The need for a digital and physical Minuteman Militia to make ready for and respond to Covid-19 and future occurrences.
Covid-19 is bringing out the best in our country. The level of innovation transpiring right now, despite the circumstances, represents our innate capacity as a nation to face any challenge and to do what needs doing without exception.
Emergency response, recovery and economic stability all at once;
This is both a slow and incredibly fast moving emergency event. Slow in that the onset is not acute like an earthquake or hurricane but insidious - manifesting fear, that has been its own paralyzing disaster, apart from the actual physical danger in our midst.
There are many secondary and tertiary challenges we are already combating as a result, that typically don't occur until after the significant event - like a real spike in unemployment, an economy with double black eyes and a lack of production capacity for critical supplies. This is even further constrained by over dependence on international supply chains and Covid-19 hasn't even hit yet in earnest.
It is moving fast in that this beast is very much amongst us and already stressing front line critical human capital resources, fundamental emergency medical supplies and systems far ahead of our measures and propensity to compensate.
We are tackling an immediate response, recovery and economic stability all simultaneously. These are phases and disciplines that are usually spread out by as much as weeks if not months.
We have been caught in a reactionary posturing versus proactive and ready, but that's when we thrive as a Nation. The opportunity has presented itself to codify a capacity to make ready to tackle Covid-19 and to set the model for proactively being prepared for future emergencies at the community level. This is an imperative cultural shift we must make and infrastructure we must lay.
What is needed:
Acute solutions for procurement and production of critical medical items
Creative strategies for engaging and activating the sidelined workforce as part of the solution to address the immediate acute challenges on hand to provide purpose, unity, a call to action and supplemental income from earned activity is imperative. A disengaged, unemployed non-wage earning population with little savings is both a stability threat and asset.
A banner and a leader for informal community level and private sector response capacity to rally behind and follow. This is going to be as much a bottom up grassroots response as a top-down effort. The two approaches must play nicely and operate in chorus. Even adhoc entrepreneurial approaches need to be marshaled and coordinated.
It's time for a civilian response corps at scale
The National Security innovation community is ramped up and firing on all cylinders. The amount of email traffic with incredibly smart, capable, well resourced and experienced leaders is overwhelming and something for an HBR case study of the decade.
The private sector tech community is slamming out application solutions to perceived challenges and working to match production, material sourcing and DIY prowess with support from academia and collaborators within the national security innovation arena.
Government emergency stimulus spending and ultra-high-net-worth philanthropy and family foundation funds are supposedly flowing and are actively looking to support solutions
There is encouraging amounts of collective execution capacity at work ideating and already creatively rolling into production of critical needs. The funding around, if stewarded effectively could offer a fighting chance to regain a foothold. But the capacity at work is unconventional and outside of organized systems and the funding channels unique and unfamiliar, posing an added challenge.
Despite this surge in entrepreneurial solution focussed efforts, there is little collaboration due to a lack of visibility of what is transpiring on a macro level. Further exacerbating the challenge is that this is not a regional disaster but geographically all encompassing.
This state of chaos and dynamic is not at all uncommon in disasters, both domestic and especially in the international arena. Any Emergency Manager, or responder worth their salt, in private over drinks, will rant and rave about the gross inefficiencies, lack of coordination, lethality of bureaucracy, disrespect of one resource community, overstepping the bounds of another - its part of the reality.
This has been a persistent systemic challenge for a long-time in the emergency response arena that must be fixed NOW. This is a laughable notion in its scope, but a very real imperative. Here is why and how I think it is achievable given the circumstances.
This is the first time since World War II and arguably the Civil War that an occurrence has had everyone across the country concerned for their safety in their homes. This impacts everyone. As a result, it's all hands on deck and there is potential for a national rallying cry for unity of effort.
The DoD and private sector have learned to play well together in excitingly dynamic ways over the past decade through efforts like The Defense Innovation Unit, NSIN, AFWERX, BMNT Partners etc. which has created powerful informal networks that are now spun-up and functioning at speed. These hybrid, informal efforts have the private sector expertise and energy coupled with government and DoD institutional permeability needed to maximize utility and execution from all parties.
Federal agencies like FEMA have switched vernacular from Public Private partnerships to Private Public to emphasize the critical function the private sector plays as emergency infrastructure. The more recently formed Emergency Support Function (ESF-14) is dedicated specifically to nurture these working relationships.
We have intrapreneurs fighting the good fight within the bureaucracies like the Defense Innovation Board constantly working to mesh and amplify private sector and national security capabilities.
