we haven’t experienced this before ..

‘Homes washed away, streets decimated’ in largest storm operation in 10 years says SES

LEIGH SALES: How does the scale of the storm compare to what you’ve seen in the past?

STEPHEN PEARCE: We were only talking about that just recently. I haven’t seen a storm of this magnitude in my time here at the SES and, indeed, this would be the largest storm operation in the last 10 years …. we’ve never seen these cyclonic winds last for 24 hours straight. That’s what’s caused the majority of the damage. (NSW SES Deputy Commissioner)           http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4221029.htm

1.  There are expectations that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will increase under climate change     http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/

2.  This will increasingly push decision-makers in government and business into the arena of – we haven’t experienced something like this before …

3.  The purpose of using scenarios as a planning tool is NOT to predict the future, but rather to:

(a)  Push outwards or extend the boundaries of our thinking about what is possible (enlarge our possibility space)    http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wp3.pdf

(b)  Be willing to consider the adequacy of our current mental model of reality    http://my.mli.org.il/mli_pdf/kenes2010/wack1.pdf

(c)  Be prepared to think rigorously about the implications of this new possibility space, particularly in relation to how we might cope with large, unexpected events which potentially overwhelm our current response capability    http://thoughtcorner.com/vision/external/metodo/Strategy%20under%20%20uncertanity2.pdf

4.  “Our current system (for homeland security) does not provide the necessary framework to manage the challenges posed by 21st century catastrophic threats”  (The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina – Lessons Learned.  The White House, 23 February 2006, p52)    https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00338386/document    If this was true for the US, it may also be true for us here in Australia.

2 Responses to “we haven’t experienced this before ..”

  1. Darryl Glover

    I become frustrated by the reliance/ argument of personal experience.
    The use of science, research and scenarios allows the ability to break down the element of the event into the core attributes of the hazard, the exposure and it s vulnerability. A collaborative collective review of the scenario allows individuals and organization s to identify the treatments it has for each, the assumptions behind those treatments, the fail point for that treatment, the risk tolerance of each party and to whom the risk may transferred. Apply ISO 31000 and look through the lens of Crichton risk triangle / pyramid, IAP2, MERI and some simple spatial analysis and isn’t really all that hard

    • Leon Soste

      Daryl – thank you for your comments, they are genuinely thought provoking. I regard disaster preparedness as a critical issue, and dialogue which helps improve our thinking and practice, ultimately benefits the at-risk community. I am not quite sure what you mean by “reliance on personal experience”. My link between scenarios and paradigm change, ie enlarging the “possibility space” in our thinking comes from Frans Berkhout (a well-regarded thought leader in scenarios in both Europe and the UK), and changing our “mental model of reality” is a quote from Pierre Wack, a pioneer in scenario planning at Shell. My aim was to use their sentiments to urge those involved in EM to be prepared to push the boundaries of the level of exposure which they think is possible within a given type of hazard – ie break the mindset of – it couldn’t be bigger than (or more severe than, or more extensive than) a particular historical event – which is (unfortunately) a mindset I have encountered in the flood arena and in discussions with other senior players in EM. So, I disagree that it “isn’t really that hard” – I suggest that it is actually quite difficult to get people involved in emergency planning to be prepared to step outside the bounds of their experience and change their thinking about what is possible. My intention in pushing those boundaries is to help them face the question – what happens if the event grows to a point where our current resources are overwhelmed? I like your comprehensive sequence of steps to identifying, reviewing and dealing with risk, but respectfully suggest that while ISO 31000 provides the framework for risk management (identify hazard, calculate exposure, evaluate vulnerability), and IAP2 provides guidance on ” collaborative, collective review”, I am not sure that disasters are quite as deterministic as you suggest. There is the subtle but important assumption that we can identify all those issues with a high (or reasonable) degree of certainty; that boundary conditions (or context) are well-defined and remain reasonably constant during the event (ie elements within the disaster zone don’t interact in dynamic and unexpected ways to create new types of exposure and vulnerability); that we have not only the protocols in-place for interdepartmental planning but also the management skills and the diverse technical and social disciplinary expertise to fully explore the type of exposure and vulnerability within a complex and unfolding event; and finally, we have the organisational will, skills and resources to engage stakeholders in that process. My perception is that we still have some way to go in those areas – and, if the US can acknowledge that it needs a new approach to planning for “21st century catastrophes”, then I suggest that there is merit in State and national agencies revisiting issues such as – the severity, frequency and spatial extent of the disasters that we might face (and how much recovery time we might have between them); the appropriateness of how we think about EM; the adequacy of our organisational cultures, structures and the effectiveness of whole-of-government EM planning; the skills mix of people that we employ in such assessments; and how we engage our stakeholder community in the process.


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