little book that I would highly recommend.
[TODD DEVOE] Well Suzanne, thank you so much for your time today. And I really would love to have you back on and talk about crisis communication again, and of course, your new work that’s coming out, and anything else. So, I’d love to have you back sometime.
[SUZANNE BERNIER] I would love to be back! And hopefully, I’ll be back talking all about the new documentary series on PBS, Disaster Heroes.
[TODD DEVOE] I would love to have you on when that launches out. So, thank you very much and have a wonderful day. Everybody, thank you so much for tuning in here to EM Weekly and taking some time out of your day to listening to this podcast. Please, reach out to Suzanne, and make that connection, it’s great. And again, the book is Disaster Heroes. I’m telling you, if you go through that book and you don’t get one chill, there’s something wrong with you, because those people are amazing and they deserve their story to be told. So, definitely pick it up. You can get it on Amazon, you can get it on Kindle, I think you can get it directly from Suzanne from her website as well. I recommend getting it, it’s called Disaster Heroes. So, thank you so much for listening, see you next week!