Opinion: Do you unplug during vacations?


Summer is here and people are taking vacations. What does that mean for emergency managers and how plugged in (or not) are you while on vacation? — AFP Relaxnews

Summer is here and people are taking vacations. What does that mean for emergency managers and how plugged in (or not) are you while on vacation?

You are in the bedroom packing for vacation and your spouse turns to you and says, “Are you going to be doing work while on vacation?” How you respond to that question is the subject of this column.

I can give you the “by the book” guidance on vacations. Vacations are to be times of renewal. The expert's advice is to disconnect from work and find an activity or form of relaxation that you enjoy. It might be a service project associated with your volunteer organisation, or just sitting on a beach watching the waves come in and reading a book. Other appropriate beach activity might include someone rubbing suntan oil on your back and wait staff bringing you a series of cold drinks whenever you ask them to. Sounds heavenly – right?

The other recommendation is that you take at least two weeks of vacation in a row. The first week is to decompress from work and the second week lets you actually relax. One reportedly good measurement of if you were gone from work long enough is if you can't remember any of your computer passwords when you get back to work. The goal is for you to return to work relaxed, refreshed, ambitious, creative and energised.

The European standard is to take a month off. August in France and Germany can be a no-man's land in the workplace with everyone gone on vacation. Then there is the American reality. There are fewer days of paid vacation being taken by American workers. This helps with productivity numbers for the company or the government but puts added strain on workers.

Enter the emergency manager's dilemma. Disasters don't take a holiday, and in fact I've always called Thanksgiving and Christmas disaster magnets. It is rare that things happen on a weekday during normal work hours. Disasters wait for weekends and the middle of the night to just pop into your life and ruin a good sleep or time with the family.

If you are the director of an emergency management programme you carry a special burden. I believe that you can delegate authority for people to carry out the missions of the organisation, but like any elected official the buck has to stop somewhere. As emergency managers you cannot delegate responsibility for what happens – when you are there, or even when you are gone on vacation, you are responsible for what gets done, or is left undone. I'm not asking you to like it, just accept it as a fact of life. Life after all is not always fair.

The other reality is that as the director you are expected to be there when disaster strikes. If you are on vacation and a disaster occurs – get home as fast as you can. When there is a disaster in progress, perhaps even "winding down" do not leave town for a planned vacation. The family may not like it but tending the home fires at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will keep you employed. Leaving town gives the wrong message to your boss, elected officials, the media and the public. This is what we do as emergency managers – and you need to be there to do it. Monitoring events from afar will not cut it. You physically at work is what people expect!

Given the above then, what do you do when vacation time comes knocking on your door? Do you disconnect, leave town and all your cares and worries behind, or do you stay plugged in electronically. There are three possibilities for staying plugged in:

* You monitor email so that you can at a minimum know if a disaster or significant emergency is happening that might need your attention.

* Or, do you go beyond that to say monitor email traffic so that you stay abreast of projects and their progression so that when back to work you don't have such a steep mountain of email to read and respond to.

* Or, are you actively plugged into the network and responding to emails as though you are at work. People are oblivious to the fact that you are not in the office, but "on vacation".

I for one cannot totally pull the plug on being connected to work. For me coming back to 300-500 emails or more just makes having been gone not worth the experience. I have actually dreaded going back to work because of the catch-up time and effort that it would require on my part. I prefer to stay connected and actively monitoring email traffic so that the garbage emails are tossed and I'm "up to speed" on what has transpired while I was gone. It wasn't always that way, but it is one of the banes of our electronic age. Today work can follow you wherever you go.

My wife and I have found a way to make it all work. I'm a morning person and she is the night owl. I'll get up early in the morning and do my blogging and other work tasks while she is still in bed. Given she is sleeping it takes the angst out of me being at the keyboard on my laptop – which I take with me. During the day as we cruise around I can peep at my iPhone (but not when we are eating – that is a no, no) and therefore stay abreast of the daily activities back at work.

Another alternative to the above and a solution to the "be connected or to disconnect" is to vacation someplace that is exotic where there isn't any cellphone reception and WiFi is nonexistent. Then the choice becomes easier. You will have to trust the people back tending the farm to make sure everything is taken care of and accept the fruits of their labors when you walk in the door.

If nothing else it will allow you to honestly say, "Earthquake? What earthquake?" – Government Technology/Tribune News Service

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