This isn’t where I’d hoped to be, but…well…. Life, you know?
I’d planned to be at DEF2018 in Denver this weekend, having a blast and building relationships. Hurricane Michael had other plans, and I found myself caught between trying to get my elderly mom to safety and thinking a lot about how the aftermath of an almost category 5 hurricane can teach us relationship lessons in the Acquisition world–or in any profession or in Life in general.
Hurricane Michael was barely a blip off the Yucatan when I had my first flashback to 3 October 1995. I was in the midst of a Source Selection and was leaving for the day, walking out with my program manager, a lieutenant who was telling me about a storm off the Yucatan that had just become a hurricane named Opal. No biggie. We wondered if we might get the next day off and how a day-long delay might affect contract award. The Source Selection Officer, who was a part-time geography instructor at the local junior college, overheard us and told us we needed to be more concerned.
“Anything that comes off the Yucatan comes right through here,” he told us, indicating the northward track into the Florida panhandle. He also told us that the warm Gulf waters would cause it to intensify quickly and we should be prepared to evacuate.
Relationship Rule #1: No matter how good the information is, you won’t listen if the relationship is negative.
The SSO and I didn’t have a good relationship. He had zilch experience as a Contracting Officer and virtually no source selection experience as a buyer, so I didn’t really respect his opinion on source selections. Instead of seeing him as an SSO, I saw him as a building manager with the power to delay my awards. But he did know something about the weather.
I had to admit that the next morning when the baby woke me up early and I turned on the TV to see that Hurricane Opal had bounced from a Cat 1 to a Cat 5 over night and was coming straight for us at 23 mph. We grabbed the photo albums, the 2 toddlers, the dog, and fled for our lives, grateful that Opal dropped back to a cat 3 just before landfall because we were stuck in gridlock on the open road. When I returned a week later and electricity was back in my neighborhood, I realized I could never unsee the slabs where houses used to be and the missing bottom floors of all the condos.
That image was stuck in my head when I was waffling on staying or going this week. If Michael veered to the East, I might be fine. If not, would my house I was back in Florida to sell be nothing but a slab, or a shadow of where a slab had been? I always evacuate for a Cat 3–Opal and Ivan had taught me that–but it was a gamble this time. Michael was acting too much like Opal and later Hurricane Ivan, and once I knew my family members scattered across the region were safe, I evacuated westward, alone.
Oddly enough, it looked like the path, if Michael veered east, would take the storm inland over my mom’s house, my hometown, and the farm I grew up on. Usually that far into Georgia, any hurricane has “interacted with the land” enough to slow down and tear up the occasional big oak or knock all the pecans off a tree or maybe flatten the cotton crops. I was most worried about my mom, who at 89.5 years old worries us most with fear that she’ll overwork herself in her huge garden or fall off a barn roof while trying to fix something. She’s always been self-sufficient but is a bit fragile now, so I gave her specific instructions to prepare in case the situation turned out to be more apocalyptic than The Weather Channel was saying. Basic stuff. Water, batteries, no-cook food for a week or so, full tank of gas, etc.
Relationship Rule #2: No matter how good the relationship, if you don’t respect the other person’s expertise, you won’t take their advice.
Call it karma, if you’d like, but I didn’t listen to my SSO about Opal, and my mom didn’t listen to my advice concerning Michael. That’s right. My mom blew me off. No pun intended. She’d been through storms before. No big deal. I’d been through hurricanes for 30 years, and as Michael’s path solidified, I was worried, but nothing I could say would convince her to go to a shelter. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, calls it “powdered butt syndrome,” meaning that a person will never take advice from a person whose bottom they powdered as a child. I must’ve needed lots of power as a baby because my mom didn’t listen to a word from me!
At this point, I had evacuated and reached my destination, and Michael did minimal damage at my house, a scant 40 miles from landfall where the winds and surge destroyed everything. Without the Cat 4 hurricane veering to the East, my house and neighborhood would’ve looked like Mexico Beach in this photo:
With Michael bearing down on its inland path, my focus shifted to getting my stubborn–and somewhat oblivious to peril–mother out her old farm house and out of harm’s way. No amount of begging could convince her to go, so I called in my secret weapons: her granddaughters.
Relationship Rule #3: If you can’t do it yourself, leverage Other People’s Relationships (OPR) to get results.
My daughters made multiple phone calls to her grandmother, to the sheriffs of two counties, to churches, to the Red Cross shelter, to neighbors, all to convince her to spend the next 24 hours in a safer place.
Which I’m grateful for. Michael was still a Cat 3 when it hit my hometown, with sustained winds of 115 mph. Had she been home, she would’ve been in a panic over the tree limbs landing on the roof or the part of the roof being torn away and tossed into the front yard. It was traumatic enough in a shelter, enough so that she told me tearfully it was the worst thing she’d been through in her almost 90 years. My hometown in Georgia was the hardest hit inland town, directly under the eye, and the entire electrical grid back to the 1940’s has been destroyed. It will take weeks, months, and never to rebuild it, and only after utility crews can actually get into the area, maybe later next week.
