The Moment of Truth by Kelly McKinney

This week we talk to Kelly McKinney about his book The Moment of Truth. Kelly takes us into the life of a typical emergency manager on their worst day of their career, when the big one happens. Kelly is a great storyteller and is able to weave real events into how an emergency manager handled the disaster. This book is not just full of a few good stories, you will learn the principles of emergency management as well. 

Every job is completely unique that it’s just, it’s incredible, and you’re like, and you’re in the middle of the job, and you’re like, really? Like, you know, really like I gotta deal with this now. Like couldn’t it just be a normal job? Like when am I going to get them? What am I going to get an easy job?

Kelly McKinney

Todd DeVoe:      Hi and welcome to EM Weekly Your Emergency Management podcast. And this is your host Todd DeVoe. This week we are talking to Kelly McKinney about his book, the moment of truth this month. This month Kelly gave us a few signed copies of the moment of truth away to our listeners. So congratulations to all those who won. If you want to know who one go to our Facebook page and you’ll see the list of names.

Todd DeVoe:      If you have not read the moment of truth, it’s time to get your copy. Now you might not have been able to win one, but you could find it at your favorite bookseller.

Todd DeVoe:      Now onto the interview.

Todd DeVoe:      Hey Kelly, welcome to EM Weekly. Are you doing today?

Kelly McKinney: I’m great. Todd, how you doing?

Todd DeVoe:      I am doing well, we’re here to talk to you, not just about your emergency management experience, which I want to get into, but also about your book. So, but first, let’s start about you. How did you get into emergency management?

Kelly McKinney: Well, I love to. I love this question. Love to, to talk about myself. So, and I appreciate you asking me to come on your show, Todd. And, you know, I think this is one of the most important shows around because we’re using it to really create a culture in emergency management. So I appreciate you asking me on and so for me, you know, I’m a Midwest boy. I got an engineering degree at University of Kansas way back in the day I got out of school, and there weren’t a lot of mechanical engineering jobs, so I went to work with this guy that was in the town. I went to school, and he was doing environmental engineering and what’s called industrial hygiene and occupational health and safety.

Kelly McKinney: So it’s, you know, asbestos, led, and Silica and hazardous waste and things like that. I’ll do that for 15 years, traveled as an engineering consultant and I lived in Hawaii for a year. and then I moved to New York, and I was in New York for 29 years. And you know, working, I was working in an engineering consulting, and I went to a job interview for the New York state health department, and I ended up getting a job there as the associate commissioner for environmental health. So, I was, and I know you guys do, and your listeners know a local health departments, they do a million things, right? And in general, health departments are sort of siloed and, and there’s a big human disease silo.

Kelly McKinney: There’s a, there’s a human infectious disease silo. And my silo was sort of the everything else silo, which was, you know, we did, we, we, we inspected all the restaurants in the city of New York. We had an office of radiological health where we inspected radiological sources at dentist offices and places like that. And we, we haven’t, we had an office of, of a vector in pest control. Anyway, I was, I was, uh, I was going to my office, uh, on a beautiful sunny blue Tuesday morning in September of 2001 and, um, coming out of the subway, uh, I was a block and a half north of the north tower, the World Trade Center and, and, uh, uh, you know, I came out of this, I came out on the street and the cars were stopped in the middle of the street and the doors were open and people were standing in the street and everybody was staring into the sky.

Kelly McKinney: It was the most surreal scene, that I ever remember. And so, of course, I looked up to, and there was this massive black gash across the, uh, near to the top of the north tower, the World Trade Center. I mean, it was about the 90th floor. So it was, it was literally, you know, it seemed like it was a quarter mile in the sky, so you had to, you had to crane your neck all the way back, but it was massive, right? It was just a block and a half north. And I turned to the guy next to me, and I said, you know, what the hell is that? And he said, you know, a plane hit it. So, then the first plane had just struck the north tower, and it wasn’t even really, flames weren’t even coming out yet. It was burning inside, obviously.

Kelly McKinney: But anyway, so, um, that was a long day. Um, I went back to the office. We did a lot of work, um, in and around ground zero, but I ended up going to the emergency operations center, the New York City emergency operations center. The next morning, 5:00 AM and I spent about 10 weeks there. So I have been really an emergency manager ever since that day. And I eventually found my way to OEM, you know, because I had worked with them on 9/11 and I knew a lot of those folks, and I got to know the processes and the, um, you know, and the players. And so when, when a deputy commissioner position came open, I applied for it and eventually got, and I spent almost eight years there. And so, you know, it’s just been busy, it’s been a busy 18 years of disasters in New York City, and that’s, that’s sort of my story.

