Show Notes: Corporate Intel to Emergency Management with Nick Allen | Episode #10


In this episode I was joined by Nick Allen, a specialist in Environmental Safety and Emergency Management — specifically in the healthcare space. Prior to his current role, he spent the last few years supporting organizations as an intelligence analyst, and he also earned his masters in Public Health, Biosecurity, and Disaster Preparedness. Nick touched on a number of interesting topics such as transferable skills in moving from corporate intel to emergency management, the importance of people skills in healthcare, and much more.

Big Ideas from This Episode

  1. You have to be ready to serve your community / clients on their absolute worst days and operate within complex environments (such as a healthcare setting).

  2. Embrace change! Working in the healthcare industry requires adaptability because regulations and standards are always changing.

  3. Advice for aspiring practitioners:

    – Be multi-disciplinary
    – Acquire broad skills … think about the “multiplying skills
    – Be a life-long learner

  4. The key to a response entity such as those in emergency management is to understand…

    (a) what was supposed to happen
    (b) what did happen
    (c) what caused the gap between the two
    (d) then follow up with what went really well, what didn’t go well, and how we can do better next time

  5. What’s great about having a background as an intel analyst, is that it provided Nick with several specific skills that help him in emergency management:

    – Having a framework for collecting info, analyzing it, and prioritizing risks
    – Understanding how to engage varied stakeholders
    – Knowing how to tactfully convey information about the organization’s deficiencies

  6. Learn as much as you can from case studies that directly relate to the type of work you’re performing. Consider doing a rigorous analysis of what events transpired, the timeline that took place, what were the gaps in security / resiliency, and what capabilities did the adversary / hazard present?


Group Dynamics by Forsyth

Use CONTROL + F to search the transcript below if you want to learn more!

Transcript from this episode (#10)

*Note: this transcript was generated using automated software, and my not be a perfect transcription. But I hope you find it useful.

Travis  0:00  
Nick, I've been looking forward to you joining the podcast for some time now, you're among some of my favorite people to chat with in our industry because like me, you've worked in corporate Intel for years. And then now you're branching out into other subfields, which I can totally relate to personally in my own career. So welcome to the show. And thank you very much for joining me.

Nick  1:23  
Thank you for having me.

Travis  1:24  
One question that I like to start out with just so listeners can have like a better understanding of where you're coming from and how you look at security and risk. I wanted to pose this hypothetical to you. So suppose you have a magic wand, and it gives you the power to change any one thing about the security risk industry? What would you change? Is there anything that comes to mind for you,

Nick  1:49  
you know, I'd probably look at changing how we approach getting buy in from executives, right, and how we look at developing any decision developing a basis for any decision we make. So you want your presentations to stand out, you want to be able to back any kind of recommendations you have with hard data, you know, solid qualitative analysis, and be able to present that in a engaging way. It's something I've found that's always been very beneficial mountain career is being able to, you know, give that five second elevator pitch to a CEO or any C suite executive, here's the data, here's what you need to know and make it look visually appealing and impactful to the point where it stands out at the end of the day one say go home, you know, they go eat dinner with their kids or wife, whatever. And they are thinking about all those toy presentations. I want mine to stand up.

Travis  2:48  
Yeah, that's a great point. And that totally ties in with the most recent episode I did with Gareth who's global Intel manager, because one of the things that he mentioned was he talked about how important aesthetics were when it came to reporting and presenting information. Because he's seen a lot of examples where just the aesthetics alone have a great amount of influence over how the end consumer in takes their information or just goes off into lala land and just does they're texting or they're emailing or they're slacking during the presentation. So I do I love that point. And that's one that connects with a lot of us.

Nick  3:25  
Absolutely. I mean, you know, that end goal is it's hard to get funding when you're in a protective industry, right, no matter what is difficult to get by and difficult to get funding. So just being able to drive that forward, and have those follow up conversations because they remembered what you said yesterday is key. And that just keeps snowballing into driving forward. Other objectives along the way.

Travis  3:52  
Yeah, that's an excellent point. And next I want to get into a little bit more about your role and see if you could share a bit about what types of projects what type of tasks does someone working in environmental safety and emergency management work on for those of us that are less familiar?