At this point we shift from preparing for a catastrophic event to living in survival mode in a world with no potable water, not electricity, no cell service, power lines down everywhere and hot, no gas, no groceries, just suddenly primitive living, even in undamaged houses. The town resembles a war zone, according to the few communications coming out of there. The black-out in communications prompted my younger daughter to suggest that comms were non-existent, “Just like the 90’s!”
While trying to locate my mom and us still not understanding the extent of damage, we were finally able to get in touch with a neighbor, and learned my mom was okay and back at her damaged home. On the phone, she downplayed the damage, so we really had no idea until another day had passed and the neighbors reached us as they were leaving town to tell us to come get her because she was almost out of water and had no food or gas. She thought if she ran out, she’d just go to the grocery store…not understanding that everything in town was also without power.
Through limited comms, we all tried to reach her and convince her to leave. She didn’t have a phone charger and her phone was dying. We stopped hearing from her. The other question was who would take her and how to get to her because her area was under curfew and there was no way in at the time. Literally none of us could get to her, and if we managed to get in, there was no gas to get out. That’s when my younger daughter suggested my ex, who was traveling across the state, might be able to pick her up on his way if he could get to her.
Relationship Rule #4: You can still leverage a bad relationship if you’re desperate enough, and willing to pay the price.
Yes, I was that desperate to get my mom to safety. Absolute last resort. My daughter would ask his help on my behalf if we didn’t find a better solution in the next two hours, which was when he would be close to the affected area. Even then, no guarantees that he could get to her. And if anything was incentive to work harder on a solution, this was it.
When I finally did get through to my mom on her cell phone, I learned that several people had offered to take her with them to safety, but she’d turned them down, waiting for my siblings or me to be the ones to rescue her. I had to explain to her that we weren’t coming. That we couldn’t. We literally could not get to her. No matter how much we loved her and would be there if we could, the roads between us were still blocked with trees and debris. One sibling couldn’t even get out of his driveway. That was a heartbreaking conversation to tell her we weren’t coming and to stop turning down other solutions.
Relationship Rule #5: No matter how good the relationship is, sometimes the other person cannot save you, so don’t turn down help from other avenues.
It was like that preacher’s story about the guy in the flood who prayed for help from his rooftop amid the rising waters, and once he gets to heaven, he says, “God, why didn’t you answer my prayers?” God points out that a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter came to the rescue and he turned them all down waiting for a prayer to be answered.
A couple of people we should have been able to depend on offered to go get her. They were in a neighboring town and had no damage at all. And yet, it was just words. Lots of empty promises and then something came up and they got busy.
Relationship Rule #6: No matter how good or bad the relationship is, some people aren’t dependable and you will only endanger your goals if you try to make them something they’re not (reliable).
I started digging through old phone numbers, calling dead lines, calling the church that didn’t answer, the neighbors who had evacuated, the busy sheriff’s offices, anybody. In trying to reach the last person to see her, I came across a phone number I didn’t realize I had. An old family friend. The baby boy of my dad’s best friend from when I was a kid and he was a teenager. I had seen him maybe once since my dad’s funeral, and though he and I didn’t keep in touch, he still checked on his surrogate dad’s widow. It took a few tries to reach him in the middle of a supply run. If there’s ever a Zombie Apocalypse, I want this guy on my team because he’s resourceful and a bit of a prepper, I think. He’d been trying to reach my mom and his son had checked on her but hadn’t been able to get her to leave for safer shelter.
I spilled my guts– all my concerns about not being able to get there and her not understanding the seriousness of her situation. I needed his help, but I didn’t even have to ask. I didn’t get that far.
“Shug,” he said in the Southern drawl I remembered as a kid, using an almost forgotten term that is non-specific and fond at the same time, “don’t worry about it. I’m heading her way in an hour or so, and if she don’t wanna go, I’ll just load her butt up and haul her back to my house.” Where he had generators, food, grills, water–everything she would need in her newly post-apocalyptic world until we can get to her later this week.
Relationship Rule #7: Build the relationship before you actually need it.
Because of a very old relationship that had spanned decades of our families helping each other out in times of need, all it took to get my mom to a safe place was one phone call (several tries before I got through) to a person I trusted to follow through. I literally felt when I hung up the phone that everything would be okay now. Had we not had decades of good history, I would never have called him and expected him to take care of my family when I couldn’t. I wouldn’t have had any right to. There would have been no history at all.
This last relationship rule for the Apocalypse is the most important one. You can’t suddenly call up someone you don’t know or haven’t put any effort into getting to know and expect them to move mountains for you. There’s no investment on your part.
Relationship building is not a just-in-time activity. Go build strong relationships and then they will be more likely to be there when you need them. If you call for help out of the blue without having invested in that relationship, then you’re just a taker. Relationship building is never a bad thing, and if you’re ever in survival mode, that relationship may be the only thing that can save you.
c 2018 Lorna Tedder
- Rapid Acquisition Consultant
- Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018
- Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
- Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
- Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
- Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
- 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing
- Do you need help? Would you like me to spend a couple of days teaching your Government team how to use innovative contracting methods? Message me on LinkedIn or my contact page.