Todd DeVoe:      Well, that’s a powerful story for sure. You know, what’s interesting about just kind of personal experience with me on 9/11, I turned the radio on like I normally do on my way into work. I was working as a paramedic and L.A., And the news of a plane hit the twin towers, or one of the towers came across. And I originally just thought, oh, okay. It was a Cessna. Because every once in a while it was happening, right. I was like, okay, no deal. And then it ends up being like one of the longest days of our careers. Right. So

Kelly McKinney: You know, on the other side of the continent, you know, I had the exact same thought. You know, I thought, well, just, it’s a small plane, you know, it’s, it, it was an accident. You know, we, we, we try to explain these things away in our heads and, and you, and I had had the same thought, right? Because we, we couldn’t imagine the enormity of what it actually was. It took a while for that to sink in. We do that a lot of times with, with big disasters, we don’t believe our eyes initially. We think, we think we imagine it, or we think, well, we try to explain it away in, in weird ways. And, and that’s one of the, you know, the premises of my book is that, is that the, oftentimes it’ll be right in front of you and you won’t see it. Right. You’ll be, you’ll, you’ll, you’ll deny that the disasters there, it’s one of the traits of, of big, big disasters.

Todd DeVoe:      Well, yeah, I mean, it’s the normalcy bias, right? I mean, I responded to an active shooter and when the call first comes out as shots fired, I originally just thought, oh, somebody’s doing fireworks or doing a prank or something like that. You know, I didn’t go into the fact, and then it wasn’t until we heard multiple reports of the shots fired, then we go, oh crap, this is a real deal. And we went into response mode, you know? I think everybody gets to that.

Kelly McKinney: Yeah. I’ve talked to a couple of different police officers who, say, from the first day in the academy, they trained for being involved in a shooting, right. And, and a couple of different, cops told me that, they train for it, that they’re always thinking about it. And in both these instances, in their first experience, they said to themselves, oh, it must be a movie shoot. Oh, it must be fireworks, you know, and then all of a sudden, you know, their mind says, no dummy, you know, this is it. This is the thing that you knew was eventually going to happen. And then like you said, they snap into response mode.

Todd DeVoe:      I, uh, I trained about this and we talk about the idea of Boyd’s OODA loop and being able to, the difference between somebody who’s trained and somebody who isn’t is that they’re able to snap out of that and get into that or to into the OODA loop faster than the others. But, and it kind of brings us back to your book. So you wrote a book called “The Moment of Truth, The Nature of Catastrophe and How To Prepare For Them. And what I found really interesting about this book is that the way you put the stories together, that you could hand this book to somebody who is not an emergency manager, never has been involved in this job before. And they’ll understand it because a story with lessons, tell me your book, how you got to this concept and, and the process that you chose.

Kelly McKinney: Yeah. And you put your finger on, I mean, that, that’s so, so I’ve, you know, when you’re, when you’re in the business, as long as you and I were, you know, you, you, you know, you sit in a lot of rooms and you, and you have a lot of meetings and you, and you talk a lot. I mean, we used to say an OEM stood for the office of endless meetings, you know, and, and, uh, and so far, from very early on, I, I had wanted to really document what I think is, some key concepts and insights that we learned in New York. instead of just talking about them, right. Because I think talking is sometimes it’s just wasted effort, right? So eventually you gotta write it down. I’ve been really writing that book for 10 years, and I got really lucky.

Kelly McKinney: A friend of mine knew an agent, a book agent, and she was just amazing. She knew nothing about emergency management; she is amazing. Anyway. She’s not, was amazing, I would send her manuscripts and she, and she would say, you know, not for nothing, but this is the most boring crap I ever read. Right. And she kept saying, you know, you’ve got to tell stories, you got to tell a story. And so, I ended up just doing what you, what you mentioned, which is trying to wrap, these insights, of these concepts, trying to wrap stories around them. And its sort of like, you know, they’re the medicine, and the stories are like the sugar that helps it go down. Right. so because people will read stories and, her feedback to me was, you know, it reads like a white paper and nobody, you know, my son always says to me, you know, TLDR, right?

Kelly McKinney: You know, a TLDR is?

Todd DeVoe:      I don’t, what’s TLDR?

