Risky Business - Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector ...


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Risky Business - Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector ...

  1. 1. Institute of Public Administration Australia Queensland Division Annual State Conference 24 August 2001 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE Building Trust and Credibility RISKY BUSINESS - CRISIS MANAGEMENT NEEDS IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR by PAUL BARNES The content of this paper should not be construed as indicating policy or strategic intention of the Dept of Primary Industries or the Queensland Government.
  2. 2. 1. Introduction The world has changed from what we knew and will continue to do so. With these changes have come prosperity and innovation aligned with cycles of industrial and technological development. It is clear that along with the obvious benefits of such changes has come a range of unexpected and often calamitous emergency events that remind us that certainty is often a scarce commodity. Strongly linked to certainty are the dual notions of safety and danger. It has been popularly argued for a number of years that as society pursues innovation and enjoys the many benefits of technological development it must also deal with increased risk of unanticipated failure in both human and technological systems that are by design and use becoming more detailed and complex. Many large-scale emergencies resulting from the failure of complex systems have been documented in recent years. What role has government in such situations? If consideration is given to the idea that the ‘modern state’ as a functional and mostly effective form of public administration and governance that derives much of its validity from the promise that it is an effective (and preferred) form for the provision of safety for society then government has a pivotal role. This paper argues that while government regulation and legislative forms are critical in the provision of safety nets and for the reduction of the likelihood of emergency events, the need for a capacity to anticipate the signs and onset of crises and thus mitigate impacts is becoming important. Crisis Management needs within and across government agencies are examined in relation to this capacity. 2. Crisis? What crisis? Crises appear often when they are least expected. On the evening on the 1st of May, 1986 officials of the U.K. Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) probably had no idea that their working life was about to hit a speed bump. The speed bump in question was the delivery of 20 mm of rain over a 24-hour period in the sheep farming areas of the ‘Lake District’ of western England - the Cumbrian Fells. It was not so much the rain itself that embodied this bump but the main radioactive cloud from Chernobyl nuclear plant that had travelled over 4,000 kms to meet with a warm front moving north-northeast towards Scotland. The resultant rainfall deposited large amounts of radioactive iodine-131 (and other isotopes of iodine) across a wide area of heavily farmed country. The radioactivity varied significantly over small distances due to heavy water run-off. The following is a vignette of government responses and actions as the crisis expanded. 1 1 Derived from Park, C. (1989) Chernobyl (The Long Shadow), Routledge, London.; Wynne, B. (1989) “Sheep Farming after Chernobyl, in Environment, Vol. 31, No. 22, pp. 11-39. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 2 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  3. 3. Table 1: U.K. Government Responses to Chernobyl Radiation Fallout th ° On the 4 of May milk samples from a range of areas returned increased radiation levels (measurable rise in iodine-131 and trace levels of isotopes). ° Media release (May 5, 1986) MAFF confirm detection of Iodine-131 radiation in milk but state that hey were under Derived Emergency Reference Levels (DERL’s) set the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). Later it was found that the U.K. differed slightly from other EC countries when it came to defining safe. ICRP levels for radiation in was 10,000 becquerels per litre in milk for adults and 1,000 becquerels for children. The UK National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) use the same levels for adults but set the level for children at 2,000 becquerels per litre. No official reason was given to explain this discrepancy. It caused considerable concern among the public. ° Media release (May 6, 1986) Secretary of State for the Environment, Kenneth Baker states there is no risk to health … “the effects of the cloud have already been assessed and none represents a risk to health in the UK. Levels were no where near those at which there is any hazard to health … current levels are falling rapidly and this trend would continue.” ° Media release (May 11, 1986) NRPB Head John Dunster claims that the effects of Chernobyl will be over in a week or two. … “Chernobyl might lead to an increase of a few tens of excess cancers over 50 years in the UK. Assuming the cloud does not return it will be over in a week or two.” ° Media release (May 13, 1986) The Secretary of State for the Environment said … “the incident may be regarded as over for this country by the end of