We all play for Oregon

I served 40 days as part of the state’s response to COVID-19. Thirty-one of those days were as Deputy Media Public Information Officer in the Joint Information Center in Salem. My job was to lead a team of staff to respond to the 20 to 40 emails and calls we’d receive from the media every day. During this time, I learned innumerable things about communication, patience, dedication, compassion, service and friendship. But, for the sake of this blog, I’d like to share three.

1. We all play for Oregon.

As fellow children of the 90’s may recall, in the movie Miracle, the U.S. hockey coach has his players practice sprint after sprint, while asking them: who do you play for? Each responds with his home team. When a player finally answers, “The United States of America,” the skating sprints are allowed to stop. (Watch the clip here.)

Everyone at the JIC plays for Oregon. The photo at the top of this post is one of my favorites. It’s the wall of agency logos we printed out for every person who served in the JIC. There are 14 agencies on that wall, but serving in the JIC is an act of collective effort. People served in roles they had never filled, for bosses they didn’t know, in a work place they had never entered. It only works when we all play for Oregon.

2. Come with solutions.

There will never be enough time during an emergency. The people who are truly helping are the ones who, when they see something not working well, offer a solution. Without presumption, without ego – they offer help. And, when the leaders are listening, they will see that offer for help and give people the power to make the changes that are necessary.

It happens quick. A fully new process can be in place the following day based on a sensible suggestion. And you’ll be in charge of it. While you have to get approval from the people above you in the organizational chart, they don’t have the time to do it themselves. You’re trusted to have the ideas and know how to implement them.

3. Leadership at all levels.

In emergency response there is a concept called “span of control.” Essentially, it says each person can handle being in charge of five people. Once you get over five, you may need to figure out how to break up the structure so that fewer people report directly to you. I was surprised how accurate this is – more than five people regularly calling your name is pretty much the tipping point. That does mean that, in a response that includes hundreds of people, one in six is in charge of someone.

What is truly called for is leadership no matter your position. No one can know everything in a response, but each person can take it upon themselves to ensure that what they know is communicated to the right people at the right time. People in the JIC demonstrated everyday leadership through long hours, collaboration, trust, compassion and hard, hard, hard work. I’m grateful to every person I met.

Other DEQ communications staff who served this event include Jennifer Flynt, Harry Esteve, Susan Mills, Nina DeConcini, Laura Gleim, Dylan Darling, and Tim Wollerman.

– Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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