Left of X – Reprise

By Guy Higgins

At a recent meeting of the Colorado Preparedness Advisory Council, I mentioned that I had posted on “Left of X.” The council chairwoman observed that, “We call than left of boom.” Well, that got me to thinking. It really isn’t left of boom.

X is when something “starts” that will result in boom (that would be bad things happening). There is an interval between X and boom – and that interval needs to be considered. In my original post on Left of X, I emphasized the importance of being prepared and able to act before the archer shoots the arrow (Left of X), but I also mentioned that it remains important to be able to “shoot the arrow.” That’s right of X but left of boom. Granted, there may not be too much time between the two.

This means that while I need to continue to build and maintain situational awareness (SA) so that I can act before the initiation of an event that leads to “boom,” I also need to be ready to act if (and when) that SA is imperfect and I miss the opportunity to “head trouble off at the pass” (act left of X).

Okay, I hear, “but we’re in business. We’re not going to have to actually ‘shoot the arrow.’ We don’t have to worry about that interval between X and boom.” I think that thinking is a tad bit shallow.

Sandy Hook was prepared to “head trouble off at the pass.” The school’s outside doors were locked and visitors needed to be “buzzed in” by the receptionist. No one expected an intruder to shoot out the floor-to-ceiling glass windows next to the door and enter. At that point, the archer had shot the arrow and Sandy Hook staff and faculty had to “shoot the arrow.” Unfortunately, no one had prepared them for that catastrophic scenario. I am not criticizing the staff and faculty of Sandy Hook – it’s unlikely that, given the larger political and social context they were in, they could have done much more than they did – and it is very important to recognize that most of the students did survive an absolutely horrendous event thanks to that staff and faculty.

Similarly, the City of New Orleans was well prepared to act (and get out of the way of the “arrow”) before Hurricane Katrina hit, but they were not prepared for a significant fraction of the population that declined to dodge. Neither the state nor the federal government was prepared for that eventuality. All of the initial response was ad hoc and made enormously more difficult by the absence of effective action between the time the inevitability of the hurricane hitting New Orleans head on became certain and the time that it actually compelled cessation of any action in the city. No one was ready to act between X and Boom.

Whether it’s an active shooter or a natural disaster or a communicable illness, we need to be prepared to act as early in the event timeline as possible, but we also need to be ready to act when the only response possible is to “shoot the arrow.” The time between X and Boom will always be short, but it can be valuable beyond price – but only if we’re ready for it.

As a final “sea story.” During the Iran – Iraq war, a U.S. Navy frigate was patrolling in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. was neutral in the conflict and so, while maintaining situational awareness, wasn’t completely prepared for attacks on U.S. forces. An Iraqi fighter jet launched an Exocet anti-ship missile at the frigate. The CIWS (Close In Weapon System – pronounced Cee Whiz – sort of like Cheese Whiz) was in standby and not active. The Exocet worked as advertised, homing directly in on the frigate. The CIWS (a 30mm Gatling gun) should have been easily capable of killing the Exocet 1000 yards or more away from the ship, but – the ship wasn’t ready to shoot the arrow and boom did happen.

As leaders, we must be prepared to act before the start of an event so that we can mitigate or even avoid the “boom” with little energy or disruption, but we also have to be prepared to shoot the arrow. We owe our people nothing less.

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