the week although some traces of contamination will remain.” But MAFF announced that … “they had found radioactive contamination in samples from lambs in the Cumbrian Fells at greater than 1,500 becquerels per Kg of tissue.” This level was 50% higher than EC levels requiring official intervention. The MAFF stopped daily radio bulletins on monitored levels reasoning that levels were now insignificant. ° Media release (May 30, 1986) MAFF noted that … “higher readings had been found [in some sheep] but gave assurances that no action was needed.” ° Media release (June 20, 1986) The Secretary of State for the Agriculture enacted …”an immediate ban on slaughtering and movement of sheep in Cumbria and North Wales. But this would have little effect because radiation levels would decrease before lambs were ready for market. The ban is set for 3 weeks.” These bans affected more than 4,000,000 sheep and close to 7,000 farms. They were extended to Scotland 4 days later. There was some confusion and disbelief about the credibility of Government advice at this point because although no sheep could be sold there were no restrictions on the sale of sheep milk. On July 24 1986 the 3 week ban was extended indefinitely On July 24 1986 the 3 IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 3 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  4. 4. Over twelve months later the U.K. Government announced that restrictions might extend through a second lambing season. To add further complexity to public concerns about information limitations during the acute periods of the crisis, previously unrecognised radiation hotspots were found in Yorkshire in June, 1987. The House of Commons announced an inquiry into the government response to the Chernobyl contamination soon after. A key finding of this inquiry criticised government communications. 3. Governance, Community and Safety A key problem central to governance is the regulation of safety in the modern world. It is a phenomenon in most representative democracies that a majority of decisions with potential to significantly affect our lives are made by others (either elected officials or from within bureaucracies). People can evacuate their homes as cyclonic flooding approaches, or choose to take part in certain hazardous activities, but cannot generally avoid the results of a safety regulator’s decision-making. Such differentials in power and influence often result in long-term concerns among members of the public who find themselves distant from the decision-making processes especially if those decisions are related contentious issues.2 But regulatory authority also gives advice and information to the public that it serves. As shown in the example of 'Chernobyl' contaminated sheep, government supplied information was a critical factor. Contact with the public was important in two ways: (1) from a moral and legislative perspective the government was obliged to assist in reducing harm to consumers, farmers and the livestock [hazard and risk communication]; and (2), the changing information passed on to those affected was a source of concern and doubt among the population because it was perceived to be misleading. Public concern about the safety of the wider environment and their surroundings are key issues. At the same time, regulators may be seen to be concerned about helping to provide safe environments. An impasse arises in this interdependence when regulatory expertise loses credibility in the eyes of the public it is meant to protect. Reduced trust in and disbelief of authority has been well noted in such circumstances. Public fear of large scale industrial disasters or concern about harm from less visible ‘slowburn’ toxic exposures are often seen as misplaced by authorities that point to more obvious threats to health and well-being existing in everyday life.3 How might such concern and disbelief be explained? Three factors have been identified as important. Disbelief may be based on (1), a lack of public trust and 2 Luhmann, N. (1990) “Technology, environment and social risk: a systems perspective,” in Industrial Crisis Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1990, pp. 223-231. 3 Otway, H. & Simms, D.L. (1987) “Criteria for Technological Choice,” in Public Administration, Vol. 65, Summer, pp. 131-143. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 4 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  5. 5. confidence in the institutions involved in the control of hazards and regulation of risk 4 5 and (2), the failure to disclose key pieces of information; or (3), inaccuracies in the communication process.6 Other factors such as inequity in exposure to harm, fear of the catastrophic potential of some hazard or the safety and acceptability of a range of modern technologies, are also important.7 8 These particular factors however, are more matters of politics, authority and power than specific issues of scientific knowledge or its interpretation.9 The key issue about living within modern 'risky' systems may not, therefore, be about risk itself, but power. That is, the power to impose risk (potential harm) on the many for the benefit of the few.10 This chasm of distrust and disbelief between the public on one side and Industry or Regulatory Authority on the other has historically been the central