There is no such thing as a common operating picture

Have you heard the concept of a common operating picture (COP) or single pane of glass?

I am suggesting that this concept is a fool’s errand

My reasoning is that a common picture implies a common understanding and point of view. This means that to achieve this ideal scenario, everyone has to have the same experiences, biases, beliefs, and circumstances. This concept has gotten traction amongst emergency managers however, it is almost never realized.

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Every person interprets information differently, even if it is the prima facie, the exact same information. There have been numerous cases where two witnesses to a crime will provide authorities with a completely different and often opposing record of events. It turns out that we all see things through our own lenses that act as filters based on personal bias and experiences. Your interpretation of the incident will be completely different that of the other people involved. So, the picture can no longer be said to be common.

Consider the orchestra. Musicians read the same sheet of music but they all play different instruments. It is the same venue, masterpiece, and conductor and yet the experiences will vary between people of different ages, knowledge levels and even from different locations in the building. There is a personal understanding of what is supposed to happen but to get it right, for everyone to share a common understanding, the conductor must serve as a messenger for the composer. They must understand the music and convey it through the movement of the baton so that the musicians in the orchestra understand it perfectly

How do you achieve this in emergency response?

Become the conductor and not the passive performer. You have a masterpiece to execute for the audience. It is not good enough to display sheets of music for you musicians. You need to manage the speed, flow, and direction of everyone involved. Your primary responsibilities are to the unify the responders, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble, and to control the interpretation and pacing of the music. Use a baton to signal to them. A baton, not a sheet of music!

“Become the conductor not the performer”

Remember, not every performer will be able to see your gestures. They may not even be in the same building and may have never picked up an instrument before. They may be in danger and in a high-risk situation. Make sure you can still deliver the composers message with context and relevancy.

Three important questions to ask yourself

1. How do you ensure everyone understands your message perfectly?

2. How do you ensure everyone understands your intent perfectly?

3. How do you listen and gesture?