Nick  4:12  
Yeah, absolutely. So it's a little bit different when you're in the health care industry. So when we talk about environmental safety, at least as far as my role and a lot of activities I'm performed go in compasses physical hazards on the safety side that occur with and what we call the environment of care. So you know that physical environment where care is delivered, so it can be anything from you know, looking at in terms of Alright, our fire extinguishers blocked you know, our fire safety or life safety. Is it appealing, you know, studies have shown that the environment in which you deliver care directly influences are the aesthetics I should say, of the environment care directly influences outcomes for pay shins, right? So even transcends just safety rules like, Alright, your ingress and egress points are blocked, you know? Or clear? Can you evacuate the hospital appropriately? Or the floor? You know, and items like this hazardous waste? Yeah, a lot of documentation, law program management on that side. And the, you know, what's more familiar to me? And something I used to apply my former Intel background to a lot and still do is that comprehensive emergency management, you know, looking at all phases, from, you know, preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. Yeah, until and those core analytical skills you get from that, as long as production skills are key to every single phase of that process, recycle that emergency management cycle. And, you know, all the environmental safety side, most of the time is mitigation and prevention, right. So we're putting policies into place to ensure that the environment in which we deliver care is safe. And then we're mitigating hazards as they occur. So one of the things we do on a weekly basis, at least in my role is rounding Yeah, we round on a the facility, looking directly in field for those hazards, you know, and then document implement corrective actions that changes. So it's really interesting, you can get the full gamut.

Travis  6:28  
Right? Yeah, that sounds like a really fascinating role. And you mentioned it a little bit. Could you share, like, what it was like transitioning from working in corporate Intel to this new role around safety and emergency management? Maybe? Were there any areas that were challenging or areas where it was actually super beneficial for having that Intel background?

Nick  6:49  
I would say going back to that original point, you know, one of the biggest things was being able to do a more rigorous or present a more rigorous approach to decision making and building out business cases. Right. So, you know, from developing your executive briefing or anything, when your intel analyst, you know, around any issue, the same skills are directly transferable to that safety side of things. Right. So when we're doing things like benchmarking, you know, looking at employee readiness for a certain type of hazard, yeah, you can still make it visually IMPACTFUL. You can write a nice Executive Summary around where we were, what we're doing and where we're going with it, you know, in terms of performance. That's pretty key there. And then also, just how do you identify hazards within the environment? Right. So how are you cataloging? Do you have a consistent framework for really capturing that data in field and then being able to, you know, synthesize it into something actionable? Yeah, I'm prioritize there's a million hazards within a healthcare site, within the healthcare space within a hospital facility, you know? So how do you prioritize what you're going to devote your resources to? If you don't do that? You won't get anywhere because there's just too many things to handle on a large facility on any given day. And it already is a multidisciplinary effort. That's probably another aspect Intel's been very beneficial or having until experienced and beneficial in that transition is, yeah, how do you engage with different stakeholders to get the job done? Yeah. How do you present that information? Yeah, say, someone someone's underperforming, right? How do you present that to them in a way that one gets their buy in to make them agents to change? But also, yeah, how do you go to the person above them and discuss it? Yeah, you may have to do two separate approaches to dissemination? You know?

Travis  8:55  
Yeah, that's a great point. Yeah. Because an Intel, you're working, you're working with teams across the entire organization. It's not just security. It's not just HR. It's not just risk.

Nick  9:03  
So if you're doing global corporate security to depending on where you sit, especially as an intel analyst, if you have good buy in across your organization.

Travis  9:12  
So Nick, I was curious to learn, like what did your career path look like leading you up to working in corporate Intel and work working in emergency management? For example, like, I know you... study biology and healthcare, when you're just doing your undergrad?