problematique of attempts to regulate and thereby promote safety on behalf of communities.11 12 It has, arguably, retained that importance. Beyond questions of public confidence a further issue for government is the regulation of science and innovation. It is common for modern government(s) to seek to support innovation of services and the betterment of the public that it serves. An ongoing issue for governments as they endeavour to support this development is how to bring the management of scientific innovation and the promotion of technology into the public arena and thus, into a main stream democratic discourse.13 The use and impact of technology however, has historically not always been without problems from this perspective. The Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland related to this historical empowerment of regulatory authority in a speech in July this year.14 4 Wynne, B. (1987) Risk Management and Hazardous Waste (Implementation and the Dialectics of Credibility), Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 5 Slovic, P. (1993) “Perceived Risk, Trust, and Democracy,” in Risk Analysis, Vol. 13, No. 6, pp. 675- 682. 6 Wynne, B. (1989) “Building Public Concern into Risk Management,” Chpt.8 in Brown, J. (ed.), Environmental Threats: Perceptions, Analysis and Management, pp.118-133 7 Kasperson, R.E. (1987) “Trust and Credibility: The Central Issue?” (A Panel Discussion) in Risk Communication, Proceedings of the National Conference on Risk Communication, Washington, DC., Jan 29-31, 1986, Davies, J.C., Covello, V.T. & Allen, F.W. (eds.) The Conservation Foundation, Washington, DC. 8 Otway & von Winterfeldt, 1982: “Beyond Acceptable Risk: On the Social Acceptability of Technologies,” in Policy Sciences, Vol. 14, pp. 247-256. 9 Labonte, R. (1994) “See me, hear me. touch me, feel me: Lessons on Environmental Health Information for Bureaucratic Activists,” Chapter 23 in Chu, C. & Simpson, R. (eds.), Ecological Public Health from Vision to Practice, Institute of Applied Environmental Research, Griffith University, Brisbane, pp. 269-276). 10 Perrow (1984) Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies, by Basic Books, NY.306. 11 Otway & von Winterfeldt, Supra Note 8 12 Slovic, Supra Note 5. 13 Giddens, A. (2001) -Edge Interview). 14 Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland (Director-General) World Health Organization, Opening address to the th 24 Session, Codex Alimentarius Commission, Geneva, July 2, 2001. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 5 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  6. 6. Modern technologies must be thoroughly evaluated if they are to become a true improvement in our way of producing food. While public health can benefit enormously from the potential of biotechnology to increase the nutrient content of foods and improve the efficiency of food production the potential for negative effects on human health from the consumption of food produced through genetic modification must be carefully examined. A number of statements from regulators, producers and scientists involved in the area of biotechnology seem to suggest that they feel the problems originate in the consumers incapacity to understand and scientifically compare the risk of biotechnology foods to the risk of traditional food. To base future deliberations upon this view could be a very serious second mistake. The first mistake has been not to involve consumers – and other interested parties – in the risk analysis process. The process of a scientific assessment and the following management decisions was considered by many regulators to be too complicated for the common consumer It is reasonable to expect that innovation (as the application of new technology to problems or using technology in new ways) should hold few surprises for its users. Such reliability comes from testing and understanding the limits and operational parameters of the technology or product. An extension of the notion that the government ‘makes safe’ is the expectation that government also licenses and regulates the use of technology and by doing so provides a degree of certainty about safety of that technology. It is in this area that the benefits of risk analysis and technology assessment become critical. This especially holds in relation to reducing the likelihood that incidents or practices occur that lead to crises. Figure 1 examines the benign impact of technology over both limited and dispersed contexts and emergent (unexpected) impacts that may not be benign. It contrasts what may be seen as best-case regulatory options and a two-step transition towards a worst-case. A goal of effective regulation should be to minimise the outcomes shown in segment 3 and 4, while maximising the likelihood of achieving those in segments 1 and 2. Such goals might be achieved by assuring the quality of the regulatory decisions and by evaluating the processes of decision-making in relation to specific set criteria. The likelihood of achieving these goals is also increased by ensuring that the information used in the decision making process is the best and most complete available. The emergence of segment 3 or 4 impacts can however be difficult to predict because of unnoticed trends,15 an unanticipated synergism16 between components 15 While natural areas are often monitored well in the western world there are still discoveries of aggressive non-native plant species that might have been in country for a number of years before being discovered [Bright, C., (2000) “Environmental Surprises: Planning for the Unexpected,” in The Futurist, July-August.]. