an alternative definition to the word emergency

back in september, i listened to episode 18 of the human current, preparing for complexity in emergency management. the guest that episode was thomas appleyard who works in the emergency management branch of ontario’s ministry of health and long term care. two points struck me and i’ll discuss one today and another one some other time.

around 17 minutes into the episode, thomas dropped a definition of emergency that i’ve never heard before. he essentially said that an emergency is something that occurs that causes the margins of a system to become the focus of or actual center of that system. in virus epidemics and natural disasters, for example, individual people (carriers/those infected/suffering) or states of being (ex: those without power and water) become the biggest focus. and in the natural disaster situations, those who experience marginal conditions often expand. and then it becomes a much bigger focus of the system than in non-emergency moments to figure out how to fix the system.

i can’t remember exactly how they said it now, but there was also an interesting tie-in to the word emergency itself. like… the new order of a system that has experienced a shock is emerging which is where the term emergency came from… or something like that.

anyway, i can certainly that this definition about th emargins becoming the center not being useful in all contexts. but it is a really helpful reframe in terms of complexity. it definitely can inform a different sort of action and that, as emergencies become more common, might be even more useful to future problem-solving than our older, more conventional ways of looking at “emergencies.”

words / writing / post-processing
275w / 11min / 6min