Nick  9:30  
Yeah, absolutely. So I was studying my undergrad at Cal State San Bernardino and studying quantitative sociology. Yeah, might as well done underwater basket weaving, and I was getting certificates in health equities health disparities research and gerontology. Yeah, so I was really lucky to do that can be held sigh go get my master's in public health and that may be global health as interested in infectious disease at the time. then, you know, I had this really transformative event occur, where, if you recall the San Bernardino terrorist attack. So that occurred two months before I set to graduate from my undergraduate degree. And I was in one of the receiving... sick with pneumonia at the time. So I had this really unique opportunity, you know, rare amongst both healthcare professionals as well as you know, first responders or security professionals, you know, where I was able to see what went right in their response for the healthcare system side, as well as the first responders that were hardening that facility, you know, everything from, you know, like lack and physical security planning to where someone had to go physically locked down the exterior doors, when we had an armed threat, you know, versus what went really well in terms of planning, where you had historical services coming down to help cut through that fog of war for the patients who were on lockdown for 10 hours, you know, or culinary and nutritional services at that facility, bringing down sandwiches and soda within an hour because they realized they were in for the long haul. So this event, you know, while very tragic was just kind of health form my approach to both emergency management, let me see those gaps and capabilities. I changed my career study, I went to St. Louis University who offered a joint master's in public health and epidemiology, disaster preparedness, and biosecurity which has just met all the criteria for what I wanted to study by really want to look at, you know, that vulnerability side, right, when we're planning and preparing for disaster. What are those vulnerable populations? What are the small nuanced decisions that we should probably be thinking of before disaster strikes? Right? On the security side? Why was there not adequate threat assessment? Yeah. Where are the gaps in communication? If you're a study, the case study is fascinating. As with most of these, you know, attacks, you have so many red flags that were not captured. So that's where Intel came in? How can we develop processes, procedures and systems to proactively identify threats instead of reactively? managing them? Yeah, it all this kind of just fed into that broad, comprehensive emergency management approach that I was starting to develop at that time, I was a graduate student. And next thing, you know, I got an internship working in corporate Intel, and the rest is kind of history and loop back around to you're in the healthcare sector.

Travis  12:56  
Yeah, and I could totally relate to your story, like you mentioned, the San Bernardino attack being one of the big influences for your career. And like, when I think back to my own career, I've thought about similar things. Like, I've talked to a handful of my peers who are like in the same age group who have joined who joined the Marine Corps around the same time as me. And like one common thing, I think a lot of us would not have joined the Marine Corps had the 911 attacks never occurred when we were all in like sixth grade, seventh grade. So it's kind of crazy how, like one disaster scenario can influence an entire cohorts, career choices in the future.

Nick  13:39  
Absolutely. I mean, that's another one of those formative events. i We're not on video for the podcast. But if you look up on the shelving on my desk, I have the year and pictures from well as a 2002. With all that, you know, the 911, the response, first response. So it's interesting, and they also these are events that change how we approach everything, right. 911 changed how we approach preparedness and Intel. And so many other aspects of national security and homeland security. Yeah, San Bernardino attack, it changed how people responded to, you know, active shooter incidents. One of the things that came out of that after action review and improvement plan was not to swarm the entrance, the points of ingress and egress when he respond to wind because you won't be able to extricate casualties effectively. As that directly was studied, the after action report was directly studied by the departments that responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting, and they've cited previously that that's one of the reasons they were successful and had fewer, you know, losses of life. because those lessons learned. So that's another aspect, I think, you know, in terms of emergency preparedness, emergency management, safety planning, you know, that having that Intel background is just key. Yeah, being able to do that rigorous analysis, what events transpired, build the timeline? Where are the gaps in capabilities? You know, these are all words that almost any intel analyst who's been in the field for a year can start talking about, you know, because we're doing it all the time.

Travis  15:29  
Right. Yeah, those are all excellent points about essentially lessons learned from many of these big disasters. And that brings me to the next question, which I wanted to ask, which was, how has a failure or an apparent failure set you up for a later success? Like, do you have a favorite failure that you encountered early in your career or as of late?

Nick  15:53  
You know, from that emergency management aspect, you don't want failures to occur, but nothing is ever perfect, right? Especially when you're responding to a complex incident, or, you know, people are responding under stress, you know, there's no such thing as a perfect emergency response plan. So, whenever you have a failure, it's a learning opportunity is a time to step back review. What went really well, you know, why do after action reviews, I ask these three questions, you know, ask, what was supposed to happen, you know, what did happen in what caused that difference? And then I follow up each of those with, you know, what went really well? what didn't go so well? And how can we do better? Next time? Yeah, that's just a key to any professional career, but especially a response entity, right? Where you're managing preparedness plans, emergency response plans, you know, you're you're always going to have some kind deficiency. But that deficiency is also where you do better going back to San Bernardino, right. What we learned from San Bernardino that was this on the failure you know, when people are crowding that point of extrication ended up saving lives down the line with the Pulse nightclub shooting, you know? So that's key in terms of more light fun ones, typos, got so many typos in briefings? Just one missing letter can change a completely? Or there's one time. Yeah, it's the name was Condon. And fat fingered right onto that? Mm hmm. Yeah, that's not gonna work. No, but it was captured. It's all good at that day.

Travis  17:50  
Yeah. I mean, that's really just a lesson. And, hey, if we could get someone else to double check our work it it always pays.

Nick  17:58  
Oh, yeah. I don't care who you are. Everyone's had that one. fat finger typo?

