The term “first responders,” always in our vocabulary, became indelible to us after the tragedies of 9-11. The 24-7 media coverage of trauma and recovery gave us constant images of EMS, fire, police and others who spring to our service when we’re most in need. They’re trained to risk their lives so that we can regain ours. As you read this, our “first responders” are playing a huge role in serving the monumental challenges of restoring order, health and safety to thousands of East Coast citizens and families. Their community heroism reminds me of the necessity for more of us to rise to our occasion. We can all be “First Responders” to the many challenges of rebuilding our institutions. Come join me to consider.
Be Careful For What You Wish
Austin’s a tough place to govern, and no senior leadership serve without controversy. But Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo did a great job under fire, thought he was ready for a larger challenge, and answered the call to be Houston’s Chief of Police. His ceremonial welcoming grace period had barely begun when Hurricane Harvey knocked him and many others off their pedestals. The Federal and State politicos rushed in for the requisite “we’re here to help” pontificating and photo ops, then quickly left town. Acevedo, other officials and numerous non-profits were left to clean up the mess. One year out, there’s still much to be done, far less Federal and State help than Abbott and Trump promised, but many local heroes have emerged, one standout being my friend Chief Acevedo. He rose to his occasion. His challenge, and that of so many current storm victims got me to thinking of long-term community needs and the potential roles of our friends in the mirror.
Expanding Our Appreciation/Understanding of Emergency and Response
It’s easy to imagine community responses to short-term emergencies, such as major fires, disruptive weather events, etc. We can anticipate their possibility, have “first responders” trained and ready to provide timely response. It’s fairly easy to assess financial and resource costs for these events, and we can reserve or respond as appropriate. Imprecise, but based on precedent. I think we’ve got larger-scale emergencies that could benefit from considerably larger “first responder” attention. We’ve got lots of choices to make, actions to take. Read on and see what you think.
Expanding Our Definition of Crumbling Infrastructure
Our community infrastructure consists of much more than just our roads and bridges. A healthy community rests on a strong foundation of education, economic opportunity, environmental integrity, healthcare, physical infrastructure, public safety, social justice, effective regulation, transportation and a vibrant cultural life. Responsive government, business leadership, strong faith-based organizations and diverse non-profits round out a dynamic and thriving community. These community components and institutions will be as strong as the community leaders and volunteers who steward them. That’s where we come in…as committed “First Responders.”
We’ve seen through considerable political rhetoric and practical experience that there is tremendous neglect relative to much of our community infrastructure. In most of our communities, large and small. A BIPARTISAN CONGRESS over several administrations has concentrated on reelection and special-interest funding, while neglecting effective, responsive governance. Thus, the need for an expanded cadre of permanent “first responders’ to strengthen the extensive community infrastructures that promote healthy living.
So, How Do We Become “Community First Responders?”
First, a personal reality check. “First Responders” are more than casual volunteers, but you’ve got to choose your personal priorities and allocate your time accordingly. You can’t be expected to put “first responder” intensity into every affiliation. I’m just suggesting that you consider the issues and organizations for which you have the most passion, and commit to raise your game on their behalf. With time, talent and resources. For example:
—Our Public Schools…Could they use technology updates?…Teacher/Principal leadership workshops…Teacher resource funds…Eye checks/glasses funds…Arts enrichment assistance…underwrite constructive field trips…, etc., etc.
—Faith-Based Organizations…review and assess effectiveness of community outreach programs…make them relevant to community needs…consider diversity and social justice…
—Non-Profit Affiliations…consider your non-profit associations, review your commitment to their missions, prioritize and allocate your time accordingly. Determine to make a difference in your community service.
—Responsive Governance…run for political office if you’re so inclined, or at least support other good candidates…serve on community boards and commissions…commit to support your appointed and elected officials while they’re in office…
A MOSEY “FIRST RESPONDER” CLOSE
We hear, read and see the “noise” from Washington, D.C., but most of the influences that affect our daily lives emanate locally…from our School Boards, County Commissioners, Town Councils, Non-Profits and Legislative representatives. That’s where we need to focus most of our time, while spending a little time and money to get better help in Washington.
Choosing to be selective “First Responders” will help us focus our energies where we can truly make a difference. It’s a mindset as well as a practice. Where we can honestly answer a question that needs to be frequently asked of organizations as well as volunteers, “Are we EFFECTIVE, or just busy?” We’ve got choices. Let’s all be “First Responders.”