March 31, 2020

State of Colorado COVID-19 Innovation Response Team, Part II – Getting Started, Days 1-3

(This is the second post in a series documenting the work I did in Colorado on the Governor’s COVID-19 Innovation Response Team – IRT.  Introductory post is here.)

Tuesday, March 17, Day 1

  • Extended stay hotel does not have a gym.  Hopefully there is one at work
  • Walking into office for the first time.  We are in a government building in a random town just south of Denver that houses the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  These are the teams who are on point for emergency response in Colorado when there is any kind of fire, flood, cyberattack, or other emergency
  • MAJOR Imposter Syndrome – I don’t know anything about anything
  • 7:45 meeting with Stan
  • 8:15 department briefing
  • Met two deputies – Kacey Wulff and Kyle Brown.  Both seem awesome. On loan from governor’s health care office and insurance department
  • Team “get to know you” was 4 minutes long.  So different than calm normal 
  • Emergency Operations Center in Department of Public Health
  • Small open room with over 100 people in it and everyone freaking out about not following best practices – no social distancing
  • Leader giving remote guidelines
  • Lots of “Sorry, who are you and why are you here?”
  • Local ops leader Mike Willis excellent – calm, inspirational, critical messages around teamwork, self-management, check ego at the door (turns out he is a retired Brigadier General)
  • HHS call – maxxed at 300 participants, people not getting through, leader had to ask people to volunteer to get off the line (oops)
  • Lunch and snacks in mass quantities here – it’s not quite Google, but this part does feel very startup.  I wonder if the Emergency Ops Center does this all the time or just in a crisis. Guessing crisis only but still super nice.  Also guessing I will gain weight this week between this and all gyms in the state being closed down
  • Lots of new people and acronyms
  • Multiple agencies at multiple layers of government require a lot of coordination and leadership that’s not always there, but everyone was incredibly clear, effective, low ego.  A lot of overlap
  • Got my official badge – fancy
  • Jared calls – just spoke to Pence, his guy is going to call you – tell him what we need…”uh, ok, now all I have to do is figure out what we need!”
  • Fog of War – this room is healthy and bustling and a little disconnected from what’s going on, no freak out
  • Kacey and call from Lisa about Seattle being on “Critical Care” because they don’t have enough supplies, meaning they are prepared to let the sickest people die – oh shit, we can’t let that happen here (or is it too late?)
  • Got oriented, sort of
  • Slight orientation to broader command structure and team
  • My charter and structure are a little fuzzy, guess that’s why I’m here to figure that out
  • Late night working back at hotel.  Thinking I will become a power user of UberEats this week

Wednesday, March 18, Day 2

  • Gym at work is closed along with all gyms everywhere.  Looks like a lot of hotel floor exercises are in order
  • Ideas and efforts and volunteers coming in like mad and random from the private sector – no one to corral, some are good, some are duplicative, all are well intentioned.  Lots of “solve the problem 5 ways”
  • Shelter in place?  Every day saves thousands of lives in the model – credibility with governor
  • State-level work is so inefficient for global and national problems, but Trump said “every man for himself” basically when it comes to states
  • Not feeling productive
  • Productivity is in the eye of the beholder.  Kacey totally calmed me down. Said I am adding value in ways I don’t think about (not sure if she was just being nice!):
    • Connection to Governor really useful for crisis team
    • Basic management and leadership stuff good
    • Asking dumb questions
    • Out of the box thinking
    • Liaison to industry and understanding that ecosystem
    • Arms and legs
    • People used to working in teams on things – different expectations in general
  • Ok, so maybe I am helping
  • Colleague tells me about Drizly, the UberEats equivalent for alcohol delivery. Good discovery.

Thursday, March 19, Day 3

  • Weird – my back feels better than it has in months.  Maybe it’s the pilates, but still, seems weird.  I wonder if the higher altitude helps. If so, we will be moving to Nepal. Have to remember to mention that to family later
  • Governor Policy meeting 9 am – “Cuomo is killing it” – words matter – “shelter in place” and “extreme social distancing” debate
  • “The models are wrong – so let’s average them”
  • We need 10,000 ventilators. We have 700.  Uh oh.
  • Raised issues around test types and team capacity…Gov expanded scope to include app and still pushing hard on test scaling.  Gov asked for proposal for expanded scope and staff by 4:30. Guess that’s the day today!
  • Recruited Brad to lead Private Sector side of the IRT’s work. Important to have a great counterpart on that side. Glad he agreed to do it, even though he’s already vice chair of another state task force on Economic Recovery
  • Senior Ops leader interrupts someone during daily briefing – quietly says to the whole room “not vetted, not integrated, not helpful” – incredible.  In the moment, in public which normally you don’t want to do but had no choice in this circumstance – 6 words gave actionable and gentle feedback. Great example of quiet leadership
  • Private sector inbound – well intentioned and innovative but overwhelming and hard to figure out how to fit in with public sector (e.g., financing to spin up distributed manufacturing)
  • Team huddled and created proposal for new name, structure, staffing, charter, rationale, etc.
  • Present to senior EOC staff for vetting, feedback
  • Feels like I’m adding value finally – plan creation and “bring stakeholders along for the ride” presentation/vetting AND getting the team to stop being hair on fire and focus on thinking and planning and staffing
  • Present to Gov – “brilliant” – then after, Kyle says “I’ve worked for multiple governors and senators, and this is the first time I’ve heard something called brilliant” (not sure it was brilliant)
  • Now to operationalize it, stand up a team, replace myself so I can get home once this is marching in the right direction at the right speed
  • Transferable skills (leadership, comms, strategy, planning) – not just missing context here but missing triple context – healthcare, public sector, CO
  • Day 3.  Feels like longer
  • Still, feels like adding value now.  Whew.  
  • Dinner with a Return Path friend who came down to my hotel’s breakfast room, picked up takeout on the way, and sat 6 feet apart. 

Stay tuned for more tomorrow…