Imagine the worst disaster happening to you…the worst day of your personal and work life. What happens the very next day as life goes on? Life is a condition of constant and continuous transition. In the blog below, I attempt to paint a visual picture of what actually is needed to return to a state of normalcy or a new normal as quickly as possible after a disaster.  For this to happen it cannot be a singular story. Based on needs, it has to be a unique and compelling story of blended authentic partnerships and resources that extend into the universe. Fundamentally, the question for each of us is: Will you be prepared when disaster turns our lives upside down? “When the Triangle Flips,” will you be ready?

The title of this article intentionally begs the questions…what do you mean when the triangle flips…and more specifically, what is the triangle?  These are great questions and in order to understand what is meant when the triangle flips, one first has to understand what the triangle is (see blog “The Triangle of Engagement for Success”). The upright and inverted triangles are a conceptual way to look at and understand the nature and character of Disaster Rapid Response in developing strategies, and hopefully, subsequently, as input for a comprehensive disaster state plan as mandated by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

As a Rapid Response Coordinator, after conducting regional Rapid Response for nearly ten years in southeastern/eastern Virginia (SEVA), I attended a national Rapid Response event called Sync Up! A Rapid Response/Business Engagement Forum, in Boston, Massachusetts, April 23-24, 2015. On a particular PowerPoint slide presentation about Disaster Rapid Response, it stated words to the effect that…any viable state Disaster Rapid Response plan will have included regional and local emergency management involvement as an integral part of your Disaster Rapid Response Team. I kept this slide in the back of my mind.  The following year, April 19-20, 2016, I attended a Rapid Response event called “Responding Rapidly” – A Rapid Response Summit, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There was a Disaster Rapid Response presentation by Kevin Snyder, the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Region Three. In this session, there were only four people in the room. One of them was Michael Toops, Federal Project Officer, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.  In my mind, the poor attendance underscored, accentuated, and foreshadowed the lack of consideration, importance, urgency, and intentionality over the years, given to disaster planning by Rapid Response Coordinators within the workforce system. And, this included me. I asked Michael Toops, whom I have known for years, if he could give a general indication of what a disaster plan in Rapid Response should look like. He replied words to the effect…that there was no specific model, and it is left up to states to be creative and innovative in deciding what a comprehensive Rapid Response Disaster plan or policy should look like.

After the session, I started to think deeply and introspectively of the best way to conceptualize an approach to regional Disaster Rapid Response. What is the reality? In other words, what does it look like and what actually happens to real people, in real life, in real disaster situations, when life gets in the way, such as fires, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, terrorism, and tornadoes to name some. And, what is the best way to visualize, conceptualize and demonstrate these real life scenarios, and how those impacted might return to a new normalcy after a disaster? I realize the best way to do it is to parlay, compare, and contrast the path of an impacted dislocated worker, those workers or employees impacted by a disaster situation losing their jobs or impacted work situations due to no fault of their own, before the disaster, and then construct a conceptual path to new normalcies after the disaster, knowing that their lives will never be the same. I quickly realized that I had already done this; I just needed to flip or invert the triangle (provided below).

In 2016, keeping in mind the guidance to include the emergency managers as an integral part of any disaster plan, I decided to focus on Disaster Rapid Response as one of my required quarterly summits. In August 2016, I contacted Kevin Snyder (previously mentioned) who put me in touch with Bruce Sterling, Region Five Coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).  With his assistance, and that of Tammy Williams, SEVA Rapid Response Administrative Assistant and Program Specialist, we planned a summit on disaster communication. Subsequently, on November 16, 2016 SEVA Rapid Response hosted and conducted the first summit with a focused group of emergency managers and workforce system partners on awareness and familiarization, called Disaster Communication Strategic Planning.  The purpose was to let those in the workforce system know what emergency managers do and the actions taken when responding to disasters and vice versa. Subsequently, on March 28, 2017, I provided a presentation to the All Hazards Advisory Committee, in Chesapeake, Virginia.  From this summit and meeting, as a regional Rapid Response Team, hopefully, when required and directed,  we could collectively develop strategies as input into a state plan based on the three phases of emergency management during a disaster, according to Bruce Sterling. They are: planning, the disaster event, and recovery – rebuilding and repairing.

