Sunday, April 14, 2013

DYB DOB Donkey

This week I’ve been in Bangkok attending a global summit of influential minds on Disaster Risk Reduction, which is all about trying to prepare communities, governments and countries generally to withstand and recover from the effects of natural and man-made disasters.  I was thrilled to be attending the meeting, not only to hear from the world’s leading minds on DRR, but also because I had been asked to present a key note address on the last day, which I was hoping was going to be my big chance to make myself known to these power brokers and who knows, maybe even nab a high-powered, important job in the future.

The discussion topics on offer at the summit have encompassed lengthy soul-searching on setting-up Early Warning Systems which can be operated as soon as the initial signs of a disaster are imminent, so as to alert communities and other parties to prepare for the coming danger.  There have also been detailed explanations of working with communities and various groups on Disaster Preparedness and Response, so that they know what to do when the Early Warning System is activated, and Disaster Mitigation and Resilience, which is all about putting things in place to limit the impact of the disaster on people and their livelihoods.

But as is so often the case with these high-level discussions, all the theoretical jargon and technical know-how immediately get thrown out the window when a real disaster hits, as I discovered this week when my world was thrown into utter chaos by a series of unanticipated, catastrophic events.  

On the last day of the meeting I was up well before the sun, diligently preparing for my presentation.  After finalising the materials and practicing my speech a couple of times, I ironed my shirt and trousers, and headed off to the magnificent hotel breakfast buffet which is a common, essential element of these kinds of global meetings, concerned as they are with improving the lot of those with barely enough household resources to feed their kids.

In the Disaster Risk Reduction biz, when we talk about developing Early Warning Systems, we encourage individuals and communities to look for any unusual events or changes in their surroundings.  Hindsight is indeed a powerful tool for reflection, and through this I must concede that my ability to recognise and comprehend a significant change to the breakfast buffet that morning could well have spared me from the debilitating effects of what followed, however I failed to recognise the significance of the bowl of small, ripe cherry tomatoes which had replaced the more common-place, large, pre-sliced tomatoes on offer during the previous four days.

Failing to heed this important Early Warning Sign, I obliviously sat down to my greasy breakfast and with the sharpened points of my unsuspecting table fork, I pierced the shiny outer skin of a cherry tomato, unleashing all manner of damnation and hellfire in the form of bright, red tomato juice all over my crisp, ironed shirt - my last clean shirt for the week – all within a few short moments of the professional and reputational reckoning upon which my future career in international Disaster Risk Reduction was to be built.

Within a nanosecond of the destructive cocktail of juice and pulp being sprayed from hip to shoulder where moments before there had been nothing but sharp, starchy creases, I was on my feet in the middle of the public thoroughfare, absently wiping sticky yellow seeds from my scalp and ears, while my shrinking spleen emitted an involuntary, guttural groan which rose into the lofty chamber before disappearing into the same, intangible locale as my future career prospects. 

In reflection, it’s quite possible that all may not have been lost at that point, as there may have been some individuals of influence who’d not yet become aware of the destruction my heedless actions had unleashed upon the early morning diners, however my voluble anguish was released with little heed to the number one rule of Disaster Response planning, which is to Remain calm – DO NOT PANIC!.  Instead, I projected a shrill, piercing scream like a couple of over-weight drag queens fighting over a pair of fourteen inch, red sequinned stilettoes, attracting the full attention of every member of the largest gathering of influential minds on international humanitarian responses ever to have been assembled.

Realising my mistake, I made a beeline for the door, only to slip on the organic mess I had created on the shiny parquetry with my clumsy upturning of a breakfast bowl, causing me to land flat on my arse and generating for those influential global minds a close-up view of the world’s first ever edible, indoor tsunami, which proceeded from the epicentre of my soiled behind to the far corners of the restaurant.

Crawling now, I lowered my head in shame and slowly reconstructed a Disaster Escape Route in my mind to guide me out the door and out of sight.  Back in my Safe House hotel room a few moments later, I waited for my hyperventilating to subside and began analysing the situation.  I had come to Bangkok for a reason, and I was not going to let this incident impede my Recovery to a lucrative, fat-cat position on the international stage.  I threw open my wardrobe to take stock of my provisions, only to remember with horror that my Disaster Preparedness for this high-level talk fest had me Stockpiling only the required number of outfits through which to get me through five days of looking as professional as possible, and like I knew what I was talking about, however I had not allowed for Contingencies.  Added to this, I had been schmoozing so much with the ‘Big Wigs’ each night … until well into the messy wee hours, that all previously worn shirts were stained with Guinness and sweaty underarms.

This was truly an unanticipated, catastrophic disaster of career-limiting proportions, but despite the dire circumstances in which I now found myself, I took a couple of deep breaths, gulped down my rising panic and I resolved to make something of this.  “Hadn’t I spent the last twenty years working hard and building my reputational Resilience?”, I reasoned, “Sure I had.  I have what it takes to impress these people with my skills, Knowledge, Attitude and Practice”.  I impressed upon myself that these brilliant DRR practitioners weren’t interested in how I was dressed; they’d carved out their careers through the sweat and tears of responding to some of the most severe humanitarian disasters in recent history: working twenty hours a day for weeks at a time while living out of military-type barracks with limited water and supplies.  They knew what was important in this industry, and it wasn’t the cut of a man’s Armani trousers.  I was going to show them that I too was like them; Responsive in the face of a Disaster.  I grabbed what I could from the closet, and boldly headed for the auditorium.

The Inaugural Global Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is unlikely to be remembered for anything other than the Global Head of UNDRR, demonstrating the military precision upon which his reputation as a leader of international Disaster Responses was built, directing the Conference Facility Security personnel to chase down and brutally apprehend a scruffy, scab-faced maniac dressed only in a stained Singha Beer singlet, a pair of yellowing y-fronts and army boots, who had burst into the opening session of Day 5, shouting like a lunatic about Dyslexic Rock Renditions.

Attack of the Career-Limiting Tomatoes: Donkey comes a cropper to a pesky fruit at a Bangkok breakfast buffet.  Pic:


Ann ODyne said...

very amusing but I do not believe you would not have gone to mensroom and put red part under tap and then under handryer until it blew up with the drying effort. Failing that, every good hotel has a concierge who can locate a replacement shirt instantly.
Failing that, my MBA Unit# taught me to turn a disadvantage to an advantage: you could have drawn positive attention to yourself by using your incident as an example of Planning Failure, just as you described above, etc etc.

I had a magic career moment once (once) when a visiting bigwig from head office who had to address 80 staff, had ripped her pantyhose and was all grinkled over it. I was able to produce the mint-in-box spare from my desk drawer and she couldn't rave about me enough.

The lesson for donkeys in Bangkok is of course, always send the shirt from Day 1 to the laundry.
As for DRR, what a wank for all, justifying their existence. Being seen to be addressing the 'problem'. Life is a crapshoot. We are all hurtling through outer space clinging to a revolving ball of molten rock. there are no 'processes'.
Everyone with a brain in Victoria had a big lesson from the wildfire now known as Black Saturday. For an entire week beforehand, the BoM had warned of high wind and 47 degree heat. When the worst happened and swept all before it, there was absolutely nothing that could be done. people were rushing off into the smoke in their cars with no visibility and crashing into each other, the fire sucked all the oxygen out of the 'air'. the power goes off, the phones won't work, etc etc
What 'Plan' ?

Conferences are nice though.

Ann ODyne said...

PS I treasure a 3-column advert I clipped from The Australian a few years back and still have (somewhere), announcing that the keynote speaker at a Conference on Grief Management, would not be appearing after all, due to a death in the family.