Hidden Curriculiums

Every school, college, and university has a formal curriculum.  Perhaps they even have several, one for each program, major, etc.  The academic curriculums are (hopefully) designed intentionally, with reasons for each item included and what items are excluded.  Curriculums communicate what we value as educational institutions.

A critical part of any educational community is its culture.  How is that built and maintained?  It seems to me that there is not as often as purposeful a building of that as there is of the academic curriculums.  Why not?  When we select what to include in the schedule, where we spend resources, what behavior we allow and encourage, we are creating a curriculum. But, are we building it on purpose?

Even when we do things intentionally, there is a secondary curriculum, a hidden curriculum.  Why not evaluate it and make it explicit?  What are we valuing?  What are we teaching?

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Never Forget? We always do – Book Review for “I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying”: The American Fire Culture by Burton Clark

Never Forget? We always do – Book Review for  I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture by Burton Clark


Firefighters have to die, right? Isn’t it part of the job?

Dr. Burton Clark, EdD, EFO has been arguing in his new book (and for decades) that this is not true.  In his book, I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture, he challenges us all – firefighters, officers, chiefs, public officials, public safety people, etc. – to change our perceptions about fire deaths, specifically to not call a civilian death an act of God and not to think of a firefighter death as part of the job.

If you believe that the answer to the questions above is “Yes” then the follow-up is, how many deaths are acceptable?  Can you answer that question with a number more than zero and feel good about it?  Would you give a number greater than zero to the public? What about to the loved ones of firefighters? What about preventable deaths?  How many preventable deaths are acceptable?  

Based on our behavior as a collective fire culture and based on the data, we are saying that preventable deaths are acceptable.  Fire service line of duty deaths (LODDs) have not decreased over the past 30 years.  Arguably, worse than the number of LODDs is the way we are killing firefighters.  As Clark points out, we are not killing firefighters in new ways (p. 46).  We are dying the same ways we used to, with a majority being preventable deaths.

Look at the chart below, showing firefighter deaths by cause and injury.  Ask yourself, which of these are preventable?  This chart is from the NFPA website (https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/The-fire-service/Fatalities-and-injuries/Firefighter-deaths-by-cause-and-nature-of-injury).

Firefighter deaths by cause and nature of injury

Cause of Injury Fatalities Percentage
Overexertion/stress/medical 29 42%
Crashes 17 25%
Fell 7 10%
Struck by object 4 6%
Fatal assault 3 6%
Structural collapse 3 4%
Lost inside 1 1%
Caught underwater/diving 1 1%
Exposure to fumes 1 1%
Alcohol overdose 1 1%
Total 69 100%
Nature of Injury Fatalities Percentage
Sudden cardiac death 26 38%
Internal trauma 26 38%
Asphyxiation or smoke inhalation 6 9%
Gunshot 4 6%
Crushing injuries 2 3%
Stroke 1 1%
Embolism 1 1%
Burns 1 1%
Drowning 1 1%
Alcohol overdose 1 1%
Total 69 100%

Source: Firefighter Fatalities in the United States, Rita F. Fahy, Paul R. LeBlanc, Joseph L. Molis, NFPA, June 2017 and previous reports in the series.

Updated 6/17

The culture of the fire service has a dogma that LODDs are part of the job.  This is dangerous,  erroneous, irresponsible, and is dishonorable.  In public safety in general, and in the police/fire services, we honor our fallen with stirring memorial services and make bold and inspiring claims to Never Forget.  But, we do.  We forget to take care of our fitness, to wear our seatbelts, to wear SCBA, to train when and how to call maydays.

So, what do we need to do?  We need to be courageous, we are THE BRAVEST, after all.  Let’s act like it.  We need to work on the culture, specifically around safety. As with many complex challenges in the work, we need leadership – formal and informal.

We need Chiefs, Officers, Driver/Engineers and other supervisors to step up and lead through training, accountability, advocacy, and learning.  We also (almost more importantly) need individual firefighters to lead themselves and each other.  One of the things that impacted me the most reading Clark’s book, is the call for bravery and leadership at all levels.

In any industry and as competent people, we must continue to learn.  We must learn from others, for ourselves, and for the fallen.  Remember, we Never Forget.  Learning can and should be casual and formal.  All types are important if learning is to actually happen and change people for the better.  This book, I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture, Clark is trying to get us to learn.  Anyone who has met Dr. Clark knows he will not give up on this, and neither should the rest of us.