In both the meeting and the summit presentations, I used a PowerPoint presentation and explained the diagram “Triangle of Engagement for Success” and what happens when this triangle flips and becomes the “Disaster Triangle of Engagement and Recovery for Success” (provided below). Within the “Triangle of Engagement for Success” concept, the impacted dislocated worker is centered within the context of the triangle; traversing the ladder, supported by engaged workforce systems and needed as viable talent and human capital by the businesses/employer see “The Triangle of Engagement for Success,” September 2017. When the triangle flips, under the “Disaster Triangle of Engagement and Recovery for Success,” both the business/employer and the impacted dislocated worker are centered within the context of the triangle as one need-based entity, inextricably linked; traversing the ladder, supported in tandem and in parallel by engaged emergency managers and engaged workforce system partners.

The Disaster Triangle of Engagement and Recovery for System Success

When the Triangle of Engagement and Success Flips

Now that you have the backdrop for a return to normalcy as quickly as possible and for continued upward mobility and self-actualization by the dislocated worker under normal circumstances in Triangle Engagement then, what happens when the “Triangle of Engagement for Success” flips or inverts because of a disaster and the job is lost due to a disaster? And, with the flipping of this triangle during the disaster event there is no time for expectation planning.  Any contingency planning needed to or should have already been done…group discussed, well-thought-out, and prepared for if we have time for the disaster, such as a hurricane, we are now in the preparation for the disaster and execution of the recovery and rebuilding phases (not short term events).

The engagement triangle can flip instantaneously. Consider the following scenario, of which,  I used in the Disaster Communication Summit in November 2016 and the All Hazards Advisory Committee Meeting in March 2017, a scenario that I was able to conceptualize and visualize, after personally being impacted by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

A Plausible Scenario: You have a master’s degree and a good job.  On Friday…you go home after work. On Friday you say to yourself, ‘I love my job, my house, my neighborhood, and all that I have accomplished and the material goods I have attained.’  On Sunday, you endure a category 5 hurricane with catastrophic winds and flooding. Your home and vehicles are fully submerged in 10 feet of water. You have lost everything, all of your material possessions. You have no electrical power, water, food, heat, money or means to attain money, and no transportation. You and your family are distraught both mentally and physically. Your place of work is destroyed; it has been swept away. The entire neighborhood where you live is flooded. There is a declaration of disaster by your Governor for your area.

Basic Safety, Security, and Supportive Needs

Again, what happens when the triangle of engagement flips, when life gets in the way? In the recovery phase or after a disaster (catastrophic fire, flooding, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption), I can assure you based on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that during this hurricane disaster event just described the impacted dislocated worker’s mindset and priorities have summarily changed or flipped. There is no concern about the highest educational degree attained, how much money one has, can earn, their status in life, title attained in life, house size, or how many assets are in their possession; these things have a very low focus and priority.  Your work career has taken an instantaneous precipitous fall and it can happen to any of us at any time with no warning or very little preparation.

What impacted dislocated workers are concerned about with a high focus and priority in this scenario are their basic safety, security, physiological, psychological and human supportive needs are addressed by organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Social Services, FEMA management, and homeless storm shelters etc., are met as soon as possible. And again, the accomplishment and completion of these basic and supportive needs have a very, very high priority for the impacted dislocated worker and his family.  At this time, these are the only things that are important to them. The impacted dislocated worker could care less about improvement, self-actualization, or upward mobility. What is important is how do I collectively eat, stay safe, dry, and cool or warm. This is the number one focus and priority.

Asset Protection, Rebuilding, Repairing

Once basic safety and security needs have been met it provides the opportunity in time and space for the impacted business/employer and dislocated worker to focus, reset, and pivot towards the assessment of damage to their business or personal and real estate property and to recover as much of that personal property and assets as possible. In most cases, they may have to repair or rebuild their businesses, houses and lives, so, this may not be a short-term evolution.  If the business/employer has to rebuild or repair, this may directly affect the impacted dislocated worker’s decision-making process.