Kelly McKinney: To long, didn’t read, right! Too long, didn’t read, but if it’s a story, you’ve got a better shot., it’s not like these things any kind of like bestseller, a few folks have read it. And, to me, I just, you know, any emergency manager that has read it and we have a conversation it’s the greatest thrill of my career. I just, so grateful for, and, but what I find is that I find this deep, broad areas of agreement because we all are facing these same challenges. And we all understand the problems and, when and where the solutions lie. And not just, in New York and not just in the United States, but you know, this book is going to be serialized in Japan because they’re like, man, this is, this rings true to me.

Kelly McKinney: I’m talking to Outta emergency management on these guys they do the same things that we were in the same ways. And, I’m going to Australia at the end of May. So this is, you know, this, we were immature, industry in so many ways, but I feel this maturity happening, I feel this professionalism happening and, you know, shows like this, you know, EM Weekly is critical to that. And, and people, you know, books are critical to that. And, peer-written journals because that’s how you professionalize you get everybody on the same page. And so I tell people, you know, you, your book is inside you to write. And, uh, because it, because, you know, Todd, you’ve been in this business a long time, you know, you’ve got a book or two inside you and, and, and almost everybody does. It’s just a matter of, you know, sitting down and writing, but you know, that’s a commitment. It’s a time commitment to do that.

Todd DeVoe:      Thank you for writing this story. First, I wanted to say that and going through the book, the kind of cool and I read a lot and one of the things that we do here at EM Weekly and you know, this is that we ask guests what book, books, or publications do you recommend for somebody in emergency management? And your book did come up a few times from different guests talking about what we should read. And, but what I love about the book is that you also reference other current writings. like the black swan by Taleb, you who…It’s a great book. If you haven’t read that book, you should, that should be one of them that you do read. And some of the stuff that you go into, it sounds like a lot of the way like Malcolm Gladwell would really present some stuff.

Todd DeVoe:      So the reason why I’m telling everybody this is because when you read it, it’s intriguing. It’s engaging. It’s not your typical book that you read and kind of go, okay, yeah, I got this and this a text. It’s really, it really is a lot of fun and I recommend it to anybody out there who’s looking for a gift to give someone this would be one to get, especially if even if they’re not emergency manager I should say, especially if they’re not emergency managers because this really tells you why you need to be prepared. But you start off with like what; I think it’s like four or five different stories in here. And at the end of it, there’s a bunch of resources on where you did your research. How long did your research take you to write this book?

Kelly McKinney: You know? so for me, I, have been gathering research for this book since, about 2003 and, every article, every peer-reviewed or non-peer reviewed paper on emergency management, I read that I think it has a solid point. I’ve just stashed it into a folder, and it’s the name of the folder is flawed. Right? And because the book originally was going to be called flawed because, that was the sort of the picture I wanted to paint about our sort of national, disaster system, which is a, you know, the premise of the book, right? Which is what we need to get everybody on the same page. And, and so I’ve thrown everything into, into the flawed folder for 15 years. And so the research was really there.

Kelly McKinney: And it was really about which of the pieces I wanted to, to pick out and sort of dive into. And, and like you said, Todd, I mean, you know, I think if you’re an emergency manager, you know, tabs, books, especially Black Swan, I mean, they’re pretty, for me, they’re essential reading. And because, you know, it really, it really, is the point to me, which is that, you know, those big, large scale, widespread catastrophic disasters are lurking out there. Just, you know, just across the veil and, and we’re just oblivious to them. Right? And so that, it really is a piece of insight that, is, you know, I think important for emergency managers because of the, because you know, the fact is, is that everybody walks around oblivious to them. And that’s fine because you know, they have their lives and you know, if you wandered around worried about the next catastrophe, you know, you wouldn’t leave the house.

Kelly McKinney: Right? So, but we’re, we get paid to worry about it. So this is the point. If you’re not a professional worrier, you know, you got to wonder whether this is actually the right business for you. If you’re an optimist and you think that you know bad things aren’t going to happen and every time you see a potential disaster, you try to explain it away. You know, eventually I think you’re going to have some regrets in the, in the business you gotta be an absolute paranoid about these things and you’ve got to run in every potential disaster and just, you know, make darn sure that it’s not going to grow into, you know, that job that’s going to overcome.

Todd DeVoe:      I was in college and Undergrad I have a philosophy professor, I took two or three of his classes. Awesome. And he’s a sailor as well. And He, oh, he said that as a sailor, you must be an optimistic pessimist. What that means is you go out hoping for the Blue Sky Day, that’s going to be beautiful. You’re going to have a great time and, but you’re preparing for that squall to come across the horizon and that your ship is ready to go and that it’s not going to fall apart as you’re going into it. Because if you go into the ocean, just being a complete optimist, those are the people who end up getting killed. And I take that same philosophy into the world of emergency management, that I always look for the ways to prepare things because I want it to be a blue sky day. And, I think some of the stuff you talk about, the book really kind of reflects though that philosophy as well.

