Dear Future Employer…

If you or your HR rep is any good, you will be doing a social media background check on me and you will have found my blog, EMScholar. I’d like you to consider the blog a portfolio of my growth as an Emergency Manager and humanitarian. While the blog is professional in nature, I did not try to hide my personal beliefs because I don’t believe you can separate the personal from the professional and neither do you. During an interview, for instance, you are looking for a gut reaction which tells you if you like the person or not, whether they’ll be a good fit or not–not whether they’re good at their job.

So since I haven’t hidden my personal beliefs, you will notice that I have posted some religious-in-nature content. Perhaps this concerns you because you might work for a non-religious or even governmental entity and–if we were to be honest–the political strategies and comments of the “Religious Right” have made all religious people seem a little crazy. Or perhaps my religious content makes you nervous because you are religious too and you don’t know if I believe the same things you do. And–unfortunately–religious people are known for being passionately and aggressively against any idea which they oppose.

Let me assure you that, while I am religious, I will not treat you or your ideas poorly. I cannot avoid the fact that I am motivated–in part–by my religious upbringing. Like Jesus, I care about people and I want to work to alleviate suffering. Unlike Jesus, I am not here to proselytize. I will not treat homosexuals, Arab immigrants, atheists, scientists, or even you with disrespect. I will not try to change your mind, make you feel guilty, or act ‘holier-than-thou’. Instead, I will love people and work to protect their freedom to believe what they want. I will be curious about you and your perspective. I will work with you and be an eager participant in teams. I will work hard, be professional, be cheerful, eat good food, and drink good drink. I will be responsible for my mistakes, apologize, and do better next time. I will be a good citizen, a good daughter, wife, sister, and mom, and a good employee.

Unfortunately, I will also have integrity. I will act ethically. I will criticize poor quality programs, wasteful use of money, and corruption. I cannot be bribed. I will hold myself and you to be responsible to our constituents/clients, and I will be obnoxiously, stubbornly opposed to unethical activity.

If that sounds good to you, then I think we should get into business together.
Sincerely Yours,

Johanna N. Hanson


What Membranes and Pendulums Have in Common.

Finding balance

I briefly considered being a therapist in High School. I’m a good listener and fairly analytic, so it seemed like a good fit until my mom said, “Yes, but you’d have to keep your distance.” My mom knew that I have a lot of empathy and sometimes have trouble not getting emotionally involved in other people’s problems. (Just like she knew that my 6 y/o self would have a hard time putting animals to sleep if I grew up to be a veterinarian. Which I proclaimed was fine, because I’d bring all the animals to live with me. And she just nodded–bless her.)

Both of my parents are medical doctors, so I was familiar with the “shell” that doctors have to develop so they aren’t emotionally traumatized every time a patient dies. Like army commanders, they have to maintain some distance from their patients so that they can continue to do their work when bad things happen. As I began my Emergency Management studies, I assumed that I would have to develop a similar shell. I assumed that I would become cynical and jaded, like Dr. House on his eponymous show. But I don’t want to be that person. The whole reason I became an Emergency Manager was to help people and how can I continue to do my job well if I lose my humanity?


But this week, I noticed something else. Instead of developing a hard shell so that all the stories about child trafficking, suicide bombings, and Russian poverty don’t bother me, I’ve developed a permeable membrane. These stories still bother me a great deal. So, I take them in small doses. I follow world events thoughtfully–sometimes carefully avoiding a particular story while at other times purposefully following others. I monitor my emotional state frequently and when I feel stressed, I focus on happy things. When I feel robust, I check in with the world. (It never changes much.)

But in order to do this, I have to put aside the embarrassment and shame of not keeping close tabs on current events. I have to stop cringing every time someone gasps, “You didn’t hear about that?! Where have you been, under a rock?” I have to practice saying, “I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for that story.”–or perhaps something better. Something that conveys that I don’t consider world events entertaining. That I take human suffering seriously–that it impacts me. That in order to do my job, I have to let it impact me and that I have to protect myself from its impact. And that that dichotomy is a balancing act that seems more like wavering between two extremes rather than a perfect moderation.

As my mother told me once, “pendulums are balanced too”.

How do YOU manage your humanity in a world where bad things happen? Share below.

On Empowerment

I’ve been thinking lately about my role as a humanitarian and–separately (until now)–my status in society as a white female from America. As a white, upper-middle class American, I am incredibly rich (though I often forget that) and have incredible opportunity to achieve my potential. I am one of the privileged few who can do more than exist. I will be more than a subsistence farmer, or a minimum wage worker. My job will impact society. I have power–and more importantly–the ability to grow that power through education, experience, and careful financial investments.

Today, I head a sermon which struck a chord with me–a young professional on the verge of my career. Pastor John McLarty of the Green Lake Church in Seattle was speaking on the passage in John 13:1-17 where Jesus washes his disciples feet. (You can see the video below.) He makes the point that by washing his disciples feet, Jesus was subverting his disciples understanding of status. As Pastor John summarizes, Jesus was saying, “Pour your status into others and you will be happy.” Pour your status into others….. an interesting turn of phrase. Pastor John goes on to describe people like kings and church leaders who pour their energy into keeping their power. How their subject suffer when kings won’t share their power with others.

So what happens when you share your status? You empower others. You give them the agency you enjoy. You make the world a better place. That’s what a humanitarian should be. I think I–as a privileged, educated American–have the responsibility to wield my power carefully. I should share my status with those that have none. I will not be afraid that my power and status will evaporate and leave me destitute because I will remember that God promised to give me strength and joy in return. Perhaps then, something good will come from White Privilege.

