What Super Bowl 50 Taught Me

I sat down the other day with a stack of sticky notes (all adventures begin this way, in my opinion) and began to mad dash write the things I’d learned from Super Bowl 50.

For the past six months, SFDEM has sprinted towards Super Bowl 50 like it was a game winning touchdown. We breathed football in a way no one but a host city breathes football. We exercised, discussed and refined processes. We built new tools. And when the attacks in Paris happened we watched with the world and immediately began discussing hypotheticals and what we could do about it ahead of time. This is the crazy thing about emergency management - when things go wrong you stand in awe and then you hyper-analyze all of the details.

We worked with people we’d always worked with (they are amazing!) and people we’d never met before (also amazing, and sad to see them go!). We developed great regional relationships because the layout of the event (party your ass off in San Francisco, cheer your head off in Santa Clara) necessitated it. It never fails to astound me at how coordination actually works, how much partners really matter and how often they are under appreciated.

But that’s all pre, pre-event. Those things all existed before the preverbal kick-off. By the time the NFL came to town all those things had become routine. What really impacts you is the last minute prep. The double-knotting of the shoe laces, the stocking up of the gatorade (do they still drink gatorade?), and the painting of the lines. Super Bowls are not just one Sunday in February.

We staffed our Operations Center for a ten-day, 16 hours+ (on average) activation to protect the people and place we call home. Here’s the thing, when you personally design the shift and team schedule for ten days of utter fun in the Operations Center you sort of stress, make that obsess, about things like parking, food, technology and sick call-in procedures (pro tip: do not forget the hand sanitizer and bleach wipes).

So in no particular order, here are the emergency management things that stuck with me:

  • Checklists and style guides matter - because when people change shifts, the second Situation Report should read exactly like the first. Details change, voice, tone and layout do not.
  • Food - it will make or break your activation. Too much pizza and not enough coffee means you're screwed. What one person thinks is healthy isn't healthy for all. So providing options, while difficult, is important.
  • Overhead lighting at o'dark thirty is hard on your eyes. EOCs need dimmer switches.
  • Along those lines - standing desks, or the ability to move desks up and down, would be ideal in an EOC.
  • Being an EOC manager is a social job. It's a morale officer of the first kind. If you're not feeling social, you shouldn't be in that role.
  • Hand sanitizer and bleach wipes, you won't regret it.
  • Check-in - People can do it by themselves if they have to. Everyone sees the sign in sheet and knows exactly what to do. A vest can be handed out by the Chief inside the EOC if it comes to it. Trust me when I say, EOC staff would rather have fresh coffee than someone helping them find their name on a sign in sheet.
  • It doesn't matter what your title is - if someone asks you to do it and it's within your power and scope, do it. If you see something that needs to be done, don't ignore it, find someone to help or do it yourself. EOC Managers can make coffee, find IT and issue a parking permit!

Work is work, but it only works if you're at the top of your game. What I learned from Super Bowl 50 is how vital it is to take care of me on a very personal level. I'm better at my job and my life if I'm taking care of myself.

When it comes to maintaining my own center - here's what I've learned:

  • Routine matters - for all parts of my personal life, a schedule matters. On a normal day, you can set your watch by my routine. When I started working crazy hours, my routine was thrown out on its ear. By day four, I realized I needed a new routine double quick in order to feel on top of things.
  • Meditation - it was my personal life saver. Nothing extreme, just some deep breathing and visualization every day.
  • Food - one more word about food - if you feel best eating certain foods (I'm a fan of Paleo), dear God, this is not the time to stop that routine. It is difficult to eat clean while on activation (I definitely struggled), but when you're the only one not dragging at the end of the shift, it's totally worth it.
  • Movement - I walk every day (thank you San Francisco!), but when you go to work as the sun is setting it's tough to get the movement into the schedule. Resist the urge to sit in the chair. Walk the halls, run the stairs, find a treadmill - do what it takes to keep moving.
  • Family - it doesn't work unless they understand the nature of activation. It is irregular, it is difficult and it can be consuming. It can change you, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. An activation requires concentration and flexibility - your family supports you. Make sure they know what they are getting in to.

Having the deadline and knowing much of the world was watching pushed us a staff and as individuals. Am I glad it’s over? One hundred percent yes. Would I do it again? Ask me in a few years - say seven? Oh - one more thing… Go Broncos!