Kelly McKinney: You know why, sailors are such a good example Todd, because, you know, I’m thinking of one of those inspirational posters and with the sail on it. But the thing about sailors is, right, if you’re a three-hour sail from shore in a boat and, and you’ve got a problem, you know, there’s not a lot of mutual aid that’s within arm’s reach. You know, you’re on your own. You must be self-reliant to the degree that, you know, people who live on land don’t really understand. And especially sort of like Navies and things like that where , they don’t hug the shore and in their sailboats, you know, they go, they go way out into the middle of nowhere.

Kelly McKinney: And, that forces you, to make sure that you are as prepared as you can be. That everything is shipshape that everything works. Right. And, and you know, and the same way with the pilots, right? That’s what, you know, and you’re in the cockpit of a plane, and you look at a pilot, they’ve got that little plastic sort of check, a checkbox tools and they check this, and they checked that. And I mean they don’t just, you know, most of us when we check stuff, we sit in a chair, and we imagine that we check that we fool ourselves that we checked it. I mean, on a pilot, on a plane, you know, they step out of the cockpit, and they look at the rudder and then, you know, they move back and forth.

Kelly McKinney: You know what I mean? They, cause if it doesn’t work, you know, they’re going down. And so that, those are clarifying imperatives that, you know, emergency managers need to emulate because, because in you know, we’re responsible for doing that for whatever organizations we work for. Right. And if I’m gonna, if I’m a local emergency manager, I need to do that checklist for my county or my city. Or if I’m, you know, if I’m a hospital emergency manager, I need to do that for my hospital because, because I own it.

Todd DeVoe:      You’re so right. You know, thinking about the checklist to talking about that with Sully landing the airplane on the Hudson River, I love to hear his story because he talks about the fact that him and his crew did not, or I should say he and his crew did not panic at all because they went through this practice all the time and they just went through the checklist and then they said, okay, yeah, we’re not gonna be able to make it. We’re going to put it into the drink called it in and said that this is what we’re doing. And I don’t think he ever, uh, worried about not making that, that landing,

Kelly McKinney: he’s a national hero, deservedly. Right. You know, for me, you know, just to, just to tell a war story. So I was, I was at OEM when 15, 94 went down and it was a cold day. It was, it’s actually a January day, I think it was, 10 years ago, last week (when recorded) And I was in the office and, it was about three o’clock in the afternoon and all of a sudden I just might, my antenna went up. I, all of a sudden everything became very clear. I could hear, a pin drop and, I think it was because there were unusual things going on, like doors slamming and cars screeching out of the parking lot.

Kelly McKinney: And what happened was, is that our watch command saw and all our field folks and just ran out to the job, which across the east river, the Hudson. And so I went upstairs, cause you know, we have a big situation room, and it’s got a video wall. And so, you know, I said to myself something’s up. I walked into the sitting room and, um, we had, our duty team was, was all in the sitting room and they were talking about a big winter storm that was coming, and they had the weather service on a conference call, and they’re all kind of hunkered down and looking at the table. And on the video wall was this massive, news shot off, that Airbus in the water in the Hudson River.

Kelly McKinney: And I, and I looked at it, and I did that. Another one of those things. I’m like, please, you know, that’s, that’s not, where is that, that’s not here. And I was like, you know, it was like, you know, US airbus laying down in the Hudson River and I read the text, and it’s still not registering. I’m just, you know, it’s just one of those things where you’re like, here’s the job. And, so we, we really worked that job. Everything got really, frantic very quickly because we thought, you know, 200, 300 people or our drowned in the Hudson River. And so we worked at, but within a few minutes, we started to see what was happening and the passengers on the wings and stuff. So it actually started to get fun. And so, then, we’re working with city hall and, and we said, you know, everybody got off the plane, and then the word came back from City Hall, you know, are you sure? You know, do you know everybody got the plan? So, so then it became to get the manifest and make positive contact with everybody on that manifested. So that became the job after a while, tracking everybody down and we were working. But with, those ferries were going back to New Jersey, and they were coming to New York. And fortunately, we had a lot of good contacts on the New Jersey side with New Jersey state police. And we were able to say, to work that manifest on both sides. So it was, it was an interesting job.