(begin at 30:13. I suggest you watch the whole sermon (about 20 minutes) because he says more good stuff that I didn’t talk about here.)

Research Sunday: The Danger of Decentralizing for Minority Voices

Now that Finals are done (Woo hoo!!!), I’m turning my attention to my (ever so severely) neglected Research Assistantship duties. My PI (Private Investigator–my boss), is trying to argue that local science is a community resource and–as such–should be freed from the constraints of tenure and the other academic incentives.

Anyway, during my research, I came across a compelling tangent: when a government decentralized control over a forest, the high-powered groups benefited.

First, some background: Eleanor Ostrom is a nobel-prize winning economist who studied how communities protect–or not–communal resources (like forestries, fisheries, open grazing grounds, Congressional budgets…). Usually, individuals use up communal resources in an unsustainable fashion (over fishing, etc) She argues that, traditionally, we use two solutions to protect communal resources: the government limits access to the resource or private companies limit access. Either way, it’s an external limitation imposed on the people actually using the resource. The problem is, that since they’re outside, they don’t have accurate information and tend to make mistakes in administering the system. She argues that it works better when the users themselves enter into a communal contract to monitor use and limit consumption themselves.

And for the most part, it DOES work better. But later one of her students, Anderson, was studying two Bolivian cities who reorganized their corrupt handling of Forestry conservation. They both decentralized control of the forest to the users. In one town, it worked extremely well–violence ended, illegal cutting disappeared and new markets opened up. In the other town, decentralization made everything worse. One very powerful company was able to monopolize the negotiations and walked away with de facto control over the forests. They steamrolled all the other less powerful constituents which wasn’t possible (or at least as easy) when the government controlled the forests.

I am a firm believer in giving control to the people. Not just electoral power but administrative power too. I believe that people on the ground have better information, more timely information, and incentive to create a really good, fitting solution. And then when they DO find a solution that works, they generally are much more committed to upholding the solution because they have “bought in” to it. Furthermore, a multiplicity of perspectives generally generates a better solution than a homogenous perspective.

HOWEVER, there appears to be a problem with giving power away to the people. The problem is that more powerful groups can over-run less powerful groups. Groups who enjoy white-privilege for instance, may be able to create a system which perpetuates their privilege over minority voices. This is why we have institutions to help minorities get into school and into jobs. It’s the best way we’ve found to make sure their voices are protected. We limit one group’s influence to make sure they don’t take over the communal resources. To make sure the negotiation power of minority groups stays intact.

Still… I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way. Is there a more equitable way to negotiate over common resources? Or are we too human to allow it? Perhaps it require too much understanding and love for our fellow humans. Perhaps there isn’t enough incentive to overcome our naturally self-interested tendencies.

On the other hand, maybe we could find that incentive…..

Andersson says (in setting up his research parameters), “We assume that a governance system that manages to distribute capabilities and duties in such a way that perverse incentive and information problems at one level are offset to some extent by positive incentives and information capabilities for actors at other levels, will achieve better outcomes than either a highly centralized or fully decentralized system” (p. 73). In other words, what a President Wilson called “a community of power” rather than fully decentralizing the power.

Tell me what you think that would look like in the comments below!

PS: If you want to look up the articles, here are the citations:
Andersson, K. & Ostrom, E. (2008). Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective. Policy Sci.

Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action (Chapter 1). Cambridge University Press.

The Stress of Relocation

My husband and I moved across country a week before Thanksgiving and two weeks before Finals. Which is fine because we’re moving back home to the Pacific Northwest and nearer to our families. Knowing that our stuff was shipping separately and that it would take about a week to get to us, we carefully packed the car so that we’d have everything we’d need to campout in our new home for a while. I even (very cleverly, I thought) mailed a box full of toilet paper, sponges, soap, a wooden spoon, etc ahead of us. Basically, this Emergency Manager packed a deluxe evacuation bag.

But now our truck has been delayed by snow, so our stuff is two weeks late and even though I’m excited to be “home” it’s still a new city and I don’t have any favorite spots yet–which is to say: Relocation is STRESSFUL. I always knew people found evacuating from their homes and staying in shelters or temporary housing to be emotionally taxing, but I always thought that I–being of average intelligence and courage with better-than-average training–would be able to tough it out. (I mean, I’ve taken a Psychological First Aid class, for crying out loud. I know about grief and stress!) But living outside of your home (as opposed to camping) without your stuff is more difficult than just the everyday inconveniences of not having a trashcan, a microwave, or a book to read. It’s even more than the discomfort of sleeping on a cot, having no chairs, and only three pairs of underwear. Basically, it’s the tension of needing to get back to routine but not having your routine-making things. Wanting to sort your life by cleaning the house and not having a broom. It’s the waiting. The waiting is killing me.

I read an article about how you should practice with your evacuation bag at least once–just go out into the woods or a hotel with nothing but your go-bag– and see what stuff you forgot. In a way, that’s what this situation has forced me to do. To go out and test my stress management skills. To test my evacuation preparation skills. And let me to tell you–I forgot to pack comfort. The thing I miss most? (besides my clothes, that is, lol, jk) A small frame which has a handwritten “I love you” note from my Honey. When you make your go-bag, don’t leave love notes behind. You’ll want a bit of comfort on the road.