A new concept introduced to be by David Rubens (interest: my company is partnering with David to support crisis management) – various inputs below
‘Post-crisis, most organisations fall into one of three groups: those that collapse and are destroyed immediately; those that manage to hang on but never truly recover; and those that are able to regroup, and through a mixture of resilience, effective management/leadership and a strong underlying foundation are able to bring a level of robust flexibility that allows them not only to survive but thrive, taking advantage of the new opportunities that the crisis brings’.
A New Language: Communication and Decision-Making Within Emergent Multi-Organisational Networks (EMONs)
It is an accepted truism that the first thing to go wrong in any operation is communication, and more strictly, the transfer of complex information under pressure. Carl von Clausewitz coined the phrase ‘Fog of War’ in 1837 to describe the confusion within which military commanders operate, and it is even more apt today, despite, or perhaps because of, the vast array of communication platforms that we have available to us.
EMON’s (Emergent Multi-Organisational Networks) describes how increasingly complex command and communication chains develop. This session looks at some of the issues involved in working within multi-agency and multi-organisation environments, where specialised skill sets are highly dispersed and where any cohesive response option will require a high level of cooperation and collaboration, even amongst organisations that might not share a common organisational culture, structure or command process.
Article – abstract below
The nature of crises has changed radically in recent years, so that rather than being merely ‘major incidents ‘ or ‘routine emergencies’, they are now characterized by their hypercomplexity and the catastrophic impact of their consequences. The centralized command systems that have traditionally been considered the bedrock of crisis response programmes are repeatedly failing to stand up to the challenges posed by this new class of crisis, and it has become clear, following incidents such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, that new forms of nonhierarchical, decentralised decision-making and strategy-setting frameworks need to be developed. This paper looks at some of the issues that traditional hierarchical command systems need to address, and suggests a numbers of areas where investigation into the benefits that non-traditional command systems bring could be explored.
A series of recent events across the world has significantly tested the fundamental assumptions underlying current CM methodologies. These have included the power blackouts that affected 600 million people across northern India; the consequences of the Fukushima tsunami /earthquake that, within a few days, left Tokyo on the edge of being a city without food; volcanic activity in Iceland that disrupted international travel across Europe, and increasingly frequent bank IT failures that have left tens of thousands of people to survive purely on the money that they happened to be carrying at the time. In the scale of their impact and complexity, these situations transcend any traditional concept of crisis management frameworks or organisational jurisdictions. The failure to deal with these primary issues and their secondary consequences effectively and in a timely and well-managed manner can no longer be seen as simple management failures, but as a challenge to the legitimacy of governments tasked with ensuring public safety (Boin & ‘t Hart, 2003: Boin, 2009:367; Stark, 2010), and with potential implications as to the social, political and economic continuity of a country (Boin et al, 2003; Guhar- Sapir, 2011).
Traditional crisis management is based on the concept of ‘managing the gap’, whether it is the period between crisis cognition and actual triggering which gives time to develop and deliver preventative measures, or the time lapse between triggering and full-scale escalation which allows time for the introduction of mitigating measures (Hermann and Dayton, 2003). In a world of apparently spontaneous triggering of potentially catastrophic events, and instantaneous cascading across transboundary and often global geographical spreads, the luxury of that time gap no longer exists. The emergence of ‘unthinkable’ and ‘inconceivable’ crises characterized by catastrophic impacts and hypercomplex consequences (Lagadec, 2007), has meant that modern CM has become less concerned with the prevention of catastrophe as management of its aftermaths.
Despite the traditional understanding of crises as existing in the corner of the risk matrix marked by ‘High Impact, Low Likelihood’, situations such as those listed in the opening paragraph can no longer be seen as improbable and rare events (Lalonde, 2007:507). The number, magnitude and impact of natural disasters are all showing an upward trend (Scheuren et al, 2008), and the scale, impact and complexity of their consequences on state and regional stability have all increased beyond the scope of the original conceptualisation of managed crisis response (Tatham & Houghton, 2011). The increasing interconnectedness and interdependency of the global community, which has led to a growing inability to control, or even understand, the governing mechanisms by which our basic social networks are managed, means that crisis are becoming more than ever ‘unknowable unknowable’s’, in Rumsfeld’s memorable phrase. To put it even more starkly, rather than approaching these problems from a position of tabla rasa, confronting them may be considered as entering a complete Terrae Incognitae (Lagadec, 2009). With a triggering and escalation period of seconds rather than hours, days or weeks as was the case in the past, the world is now permanently on the edge of a potentially total systems breakdown, and there is literally nothing that we can do about it. The increasing complexity and cascading nature of present day crises means that we can longer rationalise them in terms of control or management, but only in terms of recovery, and in many cases, survival.
Whilst the nature of crisis has changed, it is questionable as to whether our understanding of the requirements of effective crisis management models and methodologies has evolved to the same degree.The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre called into question many of the issues involving effective management of, and response to, ‘unthinkable’ crisis scenarios, but it was the widespread failure to respond effectively to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent damage, destruction and suffering in New Orleans that called into question the viability of extant crisis management methodologies and capabilities (Comfort, 2007; Moynihan, 2009; Corbacioglu & Kapucu, 2006). The failure of the traditional highly-centralized, hierarchically-based command and control crisis management system, which was a ‘cornerstone’ for both theoretical and administrative approaches to crisis management (‘tHart et al, 2003: 12), led to a call for a ‘redefinition of organizational framework and standard terms of emergency management….that fit the reality of practice in extreme events’ (Comfort, 2007:193).Rather than simply adapting existing methodologies,this process of ‘Double Loop Learning’ would call for a concerted attempt to change the paradigm within which crisis management is conceptualised, based on a fundamental questioning of underlying policies and basic practices (Argyris, 1977).