Todd DeVoe:      That is one thing about emergency management that I love is that we get involved in some weird stuff and it’s never going to be the same no matter how many times you run it. It’s always different. And that’s the best part of this topic. We have to be on our toes all the time. For events like this,

Kelly McKinney: I should just be tattooed on my forearm, right? Every job is completely unique that it’s just, it’s incredible. And you’re like, and you’re in the middle of the job, and you’re like, really? Like, you know, really like I got to deal with this now. Like couldn’t it just be a normal job? Like when am I going to get an, what? Am I going to get an easy job? Like no, never.

Todd DeVoe:      That’s so true. There’s never, never an easy job. Right? But by the way, for those of you that aren’t from the east coast, and this is what I love about talking to my friends from the east coast, is that we get in the same lingo when we, when we’re talking about jobs, basically it’s the same thing as a call, right? And the west coast we called calls. But that’s the same concept. So go with your book. It’s crazy that I, as I’m going through this, As I read the book, I highlighted underlying it, wrote in the margins on a lot of this stuff because there are so many lessons that you put into the stories here. And that’s just the story part of it, but the actual aspect of it. And so you chose, the events that you went over and so 9/ 11. Makes Sense., and then you did the active shooter did a couple of things. Why did you choose what stores you wanted to tell in the book?

Kelly McKinney: For me, it had to do with that I wanted to sort of highlight. And, you know, I’m a, I’m an engineer, I’m an, I’m an emergency manager. I’m not a writer. And I appreciate, you know, Todd, your comments, your feedback on it. And, but like when I first hit send on, the final manuscript. when you write a book, you go back and forth, I mean hundred times with your editor and there are dozens of drafts, you know, and I’m, and I’m sort of a perfectionist. So, I rewrote, and I rewrote and rewrote, and I hit send on it. And then, you know, as soon as I hit the sand, I read an amazing book that was written by not an emergency manager, but by a, by a writer. It’s Sheri Fink, and I should have the title, but it was, I think it’s called the five days at, um,

Todd DeVoe:      Five Days At Memorial.

Kelly McKinney: Five Days At Memorial. yeah, it’d be, and you know, that book is such a powerful book. I read it, and I regret reading it. Cause you know, I’m just like every sentence, like, you know, just another, a whack in the head about how much better of a writer she is than I am. But, you know, for me it was about the concepts. So, if there’s one chapter that I like and in my book it’s, you know, it’s invisible impacts and it, and there are two stories in that, in that chapter. And the first one is the East Harlem gas explosion that happened in 2013. And then the next one, the next story is the East village gas explosion happened in 2014. So, East Harlem, it’s a, it was 125th and Park Avenue and, you know, buildup of gas in a, in a residential building and massive explosion maybe folks remember if there were eight people killed and 100 families displaced.

Kelly McKinney: And I was at the Red Cross, and we ran up there, and it was just a very intense job for us because, we were on a conference call with the New York City OEM, and they’re like, hey, you know, let’s think about a reception center were like, think about a reception center. You know, there’s, there are people walking the streets right now that, that need to be in a reception center, so they mentioned a school, they just mentioned it offhand where they said, we’re going to look at this school. We ran right to that school, talk to the principal. and next thing you know, the families just pouring in and the gym just filled up. We had politicians there was media, and it was just the most intense, sort of 12 hours of my career.

Kelly McKinney: Just amazing, uh, experience. And then we put them all; we put all the folks that needed shelter in a, in a big shelter, in partnership with Salvation Army and a great job. and then a year, almost exactly a year later, the same thing happened. This time it was an east village, which is about a six miles due south of there. the same job, you know, same, number of families affected, gas fed, fire building collapse. And yet in the East Village, which is a very different neighborhood, we set up the reception center, we had, we had 40 volunteers, and we had everything ready, and nobody came. Right? And so, and that has to do with the neighborhood, the nature of the neighborhood, the nature of the people that are in the neighborhood.

Kelly McKinney: And so, you know, the concept really was, you know, we talk about, you know, the underprivileged and must include them, incorporate them and in our planning, and you know, the continent. And the lesson for me was, you don’t incorporate them in your planning. You know, they are your plan, right? That those are your clients, those are the people that need help. And so it has to be, you know, the core focus. And, and so it just somehow I got really lucky, you know, cause all of the Red Cross three years. And we had, we had, several sorts of major incidents, but those two were such, was such an easy parallel, and, and they fit together, and they were able to really highlight that issue.

