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Important lessons in disaster and risk management

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As the world continues to grapple with this pandemic and its effects, leaders can pick up from the COVID-19 crisis a lot of lessons on how to better prepare for disasters.

By Adrian Paul B. Conoza
Special Features Writer, BusinessWorld

AIM professor shares leadership principles in responding to the present crisis

Unlike natural disasters that the country has learned to brace for, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was an unprecedented disaster that has affected communities in numerous ways.

As the world continues to grapple with this pandemic and its effects, leaders can pick up from the COVID-19 crisis a lot of lessons on how to better prepare for disasters.

Prof. Kenneth Y. Hartigan-Go, head of the Stephen Zuellig Graduate School of Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), shared these lessons on an online masterclass held at the institution’s Facebook page last April 17.

“Those who are prepared for it (disasters) would be in a better chance of bouncing back. This is the concept of resilience,” Mr. Hartigan-Go said at the beginning of the masterclass.

Mr. Hartigan-Go began his lecture by pointing out that while disasters raise the question of whether they bring out the best or worst in people, there is ‘another enemy’ leaders need to process.

“In leadership and understanding human behavior, we need to understand that we ourselves can also be the enemy,” he noted, adding that according to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, one does not need to fear the result of a hundred battles if he knows both the enemy and himself.

Mitigating risk

The professor then presented a framework in which one can better understand how certain factors contribute to a disaster risk, and in what ways can those factors be manipulated in order to reduce risk.

Risk is explained as the probability of loss, injury, death, and other consequences, Mr. Hartigan Go explained, and it is a product of hazard (in the present case, the virus), vulnerability, exposure, and capacity.

“Hazard, exposure, and vulnerability placed together will intersect and create what is known as potential loss or disaster risk,” he continued, “But we as citizens, as well as the government and private sector, can play a large role in reducing the [impact] of these three.”

Hazard, for instance, can be decreased by early monitoring. Exposure can be managed through the use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as face mask and goggles. Vulnerability, on the other hand, can be reduced through preparedness, engineering, and planning of enterprise (for businesses).

Lessons being learned

Moreover, the professor explained the lessons that have surfaced so far in the country’s and the world’s fight against the COVID-19.

First, he observed heroism among those in the frontlines battling against the spread of the virus. Patients were said to misinform and not declare their history of travel or exposure to other people out of fear.

He also observed the business sector and civil society creating innovations in the midst of necessity, like homemade or improvised face masks, PPEs, and tents.

The private sector has also been noted for coming forward with their “bayanihan spirit” to contribute to the effort of government in decreasing further infection.

An important lesson on fostering credibility is being learned as well by the government. “This credibility must be created through transparency long before any crisis hits,” Mr. Hartigan-Go said.

He also noted that other countries, especially those with strong health care institutions, are doing better with contact tracing and primary health care.

While the country has a Universal Health Care law, it has to come into implementation through adequate financing, integration of primary and hospital care, as well as the integration of the efforts of national and local government units.

“This is a wake-up call for us to invest in universal health care during this pandemic and beyond this,” he said.

Shielding against ‘infodemic’

The professor also noted that during this pandemic, the spread of fake news is likewise rampant. He advised to always validate information if they are received from trusted people or sources.

“We do have an obligation to report back information that are fake because these can harm the community through creation of anxiety and panic,” Mr. Hartigan-Go added.

He further stressed that in validating information, it is important to go deeper than the event being reported and find out if there are apparent patterns and trends that explain the events and structures that would explain the pattern.

“Information…that is wrong can be an enemy. You can’t make a proper management plan and strategy if you’re mislead by information,” he said.

Preparing to lead during crisis

Mr. Hartigan-Go also taught in the masterclass the seven Cs essential in crisis leadership.

To begin with, leaders should learn to keep calm and have grace under pressure. They should also have the confidence to take the lead in dealing with crises.

“The person should be learned and has studied [the situation], and if he doesn’t have all the information, [he] is willing to ask his people to help him and guide him so that he gains the confidence in crafting the strategic policies and management tools to deal with the crisis,” he explained.

The importance of communication must not be forgotten by leaders, since many people who are hungry for proper information will greatly benefit from communication allays their anxiety and fear.

Since leaders do not possess all the information, collaboration is a must, especially with science policymakers and management experts in the community.

The community is also vital in crisis leadership, and trust must be built within it. Compassion is also an important factor as it brings further balance to decisions being made. Lastly, cash completes the requirements of crisis leadership.

When it comes to creating an exit strategy once the enhanced community quarantine ends, Mr. Hartigan-Go stressed that leaders must learn from the best practices from other countries, especially from our neighbors.

Taiwan, for instance, was observed to have a strong UHC system that a lockdown was not needed to be ordered. South Korea, meanwhile, has invested in testing to identify those at risk.

Credibility and transparency are also noteworthy lessons learned from other countries. “Constant communication allaying the fears, and telling our society what exactly is happening, who is doing what, and the coordinated action of different government agencies is a very important tool that we learned [from] Singapore and Vietnam,” he said.

For businesses, Mr. Hartigan-Go suggested creating plans that prepare for the onslaught of pandemics.

“It’s not too late. I think we should still encourage enterprises and businesses to learn to integrate their SOP, human resource policy, finance policy, legal obligations, dealing with suppliers, maintaining customer loyalty and branding, [which] are all part of the disaster executive armamentarium,” he said.





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