Travis  18:04  
Yeah. I've certainly experienced that.

Nick  18:08  
You just gotta laugh at it.

Travis  18:11  
Just kind of laugh at it and move on. And then moving on to. Yeah, continuing with more lighthearted stuff. I was curious. So for like younger practitioners out there who might be interested in environmental safety or emergency management? Is there any advice that you would share for them in maybe preparing for that type of career?

Nick  18:37  
It's a tricky one on that, I mean, be multidisciplinary, look for transferable skills, you know, that's always gonna be key, and be a lifelong learner. I mean, there's things I do on every single every single day where I have to learn something new. You know, and this is particularly true if you're doing this kind of role in the healthcare sector, right. There's one concept within the healthcare sector is change. Now, things are constantly changing. There's new regulations, new requirements, in terms of, you know, managing the environment of care, safety, right. There's also new requirements on how you run your emergency preparedness programs. So just be not willing to accept change, but embrace it, you know, not be willing to hide from Ai. At the end of the day, when you have to know so much you're always going to be ignorant of something right. So being comfortable and realizing you don't know something and embracing that going to learn it before it becomes a failure that you then have to follow up on and learn anyways. Yeah,

Travis  19:49  
I love that as a piece of advice, because yeah, that's true in any part of any security discipline, because you'll see it everywhere you go. There are some people that are on your team that are constantly growing and there are others that just kind of like, check out after a period. So in some ways, it's almost easy to be in that top X percent of people, as long as you're just making incremental improvements in your skills daily.

Nick  20:14  
I mean, the other thing, probably too, is just, if you're not passionate about it, and you're not, this is not what you want to do. You don't have a mission driven reason for being in this industry, go be successful in another industry will make more money. But it's true. But if you want to keep people safe, you are focused on that mission. And that's what drives you drives you. There's no better, better industry, you know, man security, Emergency Management, Safety, because you get to impact someone keep someone safe or keep Operation Safe every single day.

Travis  20:48  
Yeah, that's an excellent point about making sure it's something that you're passionate about. Because I've definitely been in, in roles or organizations where you kind of like reach a point and you're like, Am I really still passionate about whatever this is that I'm doing? So I completely agree, it's, it's better? Like, it's very important to identify when you get there, and then figure out okay, what's my best path for growth after that? I think that's that's a great point. And then going off into a similar direction. I was curious, like, Are there any particular skill areas or competencies that are required in emergency management and environmental safety? Like, are there any particular areas that someone would want to develop their skills in to be successful?

Nick  21:35  
I would say it's a lot. It's a nice balance between hard and soft skills, right? You're not going to be successful in here. Unless you're able to manage relationships. If you're not able to build relationships, and develop trust, you're not going to be able to have an impact. Yeah. Yeah, the day you're looking for deficiencies and how to improve them, right. So when I'm going in to discuss, you know, how can we do better? That's how I'm prefacing it, I'm not stating this is where we're doing wrong. This is where we're deficient, right? And it's just building that team that trust that collaboration aspects. So key to it, then being able to follow up and being able to effectively communicate in a variety of mediums. Going back to Cam, you know, how do you get buy-in, all the way up and down that ladder, you know, because that's where you have to project influence on. And you can't really project across a huge organization. So you have to, you know, lead through that. That requires effective communication, different types of modalities of it, as well as building relationships and trust, the rest will come

Travis  22:51  
And he raises a really interesting point, especially around the way that we frame questions like when we go to another stakeholder to maybe we're eliciting information so that we could diagnose some kind of problem. But yeah, it's very important, how we frame it, and how we come to come to the situation, as someone that's trying to be a facilitator and trying to help the organization, you're not there to, you know, just point out deficiencies. That's a great point.

Nick  23:17  
Absolutely. And it's especially true in healthcare, where you're a core critical infrastructure, you know, organization that is also one word 24/7 365 type of operation and health care, right? Particularly major hospital, you have to be there for your community during their worst days. Yeah, you have to be able to prepare and assure that capability. Now, it's also complex, because I would argue your standard multinational corporation is far less complex than the majority of healthcare organizations, because there's just so many different layers within the matrix, right? You have your kind of corporate, not for profit level, you know, you have your facility level, which a lot of times will have their own president or CEO. You have the physicians and medical staff who speak entirely different nomenclature, right. Then your security staff, you have to be able to collaborate with your MOU or, you know, responding. first responder agencies, your fire your law enforcement, you know, state. So, I mean, you have to be able to build those relationships across all those different domains who have very different cultures, very different languages. And not one person can do it by themselves. You know, sometimes you gotta realize I'm not the best person to have this conversation.

