My Theory of Relativity, Emergencies and Urgencies

My Theory of Relativity, Emergencies and Urgencies

Yesterday morning around 6:15, I awoke to a sudden barrage of sirens, followed shortly thereafter by several helicopters flying over. The sirens seemed to never stop, and even though I live on the other side of a fire station and sirens are a pretty normal sound, it occurred to me that something bad was happening very near my apartment.

I live in the middle of downtown Seattle, but this was 6:15 on a Tuesday morning. My window faces right into another apartment unit, so I couldn’t see anything. My flight or fight instinct kicked in, and I knew that whatever was happening was not something I wanted to get involved in. Since I had a late night on Monday, I decided to try to go back to sleep and find out what happened via Twitter a few hours later. Since I’ve been known to sleep through earthquakes, trees being cut down, and other forms of loud and disruptive events, I naturally fell right back asleep until around 9 a.m.

I quickly found out that the disaster turned out to be a pickup truck had driven up my street, throwing things out its windows when a cop tried to pull it over. The truck then turned up the street adjacent to my building, then down the alley next to my building, and crashed into two other cars and into an apartment complex one block down. The jaws of life were needed to extract victims from the cars, and the injuries were life-threatening.

Emergencies Are Emergencies

Every day, I get emails with subject lines that read “EMERGENCY!” or “URGENT!”. Yesterday, a real emergency was unfolding just a few steps away from me. Life or death was on the line. Dozens of heroes made every effort to save people because of someone’s idiotic move. While I didn’t see it, I heard what a real emergency sounded like.

And I realized, somewhere later in the day – an emergency does not sound like an email being delivered to my inbox.

This is my theory of relativity. An emergency is life or death. Yes, there are emergencies where the life of a business is on the line, where the financial risk must be assessed very quickly. I get that.

But there are things that are never an emergency. Content will never make or break your business. An email will never be what ultimately turns customers away from a business with bigger problems. And nothing ever “needs” to be tweeted right now. These things can always wait – and (here’s a little secret) waiting to get the facts straight, getting the copy edited, or waiting for the hype to die down can actually be to your benefit.

Of course, if you maintain the financial or actual health of your clients, consider what’s relative on a much, much narrower scale. But in my world, unless it’s the “life” or “death” of your business, I hope that people respect their colleagues and consultants enough to refrain from using “EMERGENCY!” and “URGENT!” in subject lines unless it really is such.

Otherwise, crying wolf too many times will likely cause people reading those emails – people like me – to overlook that one time that it really is an emergency.

 image via Komo, because I was too scared to go look myself.