From Rags to Riches

Not exactly rags to riches: but from risks to resources. Let’s try and manage communities – villages, towns, cities – by connecting dots, or as we also say, networking. Communities have departments, experienced people, and resources at their disposal – we know this – but how on earth is it all connected? How many of us really know? How many of us really care or would want to know? Some call it “Civics” like math or history, dry and fraught with mines everywhere you step.

I’m going to outline a process by which at least a piece of local government can function in a way that makes sense, and is also explainable in a way that makes sense. Here’s how it goes.

As stated, every local government has departments, experienced people, and resources at their disposal. Connecting the dots or networking brings us to committees. Oh, the committees. How many of you have attended local government committee meetings? How many know which ones do what? The question is, how do all these things – committees, resources, and local citizens – talk to each other? How are they networked so they can function?

Without functioning networks, without a useful flow of information, any system must rely on a person doing the right thing at the right time, often.

But it’s not that bad. We have policies and procedures to guide the way: let’s just look it up in the manual and do the right thing. That’s fair. But policies and procedures are usually not that flexible: it takes time and effort to adjust a policy to meet a new set of circumstances – one that pops up out of nowhere. That’s okay too: We want to be open to citizen feedback and official deliberation, to help assure we are doing it right. Right? And all this takes time. Right.

But as they learned in Texas (the hard way), wind turbines need to have the appropriate built-in systems for extreme weather in order to avoid seized rotor blades.  By now, those that manage such things have realized this and presumably will respond appropriately. But here’s the question: Was someone, somewhere, aware of this vulnerability prior to this winter? Were turbine failures avoidable? I’m going to avoid answering this, but instead offer a solution going forward: Effective networking of risk management and resource providers can provide the oversight necessary to avoid such harmful events. Here’s how it can work.

Standard risk management, if practiced by local, state, or community government, can identify an issue as posing a relatively high level of risk and take action. How a risk management committee is alerted to a potential issue – like freezing wind turbines – can come from any number of directions, including individuals, groups, and organizations.

How this information travels to a risk management committee is a result of networking. What, exactly, this network connects, and who does the connecting is the critical part. Critical information can come from anywhere, but established sources can always be found – often from nonprofit organizations. These sources represent a valuable knowledge base. And the established experts in information management is the local public library, specifically the reference librarian position.

In the Texas wind turbine situation, what could have happened is the following: A nonprofit, focused on environmental issues or energy, passes on its concern regarding the impact of extreme hot and cold weather on the ability to provide natural gas, wind, and solar. A network response would include notifying the community risk management group of the nonprofit’s concerns. A risk assessment can then determine the degree of significant harm that can be caused by extreme weather, and recommend remedial steps to be taken to avoid a failure of supply.

This model requires a change in information management to include a community risk management group, and a library community network.