Read this book, and ask yourself, what can I change today to make sure everyone does go home?


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Using an Admin or Executive Assistant

Executive/Personal Assistants (EAs) save their bosses time, and as we have all heard before, time is money. EAs can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of an organization by:

  • Ensuring that meetings begin on time with prep material delivered in advance
  • Optimizing travel schedules and enable remote decision making, keeping projects on track
  • Serving as sounding boards
  • Conducting corporate research
  • Funneling busy administrative tasks away from managers who can then, in turn, use their time more wisely
  • Serving as crucial resource during the acclimation period for new hires

In an effort to cut costs and reduce headcount, many companies have significantly reduced their executive assistant staff even for highly paid middle and upper managers. But a good business should use a structure in which work is delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well; too often there is too much administrative work to do and not enough assistants to do it.

Managers can capitalize on an executive assistant by thinking wisely about which tasks can be taken on by the assistant, establishing a trusting relationship as opposed to that of a micromanager, and employing effective communication. While answering emails is a basic assistant task, more assistants these days are taking on more supervisory roles; they are managing information flow, dealing with basic financial management, attending meetings in place of their bosses, serving as the face of the company, and doing more planning and organizing. When a manager exhibits trust in his or her assistant, they will gain a higher return. In turn, great assistants look for ways to stretch and improve their skills, taking extra time to learn, for instance, more about the functions of the particular company and new technologies.

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Emergency Notifications, Texting, and the FCC

Special thanks to involvio.com for publishing this on their site as well – http://blog.involvio.com/2018/01/28/untitled/.  

Since 1990, federal law has required colleges and universities to have a notification system for emergencies such as natural disasters, active shooters, bomb threats and more.  K-12 schools are also required to develop emergency alerting protocols.  Campuses send out critical information through multiple fronts, such as text alerts, broadcast emails, institution homepages, apps, and Twitter.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 prompted campuses across the country to strengthen their notification systems. There have been a number of campus crisis over the years that have affirmed the need for these systems.  There are a number of best practices campuses should follow in implementation and ongoing maintenance of their systems:

  • Consolidate emergency notification delivery methods into a single activation portal- a provider of emergency communications solutions can help.
  • Use several technologies; no one method of communication will reach everyone. However, choose the delivery methods most appropriate for the situation- don’t use the all-or-nothing approach to issuing alerts.
  • Determine ahead of time the situations when you will activate your emergency notification system.
  • Incorporate adequate logical security measures to protect your SMS alert database.
  • Train several people to send out notifications, but also determine who has authority to issue alerts- there shouldn’t be too many decision makers.
  • Collaborate with and consider sharing emergency notification providers with local, off-campus emergency services.
  • Market your mass notification program, and educate the campus community on how the system is used, what to expect and what to do during an emergency.
  • Automate your database; tie in student enrollment and human resource databases, automatically scan for students and employees no longer associated with the school.
  • As with any parts of an institution’s emergency management and campus safety plan, it is important to test it throughout the year and various circumstances.  

Text messaging is the most effective way to reach students, families, faculty, and staff. With an opt-in approach, students must voluntarily sign up for alerts, while with opt-out, students are automatically signed up but can choose to opt-out.


When schools automatically enroll everyone in the systems and provide them with an opt-out opportunity, significantly more people remain enrolled in the system. Most emergency managers and campus safety officials recommend automatically enrolling the whole community.  

FCC regulations, federal law, and court rulings (https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-16-88A1.pdf) do allow for emergency texts and calls without prior consent from individuals.  

Required or automatic enrollment should only be used for emergency messages and not for routine messages, event reminders, etc.  Institutions must be careful to avoid “alert fatigue,” which occurs when a system is overused. If people on campus receive alerts too often, they stop seeing them as urgent and may not take the proper action when needed.

Campuses need to find a balance between using it for advisories and emergency notifications. If your campus needs any help with emergency management and campus safety work, please be in touch.  

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In Defense of Multitasking…But Not That Kind.

Multitasking is fine.  Really, it is.  But not in the way you are probably thinking.  Of course, humans cannot really do two things at the same time with full attention and efficiency.

What we can do is using down beats and slow times effectively:

  • Waiting in line? Good! Time to catch up on some personal development podcasts or reading.
  • On the train or bus and have several more steps? Good! Clear out some emails, send some texts to loved ones.
  • Stuck in traffic? Good! Make a (hands-free, please!) phone call that you have not had time to make.
  • On a silly conference call that you were required to be on but do not have any contributions? Good! Update your calendar, clear out and organize the junk drawer.

