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Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Public safety personnel operate in a world of VUCA.
What is VUCA? VUCA is an acronym for describing situations that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The U.S. Army War College began to study how to lead and operate in VUCA environments in the 1990’s. Understanding VUCA is important to the military, the business world, and particularly public safety. VUCA is driven by multiple factors, but the main forces are the impacts of advancing technologies.

EMS responders, firefighters, and police officers work in VUCA environments all the time. They respond to chaotic and dangerous incidents by “working the problem” as they restore order, and bring calm and caring.

Public safety administrators and chiefs manage, plan, and lead in VUCA environments as they learn to deal with changes. Changes in their communities, in their workforce, in their call loads, and in the types of calls their staff handles all contribute to VUCA. And it is changes in technology that impact their equipment, their knowledge, and even the view that the world now has of many local public safety calls.

Learning to work in VUCA requires:

  • Situational Awareness - In both the long term and short term, VUCA fuels a need for information, risk identification, analysis, and monitoring. It’s knowing and working with your communities and your schools that will increase understanding of the changes. It is active fire inspection and prevention, community medic programs, and community policing. Increased situational awareness can bring clarity to VUCA environments.

  • Knowledge of Your Values - Both your organization’s values and your personal values are affected. VUCA environments are incredibly challenging places in which to operate. Leadership in these environments requires a strong vision—and a vision shared by the team members. In an article on VUCA, Russ Linden used this helpful phrase: “It’s keeping the main thing the main thing.”

  • Being Agile - Agility is closely linked to the above skills as you adjust to new information while keeping the compass on your values. It’s about watching, assessing, and adjusting. Agility requires having as many tools in the mental tool box as you can carry so that you have options.

  • Being Collaborative - This refers to listening to the views of team members and the community. Once again we see the importance of personal and professional relationships and in keeping people first. 

And it is about the phrase we have used in public safety for years: “We eat the elephant one bite at time.”

Up next: Some thoughts from the Mental Health First Aid Workshops

Stay safe,

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