This paper will offer a reappraisal of crisis management models that takes cognisance of both the reality of the failures of traditional CM management methodologies in the face of of 21st century challenges, and theoretical research and empirical evidence concerning non-traditional decentralised command systems. In doing so, it will follow on from the work of other authorities concerning the need to develop alternative crisis management and decision-making processes appropriate to the realities of modern crisis scenarios.
9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima, Haiti and similar incidents in other jurisdictions, have dramatically shown that any model of crisis management that claims to offer solutions to the threats that the world is facing in the 21st century will need to demonstrate an ability to react and respond in an environment defined by catastrophic crises and hypercomplexity (Lagadec, 2007). Crisis management command systems across the world, but most notable in the US,are firmly grounded in a centralized, hierarchical model of command and control. These are often accepted as the de facto default setting for crisis management, especially following the development of the formal Incident Command System (ICS), in response to what was seen as failures in multi-agency capabilities during Californian wildfires in the 1970’s (Irwin, 1989; Smith & Dowell, 2000; Lutz & Lindell,2008). The DHS-mandated FEMA ICS follows this model, irrespective of the nature or scale of incident it is dealing with, a requirement that was maintained even after the policy changes following Hurricane Katrina (FEMA, 2007; FEMA, 2011). Such centralised command systems are based on a military model of command and control, in which a strictly pyramidal command structure has unity of command as the guiding principle (‘t Hart et al 1993:14). However,there is also an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how the ICS framework can support the development of enhanced capabilities able to respond to the ‘ambiguity and turbulence’ (Tierney & Traynor, 2004:164) of what might be called ‘normal crises’ (Bigley & Roberts, 2001). As such, it is able to adapt its role to the needs of a coordinated multiagency network management approach, rather than being stuck in a systems-led hierarchical command system (Moynihan, 2009). However, its fundamentally hierarchical structure is precisely the weakness that makes it inherently incapable of adapting and responding to the rapidly escalating ‘vicious and unmanageable circles’ (Boin et al,2003:102) that lead to the situational chaos and uncertainty that is inseparable from a true crisis situation. It is this attempt to extend the domain of rationality and bureaucratic organizing to the uncertainty and often chaotic disaster environment(Buck et al, 2006; Boin et al, 2003), that has led to repeated and systemic failures of crisis response programmes at exactly the time that they are most needed.
Although the centralised command system is considered a rationalistic response to the pressures created by a crisis situation, in that it allows decision makers to make fast decisions, decide on specific response strategies and bypass normal bureaucratic channels (‘t hart et t al, 1993), the concentration of power within a small group of homogeneous (Comfort, 2007) senior managers can create an environment where issues of personal power and influence override the need to create immediate and innovative responses (Hermann & Dayton, 2009). Although it would be nice to presume that the pressures and potential catastrophic damage inherent in crisis situations would create an environment where all actors were cooperating for the best interests of the wider community, that is unfortunately not the case (Rosenthal & ‘t Hart,1991). The choice of who is in and who is out is in itself a political decision, and often results in a decision-making cabal comprised of ‘self-selecting experts’ who set up exclusionary barriers based on their own bias (Lodge, 2009). Whilst such small-group thinking creates pressure on its members to compromise on hard decisions in order to maintain group cohesion (‘t Hart, Rosenthal & Kouzmin, 1993), overly prioritizing group cohesion can also lead to faulty decision making (Janis, 1972; Garnett & Kouzmin, 2007). Even in the heat of crisis management, the over-riding law of the organizational jungle may well remain that the ‘fundamental and identity-defining’ competition for power and influence will often trump the need to support others within that circle (Lagadec 2005;Jarman & Kouzmin, 1990).
Although it is the unique nature of each crisis that underpins the failure to respond and manage them appropriately or effectively, the operational reasons for failures are often both simple and predictable (Lagadec, 2005; Comfort, 2007). It is notable that once an incident goes beyond normal operational status and escalates into a ‘unique and unfamiliar’ problem (Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996:81), the subsequent breakdown in response capability is almost inevitably identified as being due not to the nature or scale of the outside event, but rather to a breakdown in what should be fundamental incident management functionality (Dynes, 1970; Quarantelli, 1988). Official reviews into major CM failures (eg Hurricane Katrina (2007), Fukushima (2012) and the Anders Breivik massacre (Norway, 2012) repeatedly identify the same five fundamental organizational weaknesses: lack of understanding of the nature of the crisis; lack of realistic modeling of required responses; lack of leadership; lack of effective communication; lack of inter-agency capability (See also Mintzberg, 1980).These are in line with Quarantelli’s findings in his review of crisis disaster management that there were likely to be critical problems concerning communication and information flow, authority and decision-making, and failures to manage increased coordination and a loosening of the command structure (Quarantelli, 1988:375). As the 9/11 report unequivocally stated, aside from the specific operational issues, the underlying fault-lines in the government’s failure to develop an effective crisis management capability was founded on its’ ‘broader inability to adapt how it manages problems to the challenges of the twenty-first century’ (9/11 Commission Report: 353).
A nice article
5 factors present in every crisis (and how to deal with them)
EMONs are crisis driven, task oriented entities that are self-evolving based on the nature of the incident and its location. They are a composite of various entities that may or may not normally work together. Their very existence is time sensitive and temporary. There are no memorandums of understanding written for EMONs. They come together to deal with a crisis and disband when it is over. Command and control issues are generally worked out on the fly although protocols have evolved over time which greatly simplify and facilitate the process.