Editorial – When leaders fail us

Jeff Burgar

Reports from the inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting continue. There are lessons to be learned.
One is the common mass delusion among leadership bad news cannot be shared. This delusion comes from the idea the public will always react badly, as in panic or losing their minds. The worse the news, the worse the terror and extreme reaction will be.
So, do people really panic when told there is bad stuff coming their way?
As in, “It looks like the dam is going to break. There might be widespread flooding of the lands below.”
In a situation like this, do people hearing such news really run to and fro, crashing into buildings, tearing their children out of schools, start looting stores, shooting up with bad drugs and, raping and pillaging, as if the world is ending? Do they? In real life, do people panic as we see in movies and television shows? Are there even any studies on this?
Twenty-two people died in Nova Scotia. Witnesses, among them RCMP members themselves, and first responders, those still alive at least, say at the beginning there was little information about the killer. No regional alert. No public broadcasts of the news a fake RCMP officer driving a fake police cruiser was the prime suspect. It took precious hours for real information to get out.
In fairness to all concerned, there were indeed moments of panic, indecision and terror. Much of that was right inside the RCMP trying to deal with the situation at hand. Bad decisions were made. The end result was the public was left to act on little information or worse, gossip and bad guesses.
In the confusion, two cops shot up a fire hall with honest people inside. They thought a bad guy was there. That would indeed rate somewhere high on a scale of one to ten of “panic.” If not panic, then action based on confusion, extreme excitement and adrenalin charges.
Actually, we expect police to be trained. Over react in fact, is one of the last things a cop wants to do. Experiences with roadblocks when a bad person is on the loose, surrounding a building with a shooter inside and no hostages and so many other examples show extreme caution and personal and public safety are indeed “jobs first.”
Until they aren’t.
Many people across Canada have witnessed, or been directly involved in dangerous situations. People prone to be excited usually do not get to leadership roles. The flip side of that of course, is leaders so conservative they become paralyzed. They tell themselves, and anyone under their authority, “Let’s not do anything or tell anybody anything that might lead to panic.” It isn’t a flight or fight reflex. It’s actually a deer frozen in the headlights of the oncoming truck.
So, no evacuation of the flood zone. No warnings of the forest fire. No hard news of the shooter roaming the streets, the school, the factory floor or the shopping mall.
And in the end, action is often completely over the top, as in “Run! Run! Run for your lives!” With no real action on the best thing to do.

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