The philanthropic community has begun to shift away from the notion that NGOs are the save all, pushing more resources toward impact driven, triple bottom line businesses as viable candidates for funding.
These collective attributes have laid the foundation for an ecosystem and working dynamics between industry, defense and government agencies. The collaboration is happening, what's missing is unification of effort. The threat is not isolated in scope or geography, but systemically pervasive and omnipresent. As a result there are no territorial squabbles of who handles what facet of the response as there is too much to do for every agency, resource and creative function we can muster collectively.
What’s missing is a new type of leadership. A maestro of chaos coordination that speaks DoD, NGO, private sector, supply chain and production. A leader that understands and celebrates the importance of informal capacity with the ability to leverage institutional capabilities. A leader that can creatively ignite and engage the private sector through a national call to arms while ensuring effective connectivity with the institutional systems. We need an operationally minded entrepreneurial and tactical conductor to unify efforts and to marshall our nation's informal response efforts in a manner that celebrates and leverages institutional resources as well.
Much of the current effort is being directed towards solving for immediate acute challenges. We have severe shortages of medical equipment including N95 masks, respirators and personal protection equipment for health workers. The DIY community, private sector, DoD and hybrid efforts are hyper focussed on alleviating these lack of resources. If we fail to produce or procure this equipment, our health workers may stop showing up for fear of safety, get sick and quarantined. Our medical system is already thin, even in these early innings and will rapidly fail. Not to mention we will not be able to care for patients adequately or on the scale needed. And this reality is imminent. So the efforts are warranted and understandable. But these initiatives are being tackled in ways, that in large part, are not considering a critical element that is equally, if not more dangerous than the lack of medical equipment - a largely unemployed and disengaged population.
The multitude of efforts underway to produce, source and repurpose medical equipment should take advantage of both our current greatest asset and potential liability, this latent impact potential of the human capital sitting idle not earning. We have the workforce - lets re-tool, activate and produce. We need a Minuteman entrepreneurial DIY production militia and we have the resources sitting at home. They just need to be mustered, exposed to the open source plans and supplied, as they are already organized through respective employers.
We have the proven working models and huge private sector resource communities waiting to be activated. We have military veteran entrepreneurs that thrive in war time conditions and a war at our door. We have the entrepreneurial national security types to connect and coordinate with.
If we consider models like Sword & Plough where veterans upcycle and repurpose military surplus (creative production), Combat Flip Flops that has retooled combat boot factories to make flip flops (retooling production), Rosie the Riveter, Spartan Race that has a standing army of potential volunteers and the MIT Media Lab, that house a diverse cross section of scientists entrepreneurs, we have a blueprint, infrastructure and existing capacity to activate. We do not have to recreate the wheel, we just have to unite and ignite in unison and in coordination.
Imagine, all of the ad hoc efforts coordinated and playing in sync with the national security community and government agencies in an orchestra in rhythm. Strings: tackling logistics, supply chain and sourcing; Woodwinds: handling labor and training; Percussion: leading innovation producing open source plans; and Brass: leading funding and providing a common operating picture to CEOs; Federal agencies; DoD and philanthropists.
What that roster might look like in abbreviated real terms:
A Maestro like Jay Long or Tommy Hendrix
American Kathy Fulton - Logistics Aid Network
Philip J Palin - CNA Principal Supply Chain Investigator
Defense Logistics Agency
Joe De Sena & Frank Grippie of Spartan Race
Jason Mccarthy - GoRuck
JJ - AFWERX
William Treseder - BMNT
Deb Roy - MIT Media Lab
Mark Rockefeller - Street Shares
Vilas Dhar- Patrick J. McGovern Foundation
The best way to quell fear is to ensure people are engaged, active and earning with purpose. There has not been a better time to act and a more important way to incentivize the out of work population than a call to arms to rapidly re-tool and roll out legions of support staff from everyday communities to combat Covid-19. For example the new pervasive utilization of video conferencing can be used to train up workers in basic donning and removal of personal protective gear and they could be deployed to do critical deliveries, help erect testing sites, and backfill strained medical facilities etc.
The informal doers, hackers, entrepreneurs and national security disrupters need a brand, a rally cry, a movement and a unit flag to unite behind. There is no better time to be an American. We will come through this stronger, leaner, meaner and more untied.
This is the highschool dance when the DoD finally allows the private sector to lead, when the philanthropist sneaks behind the stage with the entrepreneur for a torrid makeout session and when the government decides to nix the sobriety test at the door in favor of spiked punch and great tunes. Lets rock.
This militia is being stood up and given a name and a home. Standby for The Readiness Collective.
The next article will be a road map to action.