Even if you are not a “list-person”, you should keep a list of things that are valuable to your work and life that take between 2-10 minutes.

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What have you done today?

Everyday is an important day. As a leader, and as a person, there are things that you can do to advance your team, family, organization, and yourself?

My passions are leadership, productivty, education, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and emergency management. I feel strongly in advancing them (most of them, anyway…) everyday. What are your passions? Did you move them forward today? Even for just 15 minuites?

Call one person, write one blog post, send one thank you note, do one push up, do something!

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Blue Lights On Campus are Security Theatre…And That’s Okay

Blue light emergency phones became mainstays on college campuses about thirty years ago. During freshman orientations nationwide, students are instructed to push the ‘call’ button on the always-lit LED blue towers when they feel unsafe, and campus police will respond through a speaker and arrive at the location. Some have speakers that can broadcast announcements, security cameras that capture video footage, and provide services like information requests, campus escorts late at night and car assistance.

While the ubiquity of cell phones has sparked a debate about the necessity of blue light phones, campus officials might consider the benefits of keeping highly visible phones in service for the purpose of marketing safety.

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Campuses that continue to pour money into maintenance and even expansion of blue light phones tout their legitimate value to campus security and their reliability over cell phones. In recent years, for example, University of North Carolina added them to new areas of campus as they grew, and campus police officials argue that their visibility and reliability enhance campus safety. People panic in an emergency and may not have the campus security number saved- even the three-digit 911 can be stressful to dial when panicking. Plus, cell phones can be left elsewhere and the battery can die. Blue light phones, on the other hand, don’t rely on batteries, can pinpoint locations accurately, and provide direct contact with emergency personnel on site. They also provide reliable communication when a high rate of traffic might overwhelm cellular networks.

On the flip side, those taking the route of mass removal cite the phones’ lack of use in actual emergencies and the more common use of cell phones. University of North Carolina at Greensboro, for instance, received nearly 10,500 calls for service in 2013, but only 90 came from the emergency phones. On many campuses, prank calls are more common than legitimate ones, which divert resources from real emergencies. In addition, repair can be expensive, and many campus buildings already have phones that can automatically dial out 911. The University of California at Davis removed more than 100 outdated emergency phones in 2011 after installing a wireless 911 system on campus.

Some schools are taking a comprehensive approach and augmenting the blue light system with mobile security apps. Even campuses experiencing normal and routine malfunctions to the blue phone technology are introducing phone apps as a modern approach to campus security. University of Florida’s free Gatorsafe app can report tips to the UF Police Department, make emergency calls and perform other functions that improve their personal safety and security. Other schools are contracting with already established apps, such as Rave Guardian, which works with Brown University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Earlier this year, University of Colorado Boulder entirely removed the remaining blue phones on its campus after introducing a contracted security app called LifeLine Response. University of Connecticut has developed an Alert system, which texts and emails participants. University of Southern California (USC) has created its own app called Trojan Mobile Safety which allows students to report a crime, call for assistance and tell people where they are on with the safewalk feature. The app is free to USC students and the school pays the licensing for the app.

Regardless of which side of the cell phone vs. blue light phone debate campuses fall on, all should consider the added benefit of marketing an image of safety on campus. Blue light phones are a beacon of safety, and removal might trigger negative reactions from community members. Students and parents appreciate the phone’s function as a visible deterrent that provides them with the peace of mind of knowing they are in a safe environment.

Some students at Westminster College in Salt Lake City report that they see the blue lights as a comforting sign on campus. When students at Southern Methodist University were questioned about their use of the blue emergency lights, all said they had never used them, but agreed that they provided peace of mind, especially when walking around late at night on campus. Diane Brown, the public information officer at University of Michigan, believes that their value, which can’t be calculated, lies in deterring crime.

Penn State Chief of Police Tyrone Parham said that even with the phones not being used often, there are no plans to get rid of the emergency phones, citing that he hears from parents, students and prospective students that they’re wanted. It’s almost an expectation for any campus to have them installed. Campus members want to ensure the community that they are working to keep students safe, and their presence can serve as a conversation starter for admissions to talk to prospective students about safety.

The most logical route is to keep the phones that are in highly visible areas, those whose value lies in the perception of security that they create despite their infrequent use.

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