Note from the President: The MCACS board is seeking comments from members regarding the draft policy document posted on this webpage. This document should be read in conjunction with Article VI of the MCACS Bylaws as well as Section 6 of the MCACS Membership Policy. Please send any comments to any or all board members, whose email addresses can be found on the MCACS contact page
Here is some background information. At our May meeting, the MCACS Board of Directors voted to approve a policy document titled ” Standards of Conduct and Behavior.” This policy had been under discussion for some time and evolved through several versions.
One board member objected strongly to the policy in its final form. In hindsight, the rest of the board (and I personally!) should have listened more closely to that individual. Almost as soon as the policy was announced, other MCACS members wrote to express concerns about its content. The most concerning feedback we received is that some of the language used is subjective and vulnerable to being used in ways that are arbitrary or even discriminatory.
Subsequently, the Board rescinded the policy. Given the well-founded objections raised by members of our community, the board decided to establish a committee of interested members to rewrite the policy. Unfortunately, no MCACS members volunteered to be on the committee!
At our August meeting, the board directed me to write to the members, inviting written comments on the draft policy to guide the board in resolving the issue.
One question that was discussed at the August board meeting is whether the organization even needs such a policy. I would like to provide my personal response to that question. My perspective is based on having served at different points of my career both as a ham radio volunteer, and as a Federal disaster responder who was reliant on volunteers to carry out my mission. I know that my views are shared by other board members with long experience in MCACS, ARES®, and similar organizations.
As we learn in our ICS training, disasters require people from different backgrounds and organizations to work together to resolve problems and restore disrupted services. In such an environment, particularly in the public safety and emergency management arena, where leaders are responsible both for the safety of their team members and the public at large, trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Just within the state of Maryland, there are local emergency managers that eagerly embrace volunteer communicators, those that tolerate us, and those that actively discourage our involvement in their preparedness activities.
Disaster response attracts a wide range of individuals with diverse skills and personalities. While diversity brings strength, it also brings challenges. All of us with experience in disaster response have seen situations where individuals having strong technical skills behaved in ways that were disruptive. And not all of these people were “bad actors.” Some were well-intentioned individuals who were simply a poor fit for the assignment they undertook.
For example, I have observed business owners or senior managers of large organizations, who are used to calling the shots on their home turf, argue with a team leader when deployed as a member of a disaster response team. It requires an understanding of ICS principles and a certain amount of grace and humility for such a person to be successful in a subordinate or collegial role. And let’s face it — some people are simply not up to the task due to deeply ingrained personality traits, despite what technical expertise they might possess.
There are many other pitfalls that can get a volunteer into trouble, some of which are called out explicitly in the draft code of conduct. Arguably, is should not be necessary to even mention some of these problematic behaviors — but virtually all of them have been observed at one time or another, often with rippling adverse consequences. For better or worse, such disruptive behavior reflects poorly on the individual’s “home organization,” particularly when volunteers are involved.
And this kind of problem is not limited to volunteer organizations. It also affects inter-agency dynamics. I witnessed an incident where the head of the fire department in a large US city, when deployed to a disaster in another part of the country, clashed so severely with others that he was quickly relieved of duty. When he went home, several capable members of his staff who had accompanied him also left.
I hope that provides a sense of why the policy was developed. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved. The MCACS board looks forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject.
Al Taylor, MCACS President
Standards of Behavior and Conduct (DRAFT)
MCACS members shall maintain the highest standards of performance and behavior. As a volunteer organization entrusted to serve Montgomery County during emergencies, MCACS works with professionals, who expect professionalism in return. MCACS recognizes that volunteer communications operators are individuals, but those who make a personal commitment to serve the community and county are part of a team which has been formed for the purpose of executing the county’s Emergency Operations Plan, in accordance with policies, procedures and rules. MCACS members are expected to comply with the following standards. Failure to comply may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including expulsion.
- MCACS members should present a clean, well-groomed, neat and professional appearance that is appropriate for the work environment. While participating, members shall only wear forms of identification or uniform that is required by the served entity.
- Members shall treat all others with dignity and respect.
- Members shall avoid distasteful or controversial public discussions.
- Members shall not engage in conduct that may reflect negatively on the Montgomery County MCACS organization.
- Members shall not serve on an assignment while under the influence of any substance. Smoking shall only be allowed when and where authorized.
- Members shall not carry firearms during exercises or when activated, regardless of permit status, except when required by statute.
- All information acquired during an operation shall be treated as strictly confidential. Members shall not make statements or provide information to the media or any non-departmental members at any time. Inquiries by the media must be directed to the incident Public Information Officer (PIO).
- Members shall not enter a restricted area unless they have a mission-related reason to be there and authorization to proceed.
- Members shall always conduct themselves in a safe manner. If asked to do something that the member believes is unsafe, they have the right to refuse and notify the incident Safety Officer.