Disaster expert Dr. Erik Auf der Heide has said, “The process of planning is more important than the written document that results.”

We, at DisasterDoc, like to say that “Planning is more important than the plan. But this may seem a little counter-intuitive at first, so let’s discuss our reasons.

Many times, we write plans that are then “put on a shelf” and forgotten. That is until a tropical storm develops and begins to grow in strength. Then we see a mad rush to try to find the plan. Did we save it on the work computer? What file folder…?

Of course, the plan itself has inherent value. The plan is a “paper trail” of the group’s intended activities and goals. In this sense, the planning process is a type of negotiation, and a resultant plan is a form of social contract… “I agree to do this if you agree to do that.”

This value holds if the appropriate personnel also review the plan and are familiar with the tasks. Many times, however, it can be easily overlooked when other tasks arise and command our attention.

The TRUE value of planning comes from participation in the process itself.

The planning process allows us to convene groups of organizations together that may have never even known the other exists. If we do not know our communities, we don’t know who to contact in certain emergencies. Even if organizations are aware of one another, we often see a lack of networking among those groups. Few consider these connections before the time they are needed.

The plan might be the “end result” of the planning process, but the process of planning in a group brings our attention to ideas and concepts that may have otherwise gone unaddressed.

This process informs and guides communities to learn their own needs in disaster situations. Think of this from the perspective of our schooling. Planning is like “doing our homework” in that it reinforces the “right way of doing things.” And as we know, “practice makes perfect” in all things.

Just because we have a written plan does not mean we understand the concepts and reasons behind why those goals and activities exist in that plan. And even the simplest of tasks can be overlooked or misconstrued when a plan is written but not discussed or negotiated by the stakeholders.

For example, when we were planning with communities at high risk for hurricane disasters, we sought to address meals for individuals that were displaced to shelters. We were able to address food for children and adults, but one issue led us to a screeching halt. The issue was that nobody could account for baby formula. (The most vulnerable group of all!).

Of course, this oversight was not intentional. Instead, everyone simply believed that “someone else has thought of that.” The planning process thus allows us to identify these gaps as they exist. This also demonstrates the need to “have the right people in the room” when planning. Most importantly, it allows us to “close the gap” at that same moment.

Put simply, the best plans are written by the “people that actually do the work.”

Without the planning process, a plan simply isn’t enough. In one recent DisasterDoc study, we found that active involvement in planning generally builds confidence and satisfaction amongst community members. It empowers communities to feel included and confident in their preparedness.

Perhaps that is the most important plan of all.

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