Kelly McKinney: Amazingly enough, I’m on the board for the High School for Emergency Management here in New York City. it’s a great school, four years old, so they’re going to graduate. The freshman class is that went in four years ago, is going to graduate this year. And that chapter is actually required reading in one of the classes. I’m going to go there next week, and we’re going to talk about it and things like that. So, you know, it’s just really, cool experience for me too, to be able to share that kind of stuff.

Todd DeVoe:      I just started this semester with my students at the Master’s program at Cal State Fullerton. And I was talking about specifically about the policy the other day. And I mentioned how we need to integrate our plans by working with the disabled population. And one of the things I really stress to them was it’s not just us writing a plan that you need to reach out to organizations in your jurisdiction to talk to them and see what they think about it and how it’s going to be affecting them. And in Orange County, California, we work really close with Dale Mcintosh Center and having them sit down and talk about how those things are working for them. I was going to ask you about the BCID vs. Bloomberg case, but you kind of went over it. But I think that’s one of the wakes up calls for everybody that we need to be really looking at that. And you’re absolutely right. I didn’t even think about this Kelly until just now. You’re right; the vulnerable populations are who we are serving the case of a disaster because those with abilities and money can leave and do what they need to do. And it’s everybody who’s left behind that we need to worry about.

Kelly McKinney: Yeah. What you’re telling your students is spot on. Right. And you know, academia is essential to emergency management and, doing what you’re doing so that, so that the new guard can come in with, with that basis of knowledge. you’re right to push them out of the classroom. You can’t leave it as an academic exercise. You must get out there, and you’d have to talk to those organizations that are working with those people. I mean, the Red Cross was, it was probably the toughest three years of my career, but they were also the most valuable because, there’s a lot of local emergency managers a lot of state emergency managers and, you know, at the federal level, and they all talk about mass care and they all talk about, the underprivileged and the disabled and special needs.

Kelly McKinney: But you know, being on the ground in the disaster zone, face to face with that person and those families and those children, that’s different, right? And unless you’ve done it, you know, you can talk about it, but , you can’t talk about it with enough authority to be as credible as you need to be. If you want credibility, that issue, you’ve got to get your hands dirty. And I don’t, I don’t mean dirty in terms of, those are dirty places. I just mean, you know, you’ve got to put your boots on and get into the field and you’ve got to understand how difficult it is, you know, working with, families that have been impacted by the disaster, right? Because it’s not a normal thing right there. they sometimes can’t even think straight.

Kelly McKinney: Right. They’ve been cast, it’s like, the Red Cross. We went to residential building fires, okay, I went to work, my kids went to school, we came home, and our house was burned to the ground, and we lost everything. you can sit here and think about that as an academic construct, and you can think, oh, that would be bad. But if you really think about what that would be like to lose everything like that, especially if you have no ability to get any of it back, you don’t have any savings. And you know, it’s, it’s just devastating in a way that you can’t know, if you’re there with those families and you see what they’re going through, I think those are important experiences for emergency managers. It gives you empathy, right?

Kelly McKinney: It makes you work harder, right. I mean, if you’re in an EOC, a windowless room, and EOC watching TV, if you’ve been on the ground and you understand what’s happening out there, you’re going to, you’re really gonna work harder. You’re going to break the rules to help people. And, and that’s the that’s my main premise. don’t let the people with the control of the money and don’t let the managers that sit in their carpeted offices who don’t understand the business. Don’t let them tell you what you can and can’t do in the middle of the job. Because if you have to break a rule to help somebody, then you have to do it. So that after the job, if that same manager has you called you onto the carpet and said, you know, what the heck do you think you’re doing? Breaking that rule, you can say, Hey, you know, I did it, and you know, I’m going to, I’m going to face whatever consequences you want to fire me for helping a family in a disaster. Then that’s the way it’s going to go. Right. You sort of where it is a badge of honor.

