What went wrong in Benghazi, Libya? Testimony on Capitol Hill shows why employees have the best view of the problems any organization may face when it comes to disasters and emergencies. The Benghazi attacks illuminate the answers in a painfully clear way, managers need to listen to employees. The number of attacks on the Libyan posts prior to September 11th clearly indicated the normal security routines needed to be abandoned. Putting aside politics, employees have a greater stake because they risk the most. If the employees are competent then that is all the more reason why managers and owners should listen to their advice. The testimony on the Hill indicated that resources were not the problem, but it was how the resource request would be filled was the issue. Timing was an important factor. The employees wanted a certain type of resource (a better armed response resource) and wanted to keep that resource for a longer period. Managers didn’t agree.
The issue to me, at the heart of the matter, was understanding the resource request and filling it in a timely manner. As a manager of emergency response resources I found that contradicting emergency responders being exposed to danger always ends in a bad outcome for the manager. If you can’t fill the request it is my opinion that you shouldn’t subject people to the hostile environment. If you don’t have the capability and the resources then you can’t respond effectively, period. The outcome is going to be bad. Yes people will respond valiantly and bravely under the circumstances. Yes they know what the risks are when they take the assignment. Yes resources are in high demand and low supply. Choices have to be made. Pull out when resources can’t be supplied. Employees will always resist pulling out because they have a passion for what they do. I have ordered people out of burning buildings and they never want to leave.
Withdrawing is not an option because it somehow denotes failure in our culture. Pulling out is never celebrated. We need to abandon such faulty concepts and commit to being successful another day sometimes. We need to be risk evaluators and not uneducated risk takers. Disasters are defined as emergencies that overwhelm the resources of those who are charged with handling the emergency. The world has changed and our policies need to catch up with those changes. Weather patterns are higher in intensity, chemicals are more poisonous and dangers have increased in complexity. When employees make requests and you fail to deliver them, when it hits the fan managers only come up smelling foul. Employees will always be the heroes. Don’t try to defend an indefensible position. Don’t blame the victim. The hazards were well-known and the resources were in question in Benghazi. Always fall back and protect people’s lives. I can’t remember a time when people lost their lives and everything that could have been was done to prevent the loss. If you want the responsibility but not the blame, act responsibly by putting life safety at the top of your priorities. In an emergency situation there are no other priorities higher than life safety. When in doubt get your people out. You can explain policies and procedures but you can never explain deaths.