Travis  24:46  
You talk about relationships a lot, and I was curious, are there any? Are there any professional readings or professional books that you've found yourself recommending the most over the years to peers, whether it has to do with presenting infirm Question or building business relationships or or similar topics?

Nick  25:05  
I think that's an interesting one. But I'm gonna go back all the way to undergrad. I mean, I love books on this topic is studying group dynamics. You know, it's something you're a psychology major, right? Yeah. Yeah. masters like, yeah,

Travis  25:22  
actually had to read a textbook about group dynamics. Yeah. Which one do you have? Um, it's possible that, yes, that can be the same one.

Nick  25:34  
But just understanding that to know, when you have to get certain tasks, I mean, I've seen people run some committees that have 2030 people on them, right. But why have 2030 people in the room when only 10 of them are actually engaging? You know, I like to break it up into a manageable span of control and delegate give people ownership over tasks, you know? Um, how do you run larger meetings to small meetings? How do you garner influence, that all goes back to group dynamics, and that span of control, and your strategy, because I

Travis  26:11  
can relate to that, too. Because, yeah, some of the big topics. In my master's program, it was applied psychology was around leadership, group dynamics, working with groups. And then also one of the most important thing, important topics, and one that I found the most fascinating, and I still use, all the time today was just how to go about facilitating meetings, and all the different dynamics of conducting a meeting, that's thoughtful, that's going to reach whatever the objective is, everything from laying out ground rules, when the meeting starts to presenting an agenda to keeping everyone on task, or even using like, kind of like analytic techniques to, to get the entire group brainstorming or thinking about solving any particular business problem. So yeah, I found all those topics to be super useful and just everyday life.

Nick  27:11  
Absolutely. I mean, that's both professionally and personally.

Travis  27:15  
Yeah. And then, let's see, getting towards the last bit of my questions. So one of my last ones is so like, today, as many leaders in the security industry are in their 40s 50s 60s. Like, as we see some of them leaving private industry. Are there any particular ways that you see the security industry changing as a younger generation moves into some of those leadership roles?

Nick  27:44  
You know, I think, as a demographic base or foundation for the industry changes, we're gonna have to  ... readily adopted approaches that are technologically driven, right? So people are gonna become more focused on the data side of things. They're gonna be leaning more heavily, probably towards the vendor side of things as well, to get the simple day to day tasks done. I think that also introduces certain vulnerabilities going back to real relationships, right? Is those old standing relationships that people just knew, because they came up through the field with and yeah, how many times have you had a security manager director be like, Oh, I got this, let me just make a phone call. Right? While we have that, and that's not intrinsic to that generation of practitioners. Those are built over 40 years, those types of relationships. So I think there's a risk of some degree or at least in terms of the strength of that informal network, essentially, eroding a bit. But also we are going to be probably more evidence driven to an extent.

Travis  29:02  
Yeah, that's an interesting observation. And I've heard I've heard some others say similar things where they think security Oregon, security organs within whatever business they might be a part of, will probably be more driven from like, the academic side and the data side. So I do think that's a really interesting observation,

Nick  29:21  
which I mean, it's great. They're probably gonna have a better time getting buy-in on certain things. Yeah. And being able to build a business case up. But yeah, just keeping that relationship management, the forefront is going to be key to having a successful transition.

Travis  29:38  
So before we end the interview, are there any final thoughts that you want to share with listeners, especially like listeners, who might be aspiring practitioners or young professionals trying to get into emergency management or environmental safety and

Nick  29:55  
I guess generally just focus on transferable skills? Look towards what are those disciplines you'll need to know that are not necessarily inherent to, you know, security, safety, Intel emergency management, and how can those applied skills be brought into the fold for your practice? Because that's really what's gonna make you successful, what's gonna distinguish you from the herd and make it so when something comes out of left field, you're able to be the person to step up to the plate.

Travis  30:29  
Yeah, those are those are great observations and recommendations. That really concludes our interview. Nick, I'm super grateful for you sharing a bit about your experience in environmental safety, emergency management, how working in corporate Intel has informed you and made you a better specialist in the new niche that you're focusing on. And I also wrote down some great notes, especially when it comes to the importance of building relationships and facilitating projects among different stakeholders. So I know listeners will take a great amount of info away from this. So I'm super grateful to have you. Thanks, Nick.

Nick  31:10  
Thank you, appreciate it!

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