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Aaron brings over thirty years of experience as a first responder, emergency manager, and consultant, resulting in a specialized understanding of risk, crisis, and consequence management. Focusing on what his wife describes as “messy medicine,” Aaron applies his experience as a First Responder and Emergency Manager to engage organizations and maximize their resilience in the face of both tangible and intangible disruptions. As an equal parts instigator, facilitator, and educator, he has dedicated his professional life to proving his point that we are all out of good options once a response has begun.

Most professional discussions I participate in boil down to one core set of questions.

  • Have you considered the potential positive or negative impacts of the situation?
  • Have you identified what most likely will need to be accomplished to manage or mitigate those impacts?
  • Do you have the capability and the capacity to respond, not just react, to the situation to influence those impacts?
  • Are you prepared to do what needs to be done?
  • Are you ready to act?

Preparedness has been a guiding theme in my life for a long time, well beyond my engagement with crisis and emergency management (yes, they are different things. I’ll write about that later).  I was a Cub Scout, Webelos Scout, and eventually an Eagle Scout. The Scouting Motto, “Be Prepared,” was instilled in me just like it has been in generations of scouts as a guiding principle for navigating life’s challenges. As I gained experience responding to and coordinating emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes, I eventually realized that being prepared was insufficient. I need to be ready to act on that preparedness.

In this post, I will discuss what it means to be prepared and how that differs from being ready.

What is being Prepared?

Preparedness is the state of being able to deal with an anticipated incident or event. It involves recognizing potential hazards and threats, assessing associated risks, and applying forethought and contingency planning. Being prepared means thinking ahead, anticipating potential challenges, and taking steps to mitigate those challenges. This can include developing and maintaining capabilities, resources, plans, and playbooks across tactical, operational, and strategic considerations.

Are you Ready?

On the other hand, readiness is the ability to act on that preparedness. Responding quickly and effectively to an incident or event with appropriate skills, knowledge, and resources and being ready means having the right tools and skills to act decisively when something disruptive occurs. Readiness includes being mentally and emotionally prepared and physically able to deal with the challenges ahead.

What’s the Difference?

While “preparedness” and “readiness” are frequently used interchangeably, they have core differences. Preparedness is about taking proactive steps to anticipate and mitigate potential disruptions, while readiness is about being able to respond quickly and effectively when those disruptions occur. The two concepts are discrete but complementary, with preparedness laying the foundation for readiness.

For example, going back to my Scouting days, let’s look at preparing for a camping trip. In this context, being prepared meant researching a campsite, determining the route to get there, checking the weather forecast, packing appropriate gear and supplies, and creating a contingency plan in case of potential disruption, such as a storm or an injury. Being ready to camp meant having the physical ability and mental focus to make the journey to the campsite, the skill to set up camp quickly, the awareness to detect any potential disruptions, and the capability to respond to any challenges.

Returning to today’s world, for organizations, being prepared might involve completing a threat, hazard, and vulnerability assessment and developing a risk management plan, evaluating insurance and other financial resilience considerations, and having response and continuity plans and playbooks in place. Being ready means maintaining situational awareness for both operational and economic ecosystems, training your people on both the threat and hazard environment and your expectations for them in that context (your plans and playbooks), exercising your people to make sure they can apply their conceptual understanding in the physical world, and maintaining organizational adaptability so you can pivot quickly when necessary.

A Closing Thought…

Being prepared and being ready are two separate but interrelated concepts. Preparedness provides a foundation for dealing with the challenges of today’s world and the potential for disruption. Readiness is the capability to apply that preparedness and act to address any associated disruption directly. By understanding the differences between preparedness and readiness, individuals and organizations can develop strategies to anticipate potential risks, respond to disruption, and take advantage of related opportunities.