The Use of Acronyms in Emergency Management

When teaching ICS, I always get a good chuckle (out of myself and my audience) by the “plain language” slide. This is the slide that tells us that when we use ICS, we should always speak in plain language and avoid the use of acronyms and codes. I like to take a quick pause at this slide to point out the irony of the slide itself containing two acronyms: “ICS” itself and, in the footer, “FEMA.” Everyone laughs a little bit, probably not because I’m so funny, but because avoiding acronyms in emergency management is pretty much impossible.

Acronyms are so ubiquitous that even emergency managers have a hard time keeping up with them. It’s always entertaining to watch acronyms get thrown around in a group, with half the people not knowing what the acronym stands for but not wanting to admit it, because everyone else seems to know.  I’m guilty of that when I try to decipher an RFP with dozens of unfamiliar acronyms. Should I ask what they are and risk making the client think I’m out of the loop, or Google for it and perhaps choose the wrong option from the dozens revealed by the Internet?

Then there’s the matter of pronouncing the fancy ones that make their own words, like “THIRA” (Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment – shouldn’t that actually be TAHIARA?): is it “thee-rah,” like any good English major would tell you, or “thigh-rah” as most government people would say? Yes, I say “thee-rah” because I am an English major as well as an emergency manager.

In my last post, I discussed CONOPS – or, what used to be CONOPS, the “continuity of operations.” CONOPS, CONOPs, or ConOps, it’s also been referred to. I was a little taken aback to discover that CONOPS now means “continuity of operations.” I guess we are not saying “COOP” anymore for “continuity of operations,” which is a shame since I liked that one, even if it was an awkward acronym formed with the first two letters of each relevant word (or, possibly, the first letter of each of the first two words and the first two letters of the last word).

Does anyone know the status of COG? You know, Continuity of Government. Or should that be COGO, or COOG, based on what we know of the origins of the COOP acronym. Actually, given what happened to COOP, I guess we’re looking at CONGOV now. I Googled for that and got a news result about a politician who is an ex-convict. Figures…

Acronyms are both here to stay and a bane on our existence as emergency managers. I sure hope that someday an effective response to a disaster is not based on accurate interpretation of a bunch of acronyms. Though, I do believe that TAHIARA is a beautiful name and is probably up for grabs for enterprising emergency managers who want to bestow their offspring with a moniker reflecting their chosen field.


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