Todd DeVoe:      That’s so true. But that is 100% true. Kind of coming back to two things. One is we talk about disasters being local, and that is so 100% true. You know, we heard from an administrator long talking about how they’re there to support. FEMA doesn’t come in on the white horse to save everybody. Craig Fugate has talked about the fact that FEMA is just basically writing a check to the local emergency manager. I want to, I want to expand upon the concept of disasters being local and to the idea of resiliency being local and that as emergency managers, we need to get into the community and get into as a calls them the critter clubs, get into the Chamber of Commerce’s and talk to them about what it is as an emergency manager, what they can do and to really be engaged in the community. What do you think that we should do as emergency managers to really engage our community members that were here to serve during a disaster? Yeah. Well, that’s the right question. And, um,

Kelly McKinney: a lot of it comes down to bandwidth. You know, I mean, you know, when I talked to local emergency managers around the country, I always ask the same question, you know, how many people in your office, and they’ll always say, oh, it’s this many, or it’s this. And, and then I say how many full-time people whose job, whose title includes emergency manager and who do nothing but emergency management full time. And that number almost always shrinks to one or two. And so, you know, the number of hats that are local emergency manager has to wear is it prevents a lot of real progress on resilience. I think it’s our biggest problems is part of, one of the things I talked about in a book, which is the, you know, all disasters are local, the ADAL index, right?

Kelly McKinney: But there’s one concept that I think is key for an emergency manager in the United States. And that is that you know, you live, you don’t live in the richest country. In the world, you, you live in the richest country in the history of the world, right? You live in a place where resource-rich is an understatement. Right? And so, you know, the, so, so that is actually in some ways your biggest problem. Why is it your biggest problem? Because you know, if you get into a job where you’re like, I didn’t have the resources, you know, that is not a credible excuse. You cannot, with a straight face say, I didn’t have the resources in the United States of America. Because the truth is you have the resources, the truth is you were unable to get the resources from where they were to where they were needed in time.

Kelly McKinney: And that’s your job as an emergency manager. So that becomes almost a potential tragedy in that, you know, you have people that needed stuff, and you couldn’t figure out where it was and to get it where, uh, where it’s needed. And that’s the breaking the rules thing, right? And so that, that to me is, you know, probably our most fundamental weakness as an industry is that we live in such a, in a, in a resource saturated environment, but we can’t get to a lot of stuff because, especially if you’re, if you’re a, if you’re a government emergency manager, you’ve got procurement rules and, and you know, you’ve got your logistics section and it’s usually a person or maybe half a person and all of a sudden you’re going to flip that switch, and you’re going to be able to be, you know, to have the capability of a Google or a UPS or a FedEx, and move stuff from point a to point B, you know, hundreds and thousands of things all at the same time.

Kelly McKinney: So, it’s the issue. And, and what does it take to fix that issue? it takes time, and it takes focused energy. It takes people, and it takes emergency managers. And so, if you know, every local emergency management agency needs a minimum of seven people full time. Everyone bar none, there’s not an exception in the United States. Everyone needs seven. So if you’ve got four, because you’re maybe even a big county somewhere, and you’ve got full for four full time your managers and your boss is like, what are you doing with all those people? You know, you’re going to say, well, I’m three short bosses, you know, because I must build my ability to reach into every potential source of resources in this county and in this state and every surrounding state and every state in the lower 48 and then into Canada and Mexico. if the worst case happens. So, you know that that’s you know, it’s daunting, and it’s scary. Right? But it’s a fact, I mean, at the end of the day, your boss is like, well, what I pay you for? I pay you to get the stuff where it’s needed when it’s needed.

Todd DeVoe:      So true. Oh Man. Yeah. Those conversations are, I have never walked into an emergency management agency where they’re like, oh, we got extra people floating around. You know, it was always something going on. There’s always a plan. It’s being reviewed, written or there’s always a meeting that they have to go to. And I think that’s one of the things that we do wrong. I’m just going back to the whole meeting thing is as emergency managers, specifical jurisdiction from where I live and work that we, we go to meetings a lot, but we meet with ourselves, right? We’re meeting with other emergency managers are meeting with, with fire, we’re meeting with police. You know, we’re meeting with elected officials, the grand jury, you come out and looks at our EOCs you know, everybody who’s sort of on the same page, and we talked, we pat each other on the back a lot, you know.

Todd DeVoe:      Ah, yeah, you did great. You did great. I don’t remember the last time that I actually sat down and with a group of people who didn’t know what we were doing and were like, and, and trying to educate them. I want to sound like when you go to community meetings and talk, but I’m just say sat down to have a true meeting and to, to really kind to push the ball forward with community preparedness because that’s one of the things we’ve talked about. How do we prepare our community? We try to do things that I think are easy and comfortable and we don’t get uncomfortable. Sometimes I think we need to get uncomfortable.

