A disaster is not a crisis : some thoughts and questions

A disaster happens (flooding, earthquake, hurricane, large-scale fire, severe traffic accidents) and when the authorities start their response, thats the moment when the crisis starts. The disaster is never a crisis in itself. The crisis is always related to the disastrous organizing of the human response.
We should never mistake a disaster with a crisis. A disaster is related to the physical scale and impact of an event. The scale and impact could vary but still be understood as a disaster. A crisis is always socially constructed and often related to a perceived asymmetry between the immediate needs and the availability of resources. Resources is here seen as both physical, cognitive and informational.
The lack of separation of the two concepts has significant consequences for the continuous efforts in improving local, national and global response work. Two examples: The response efforts in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake is a crisis for the international aid organizations. The initial disastrous communication process concerning the response efforts at the Japanese nuclear power-plants is a crisis for the Japanese government authorities.
Were the two above crises caused by the disasters or did these two crises form due to poor management? The answer is from my point of view fairly simple. However, when I refer to it as poor management, I do not say that things could have been better managed. It is always difficult to say what an ideal response operations should look like. The ideal response operation is a moving target and will probably never become manifested in any real world situation. This means according to my thinking, that we will continue to experience poorly managed response operations. We will continue to hear criticism of how these complex operations are organized.
My point is, that it is time to start discuss if there ever will be a perfect response operation. Perfect from who´s perspective? There is a need to move behind the facade of professional response authorities and start to discuss failures, break-downs, conflicts and explicit poor management. Only when we have openness and transparency, we will have a slightest chance to actually improve the way response operations are organized.
But why is it so difficult to discuss why things go wrong? We all know that most of the time, things will actually go wrong. Without any failures, we will not learn in order to reach successes.
I would like to know more about this perhaps sensitive issue and if anyone have experiences or know about published reports/articles, please inform me where these could be found. The concept of transparency and the need to discuss this topic is not only a concern for international humanitarian operations but perhaps even more important in the light of how western authorities are managing response work in underdeveloped urban areas.
What do you think?
Advertisements

Kriskapacitet att hantera en kärnkraftsolycka?

Händelserna i de Japanska kärnkraftsverken gör att tankarna snabbt går till Sveriges förmåga att hantera en kärnkraftsolycka. I Japan finns på samma sätt som i Sverige samverkansmodeller och kommunikationsstöd för att olika myndigheter på bästa sätt och gemensamt hantera en kärnkraftsolycka och dess konsekvenser. Under dagen har fler och fler frågetecken rests avseende om det finns en skillnad mellan vad de Japanska myndigheterna vet och vad myndigheterna kommunicerar till media och allmänhet. Rykten om mörkläggning har blivit allt mer intensiva.
 
Om en kärnkraftsolycka skulle inträffa i Sverige, tex vid kärnkraftsverken i Oskarshamn, så skulle en stor mängd regionala och nationella myndigheter att involveras. Ett urval av dessa är:
 
Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten, Myndigheten för Samhällsskydd och Beredskap
SOS Alarm, Länsstyrelsen Kalmar län , Landstinget i Kalmar län, Polismyndigheten i Kalmar län, Regeringskansliet, Statens meteorologiska och hydrologiska institut (SMHI), Socialstyrelsen, Livsmedelsverket, Jordbruksverket
 
I ett nätverk av myndigheter som skall hantera en svår och känslig situation, där information om de faktiska omständigheterna kring händelsen kommer att vara fragmenterade och osäkra, behöver informationsflödet mellan involverade myndigheter och kommunikation mot allmänhet inte nödvändigtvis fungera bra.
Det skulle vara spännande att se en jämförelse mellan svensk kriskapacitet att hantera en kärnkraftsolycka och den hanteringen som nu sker i Japan. Det finns säkert stora strukturella skillnader i hur krishantering organiseras men också stora likheter avseende de informations- och kommunikationsmässiga utmaningarna. Hur väl står Sverige rustad avseende förmåga att hantera en så svår händelse som en kärnkraftsolycka innebär? Finns det några indikatorer på detta, i så fall vilka?

