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A new norm may be evolving
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By Fire Chief Drew Smith
March 18, 2020

Excerpted from a blog by Chris Truty, Fire Chief, Tri-Lake-Monument (CO) Fire Protection District

A new norm may be evolving, that of the presence of the COVID-19 virus and its societal impacts. It is still too early to tell if the long-term outcome is complete virus eradication or if it becomes just one more bug we will deal with every day.

However, what we do know is that society will not completely recover until a sense of normalcy is regularly felt within the community and it's not too early to talk about returning to normalcy. With whatever data we have, the sooner we can start the dialog on what that new normalcy may look like and how to move in that direction, the shorter our current crisis will be.

Disaster experts know that recovery is one of the pillars of crisis management and that once a crisis takes place, the quicker recovery can occur, the less long-term impact there is, i.e. a quicker return to normalcy. This is called resilience. Resilience is about how quickly we can return to a normalcy, an old one or a new one. During short-duration disasters such as weather events and local emergencies, the timing of recovery initiation is straightforward, once the disaster event is completed (although recovery planning starts before the disaster). However, longer term, slower-growing crises like COVID19 are more challenging as to when to initiate recovery because the end of the event is ambiguous both in timing and its appearance. Collectively though our society will recover when individuals can begin a recovery process even if the end is ambiguous. So what can we do to begin recovery.

First, don't forget the forest for the trees. Most social and mainstream media draw you to the trees even if they are weeds rather than focusing on the forest. A rapidly growing tree or weed can be more newsworthy, exciting, and social-media friendly (and fearful) than a slow-changing forest. This means keeping everything in context and perspective. For sure, we need to keep doing all the responsible things that our health organizations are suggesting and encouraging but we need to not jump at every new tree.

Second, educate yourself and if you can't educate yourself, look beyond the media for a trustworthy source to keep you informed. True, data can be manipulated to present a certain perspective however there is also truth in data and having trustworthy sources can provide some degree of peace. Traditionally, as imperfect as they are, government agencies have been the most objective.

Third, respect different levels of risk tolerance. There are people who jump out of the back of airplanes with nothing but a piece of fabric attached to their backs and there are those who get scared of heights when standing on a step stool. Neither is "wrong". It is just who they are and respecting this reduces the bitterness and blame that inevitably will follow.

Fourth, recognize that pivots may be required. Slow and rapid developing crises require decision-makers to frequently act on conflicting, incomplete, and ambiguous information. As greater clarity becomes known, new decisions will be required based on the new perspective and often it can be the exact opposite of a previous perspective and decision. Expect and respect the need to make a pivot and don’t panic over it. More often then not, the pivot will move us closer to the end. If we wait for complete clarity, no decisions will ever be made and that can magnify and extend a crisis.

Fifth, don't focus on the magnitude of the change but the rate of change. The magnitude of a change (the number of people infected) can be intimidating but the rate of change (number of people infected per day) can make it more manageable. Most people can adapt given an appropriate amount of time and a reasonable rate of change. Know that this outbreak will peak before it ends. The rate of change numbers will reflect this earlier and can therefore bring peace quicker.

Lastly, begin working on accepting the new norm. This may sound intimidating at first but most of us are already doing it with technology innovations and cultural changes. As this change will include a more valuable impact and that is on our health, it's still not impossible to adapt and to take reasonable risks. All change will come with a certain degree of risk because change breeds uncertainty which makes us uncomfortable. We do it every day though when we drive a car when statistically thousands will die every year in auto accidents. We did it after 9-11 and after the Great Recession.

A normalcy will return. You can bank on it. It may be quite different. Odds are it won't be that different. However, the sooner we can begin working on this ourselves, the quicker our collective society will recover.


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