Kelly McKinney: because the job, the disaster is going to be, you know, uncomfortable is the, is the key, right? It’s going to be painful. And that’s the whole premise of the book. I mean, the book’s called a moment of truth, right? Okay. Moment of truth is a painful moment. It’s a, it’s a very…and to me, the moment of truth for an emergency manager is okay, you know, you’ve been working somewhere, and you’ve been writing plans and even having those meetings and to your… Todd, you are so right, man. You’re talking to the same people you know, that know that you know, the saying the same old stuff. Uh, and then here it is. Here’s the job, here’s the big disaster. And, and so, you know, the boss walks in, you know, the, the local elected official or whoever is the boss for the whole deal, you know, they, so there’s a big conference room that the boss uses that you’re in once in a while and they, nobody pays attention to you.

Kelly McKinney: But now, they usher you in, and there’s a chair, right? Right at the head of the table and a light shining on it. You know a spotlight, and you are right there. And everybody’s waiting to see what, what are we doing? Like, and so that’s the moment of truth. That’s your job. That’s what you, that your job is to prepare for that moment. Because if you walk in there and you say, Hey, yeah, you know, this is, this is bad, I’m telling you, we, um we got a few things we could do right now. We were thinking about doing this, you know, what do you guys think about that? Or we were thinking about, we’re thinking about doing that, or Oh, you know, and then somebody is I just walking into, or someone said, why don’t we do this?

Kelly McKinney: So, so that’s job failure. That’ll be your last day on the job, right? Because if you do that, you have to walk in there and you have to talk about all of the things that are already happening, right? The dozens and dozens and dozens of things that are already happening because you’ve put into place. And why did you put them in place? Because you had that checklist of those first steps that everybody learned and, and so they didn’t even have to get activated. They’re already running. So you’re going to talk about all the stuff that’s already happening now. And all people want to hear is what isn’t happening. That needs to happen. And when is that going to happen? You know, that’s what the boss was here. So I’ve been in that room many times especially with the mayor and you know, and a lot of times, you know, you have, you have those major agencies and they’re like, you know, boss, we’re doing this and we got this many crews in and we’re doing that and we’re doing this and the, and the boss waits for you to stop.

Kelly McKinney: And he’s like, okay, you’re telling me you guys are doing everything you can. You tell me you’re working really hard out there. Yes. Well, that’s good because if, if you weren’t, I’d fire you all. I just want to know what we’re not doing. Okay. And then somebody has to tell me when we’re going to do those things. That’s all I want to know. What, what are we not doing and when are we to be done doing those things? And that’s the moment of truth. That’s what you gotta be ready for. And there’s a lot of work to get there.

Todd DeVoe:      All right, well, we’re getting close to the end of the interview here, and I don’t want to keep you too much longer, but a question here is what book? And I know where to, I’m talking about the moment of truth. I’m already recommended that. So you can’t use that one. So what book, book’s or publication would you recommend to somebody in emergency management?

Kelly McKinney: So, you know, um, I would recommend the books that are dragged in my book, which are, you know, Black Swan, General McChrystal’s book about, about, how he turned around. the war in Iraq and, because I think a team of teams is just an EOC. it’s just another word for EOC. And, then also, Mr. DeVoe ah, you may know today, the 26th of January, the year 1700, was 319 years ago. A, a massive earthquake struck, Vancouver Island, and it was the when the San Juan de Fuca of fault jumped about 20 meters in the air and caused a magnitude nine earthquake that ripped a 600-mile hole in the earth’s crust. And, and then there was, a tsunami after that.

Kelly McKinney: So there’s an article called the really big one. It’s, Catherine Schultz and July 21, 2015, the really big one. It’s an; it’s an amazing article. I mean, I remember when I read it, you know, I stopped everything and me, and I, locked the door and I just sat there in amazement because it’s just such a fantastic scenario. but read the big one, and it’s 319 years old that job. And the problem is that it’s supposed to happen once every 500 years. So, 319 years into a 500-year cycle means we’re due. And to me, that’s the job. I mean, you know, you want to worry about a job, that’s the one you should worry about.

Todd DeVoe:      So true., that one and the idea that the super volcano, is going to pop off someday, you know? So those two things are the ones that we,

Kelly McKinney: exactly.

Todd DeVoe:      Okay. So if you’re speaking to all the emergency managers in the world at one time, what would you like to say to them?

Kelly McKinney: I would say to them, have courage and be fierce and break all the rules. And if, if after the disaster, you don’t get into trouble because of all the rules you broke, then you were too timid. That is wonderful advice. That really is.

Todd DeVoe:      Well, Kelly, thank you so much for your time today and, let’s get you back out here sometime.

Kelly McKinney: I appreciate it, Todd. Great talking to you man.







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