Hård kritik mot dem som inte ansluter sig till Rakel

I Tjugofyra7 går förre försvarsministern Mikael Odenberg, numera generaldirektör på Svenska Kraftnät, ut med hård kritik mot dem som inte ansluter sig till Rakel. Det är hårda ord från Mikael Odenberg att prata om snudd på tjänstefel att inte ansluta sin organisation till Rakel.
Att Rakel är en effektiv infrastruktur för talkommunikation är det få som ifrågasätter. Men när utvecklingen går allt snabbare mot en konvergering mellan talkommunikation och informationshantering så blir en mobilterminal som endast klarar talkommunikation ytterst begränsad. Framgångarna med Iphone och Android på konsumentmarknaden visar med all önskvärd tydlighet att kommunikation inte bara handlar om tal, utan också tillgång till information i form av text, grafik, bilder, video, gärna smakfullt paketerat i form av appar.
Utvecklingen inom detta segment har stor påverkan på personer i krisledandefunktioner inom räddningstjänst, polis, länsstyrelse, och självaste stadsrådsberedningen. Behovet att kunna kommunicera och hålla sig uppdaterad gör att enbart tillgång till talkommunikation är begränsande.
Det är dags för en nyanserad diskussion kring Rakel och dess samexistens med andra tekniska infrastrukturer för att ge samhällets krisledningsaktörer de verktyg som en ibland svårbegriplig framtid för med sig. Det vore därför snudd på tjänstefel att inte säkerställa en nyanserad diskussion.

Spontan Utryckning : Smart innovation som gör stor skillnad till liten kostnad

Läser i MSB´s Tjugofyra7 om smart innovation hos räddningsvärnet i Hilleshög. Enligt artikeln så har utryckningsformen “spontan utryckning” skapats, vilket innebär att räddningsstyrkan åker direkt till olycksplatsen i egen bil om det är snabbare. Resultatet är mycket snabba framkörningstider.

Detta är ett mycket bra exempel på smart innovation som utmanar invanda föreställningar om hur en utryckning “måste” gå till. Dessutom omdefinerar, spontan utryckning med egen bil, den roll som en räddningsstyrka bör/skall/kan ha. Förmågan att agera är i detta fall mycket viktigare än att alltid ha med sig all tänkbar utrustning som kan komma att behövas.

Personalen på värnet i Hilleshög har all anledning att vara stolta över att de vågat utmana etablerade föreställningar och klarat av att prova sig fram för att möta de behov som finns i sitt ansvarsområde.

Cellphone use in the heat of protests

At the ongoing protests in Egypt, journalists and photographers have worked in dangerous conditions in order to show the rest of the world what is going on. One of these are the Reuters photographer Amr Abdallah Dalsh that took this photo. The photo highlights many interesting details.

In the cropped-photo below, I have highlighted two such details where people in the background are using their cellphones to document and perhaps even broadcast the situation.

It is reasonable to believe that, the activists use of cellphones to capture and even live-broadcast visual media will be a fundamental and widespread activity in similar future events. Social media such as Twitter for text, Flickr for photos and Bambuser for live video has become and will continue to be important tools for live reporting.
There are some interesting challenges in how to make use of professional news organizations visual media in combination with photos and video from activists in future crisis information systems.
It would be exciting to run some form of workshop with an unfocused group of Swedish news agencies together with activists and explore this dynamic design space.

Crisis Communication in large-scale heterogeneous actor networks?

Now when Queensland in Australia is facing extremely difficult times, a reflection concerning crisis communication crossed my mind. The volume of coordination activities necessary to handle the situation must exceed even the wildest crisis response plans.

Communication between national, regional and local authorities is probably working well due to well-established communication practices. ( I will probably be proven wrong here.) However, a flooding of such proportions are not only an event of concern for government agencies but for almost any sector in the society. One could assume that few national emergency management agencies have systems or methods that can scale in order to handle crisis communication across large-scale heterogeneous actor networks in this situation. The challenge of pushing information from the national agencies to the general public, public sector companies and private companies is complex. But one could assume that establishing a two-way communication in these heterogeneous networks is even more complex. The level of complexity due to scale are impressive and would require new systems and methods.

Designing information infrastructures supporting crisis communication in large-scale heterogeneous actor networks will probably be an important area for future research.

2010 was a good year, but 2011 looks very promising as well.

Lets be honest, few of us knew that 2010 would be such an exciting year with snow-chaos in Sweden, volcano-ash paralysis in Europe and several devastating disasters around the world.

A good guess is that 2011 will be no different. We will be surprised by sudden events that require rapid response operations in areas we could not even imagine.
From a research point of view, I hope that we in the research community will become better in conducting rapid research studies to learn more about the complexities and challenges in the early phases of response operations.
I also hope that we will do better in studying response work that takes place when all the media houses and high-profile NGOs has left the disaster areas. It seems that there are many things yet to learn about long-term response work. Perhaps will the ISCRAM 2011 conference in Lisbon, Portugal shed new light on this.
I am really looking forward to the annual ISCRAM conference. This year, I also hope that we will host a mobile video workshop at the conference to explore how mobile video could be used in a variety of response settings.
I wish you all a happy new year!
2011 will be a tough year with lots of exciting research.