Income Maintenance, Return to Work, Employer/Business Needs Requirements

If impacted dislocated worker employees can return to their original employment, then this is the best possible situation, because if they are not working, then they are not generating income. If the dislocated worker cannot return to work, then to ameliorate this is where the employment commission with disaster unemployment assistance (DUA) insurance and FEMA management programs (short term low interest loans) play critical and vital roles in assisting with income maintenance, asset protection, and rebuilding. Time is a precious commodity. Every day that goes by that dislocated workers are not working and making money, they are depleting their wealth or having to sell their assets in order to survive and meet basic safety and security needs and they are not contributing to the economic engine that funds America. Or, it could be the case that the impacted businesses/employers or dislocated workers are completely wiped out…no assets or real property and no place to work or to generate income. Employment commissions and one stop centers play a critical and vital role in rapid reemployment strategies such as required training, job search strategy training, conducting hiring events, and job matching for successful job marriages to get impacted dislocated workers back to work as quickly as possible. The disaster triangle (above) is malleable, interchangeable and customizable for both the impacted employer and/or the employee, operating singularly or inextricably within the workforce system.

Career Pathways In-Demand Deficit Training

If the dislocated worker’s place of work has be completely destroyed, then, supportive need-based feeders such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, homeless shelters, and Social Services in tandem or in parallel with training feeders such as local one stop centers, colleges or universities, community colleges, trade schools, and proprietary schools may be required to certify, recertify, train, retrain, skill or up-skill impacted dislocated workers with short-term  (six months or less) deficit focused, in-demand training to meet the needs and qualifications of the impending employer for a successful job marriage and getting the impacted dislocated worker back to work as quickly as possible.

Return to a New Normalcy

After enduring a catastrophic disaster, impacted businesses/employers and dislocated workers in the majority of cases lives, will never be the same in the most uneventful, but no less salient and important ways.  Eventually, there will be a return to new state of normalcy as described in the fashion and method previously in upright triangle engagement. And this return to a new state of normalcy may not be rapid; it may be a long-term event and consequences. Once in this state of new normalcy the impacted business can focus on improvement and/or expansion and the impacted dislocated worker may again focus on continued upward mobility, self-improvement, and self-actualization and to this end, lifelong learning and lifelong engagement are still expressly germane with a high focus and priority in the rebuilding of lives.


With the intensification of hurricane activity in the past, including Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and most recently, the catastrophic outcomes of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria or unpredictable tornadic and earthquake activity, wholly demonstrates the expressed need for a viable effective and efficient contingency Rapid Response Disaster policy or plan to assist in recovering and rebuilding lives once they have been instantaneously decimated. Recovery may not be a short-term event, especially when those impacted have lost everything, require basic human, safety and security needs to subsist, and have no ability to generate income. This is why it is fundamentally important for states to engage businesses/employers, emergency managers, and workforce system agency partners to develop an all-inclusive, well thought out, comprehensive Disaster and Recovery plan or policy. This plan specifically and expressly considers the nuances of each region, so that when the “Triangle of Engagement and Success” flips to the “Disaster Triangle of Engagement and Recovery for Success,” all concern and relevant partners will be prepared, will understand, and know what is required for the employer/business and the impacted dislocated worker to recover and return to a new state of normalcy as quickly as possible.

To have no plan wastes valuable time, when time is a precious commodity; further, it depletes, diminishes, or wipes out wealth, resources, and assets of both the employer/business and the dislocated worker. Potentially, it places needless and unbearable financial burdens on state and federal emergency managers and fiscal resources. And, it could be an undeniable participant in the unintentional disconnection of those impacted, ultimately affecting the economic engine that supports and funds impacted states, and ultimately America.

By Curtis D. Wray

* Curtis D. Wray has conducted Rapid Response Services in Southeast / Eastern Virginia for 11 years