Disaster Management – when Bias strikes

Disaster Management – when Bias strikes 1Disaster Management has one trait that distinguishes it from other fields of Management – its effectiveness is MEASURED IN HUMAN LIVES. Though many of us do not frequently have to provide decisions of the same significance, it’s interesting to understand how the measurement of efficiency can influence the whole way of thinking inside a field. You see, the main difference that it makes is that it provides the decision-makers with an almost immediate feedback about the quality of their decisions. It also serves a pretty good motivator to improve your decisions, when they have been found wanting on this parameter.

A recent study provides an excellent example of this readiness to acknowledge mistakes and improve, even when talking about something that was viewed as an accepted practice by everyone before.

What would be the first picture that comes to your mind if I say “earthquake”? A lot of rubble, of course 🙂 But there is also a chance that you will picture the heroic Search and Rescue guys with their helmet flashlights and search dogs, tediously searching for survivors under the rubble. You would right to imagine that – Search and Rescue Teams are one of the first resources rushed to the scene – it’s all about saving lives, after all.

But the researchers pointed at the unexpected trend – during the recent catastrophic earthquakes all over the world these guys BARELY SAVED ANYONE. Maximum – a few people per event. Most of people who were saved were pulled from under the rubble even before the first SAR team landed near the earthquake site.

On the other hand, many people had horrific injuries they would have died from if not for the small amount of medical relief teams that arrived at the sites. The total difference in the number of people saved by the flamboyant SAR guys and the boring quiet people in white robes was two-three orders of magnitude.

Think about it – the most opulent resource was also the most useless one, while the resource no one thought of as valuable proved to be the most significant. Think about how much people working in the filed were biased about something as basic as that. However, they were ready to study themselves, to criticize if needed in order to improve the next time. Because in their case, the price of being biased is paid in human lives.

Wouldn’t it be something if all Managers were as prepared to fight Bias as Disaster Managers?

I think it would.

What is your take on that?

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