Navigating Information Overwhelm

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Friday, March 13, 2020

One of the things that happens in disasters is information overwhelm. Especially in the information age. It's a big issue inside the response, but it's a huge issue outside as well for the public. You.

And that's just for a normal disaster. We're in a pandemic. The whole freaking world is involved, and the information IS EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME NONSTOP WON'T STOP IT JUST KEEPS GOING.

Start With The Decisions You Need To Make

One of the keys to handling this overload during a crisis is to find ways to distill the information you need to make decisions.

That sounds easy, but it actually means you need to take some time and figure out what the decisions are that you need to make. And they will evolve. But maybe you need to make different kinds of decisions, and at different points.

Take this seriously. Recognize that it's harder than it looks. I've worked deep inside government and found that it is very difficult for almost everyone all the way up the chain to step back and figure out what the most critical decisions are that actually need to be made. It's one of the greatest failures inside many disasters and catastrophes. I learned this from working with the people who manage the biggest wildfires in the country. They're good at it because this is what they do. They step back and think about what the decisions are that they need to be making.

When you know what the decisions are that you need to make, then you can know what information to look for... and not just take info in from everywhere.

Three Kinds Of Info

Another thing that may be helpful is to break it down into three kinds of info.

In incident intelligence, there are three basic kinds of info:

***  Situational information gives you intel right now about what's happening. Related to your sphere of influence or control. Not every emergency everywhere. What's relevant in your corner of the world.

***  Resources info tells you about what you've got it in terms of capabilities and assets. Stuff. Equipment. People. Technology. Money, too. This is about resources you have now, what you may be able to get, and on what kind of timeline.

***  Risk or incident potential tells you what's coming. This is driving a lot of action right now for everyone worldwide. As it should. But some of the risk information that's out there is better than others. Some of it is also more relevant than others. Especially to your own situation. For most of us, local public health information is the best starting place for verifiable, reliable risk information. Possibly state public health as well (not true in my state; it's been politicized). One of the challenges is that most of the information we get online is worldwide or nationwide; not just stuff from our local community or state. When you are looking for risk information, try to focus your scope for what will affect you, your family, or your organization.

And that's about the clearest, cleanest summary of all of this I will probably ever write. I have been working on the wicked problem that is  disaster information sharing since 2000. I've done deeper dives into this than most. But it's not rocket science. These are the basics. You go on to any wildfire anywhere and this is what they're doing. It's supposed to be what we're doing for every major incident in the US, but that hasn't totally worked out the way it was supposed to. It's better than it used to be.

That's a bit of a sidebar.

Step Away For Perspective

Relevant to our current situation, the overwhelming volume of pandemic information will only increase.

Your reaction to it can shift. Which is another key to dealing with all of this.

And if you need a tool to help you step back to make a shift, I like the advice from the ridiculous movie Spaceballs... where the character Dark Helmet suggests, "Well why don't we all take a five-minute break?"

Setting everything aside and slipping away for a few minutes is remarkably level setting. Especially in a world where we are going to have unfolding chaos for months. Many months.

Stepping away for a few minutes, regularly, can help you pull back from the overwhelm, and do what is right for you. Or your family. Or you business. Or your school. Or your church. Or whatever.

Hold the light.

Humanity survives pandemics. What we do in the middle will define who we are on the other side. We get through this with each other. That's how we get it done.

Please share this widely if it resonates.

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This post was originally published on the founder's personal Facebook page here.

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