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 6 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  7. 7. of complex systems or by a discontinuity (an abrupt shift in a previously stable system or context).17 A further factor is that segment 4 impacts in addition to having wide geographical footprints also exhibit extended time spans over which impacts may occur and inter-generational effects. Figure 1: Technology Assessment - Impacts and Context CONTEXT Dispersed Limited Contextual Innovation Potentially Innovative Application of Planned Surprise Free a technology: - Parasitic vaccines, - DNA finger-printing 1 2 IMPACT of a TECHNOLOGY Technological Techno-Contextual Surprise Surprise Generally constrained Emergent Impacts of Emergent impacts: Technology in a regional - Pesticide residues in or global context: food - Global warming - Algal blooms - Ozone depletion - Unexpected behaviour of - BSE genetically engineered - vCJD organisms 3 4 Sheep farming ‘Chernobyl style’ may be classified as a quadrant three issue: technological surprise. While the synergism of weather and radioactive fallout was not foreseeable, the subsequent crisis resulted in impacts spread over time with a significant ongoing effect on livestock breeding cycles, the social and economic wellbeing of farming communities and the viability of a whole agricultural ecosystem. 4. Organisational Factors 16 An example of a segment 4 impact is the discovery of BSE in cattle caused by use of meat and bone meal products in feed. The subsequent discovery that zoonotic transmission can occur to humans resulting in new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) adds to the reality of synergistic effects in the food chain and across species. 17 Over use of a natural resource either by grazing or fishing, for example, could affect the reproductive success of some flora or fauna to the point where the sustainability of that resource is forced into a rapid and unrecoverable decline. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 7 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  8. 8. While the nature of issues affecting how government agencies engage with communities and expectations about the regulatory safety role are important other constraints on the functioning of organisations are also of great importance. Over the past few decades a number of large and not so large-scale disasters have occurred. Incidents such as the methyl-isocyanate release at Bhopal, the explosion of the Space Shuttle - Challenger and the dioxin contamination at Seveso have become icons of socio-technical disasters across society. Analyses on these incidents and their aftermath have shown that in addition to certain causal triggers of crises being often unexpected and even overlooked, the capacity to respond quickly and appropriately once emergent signs appeared also seemed restricted. Further indication from these analyses defined a range of cultural patterns that limit an organisations repertoire to mitigate impacts arising from the crisis. Of the many that have been detailed three are examined here.18 These are: Rigidity in thinking o Restricted expectation about contingencies and their consequences o Inflexibility in considering alternative options & choices for mitigation Lack of Decision Readiness o Key decision makers not practiced in emergency decision making Information Distortion o Attenuation and filtering of information to key decision makers Specific cultural patterns or ‘operating rules’ such as these have been retrospectively linked to the genesis and amplification of well-known crises in recent times. It has been strongly argued that the presence of such patterns in an organisation’s operational repertoire increase vulnerability to accidents and crises.19 Such ‘normal’ crises (or accidents) can typically involve events that are not only unexpected but remain incomprehensible for some critical period of time. The people involved cannot figure out quickly enough what is really going wrong. An example of this might be the incident of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant where operators were nonplussed about the detail and cause of the reactor failure and its status for some time. An examination of a number of well-known disasters and resultant crises provides a greater insight into the type of organisational factor identified above. Complacency and boredom (The Exxon Valdez oil disaster) 18 Smart C. & Vertinsky, I. (1977) “Designs for Crisis Decision Units,” in Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 22, pp640-657. 19 C. Perrow Supra Note 10. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 8 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  9. 9. While shipping in and out of the Alyeska pipeline terminal in Valdez, Alaska had not been totally free of incidents, the general pattern of experiences until mid- night on March 23 1989, are unlikely to have raised concerns about catastrophic failure for most observers. Over a period of more than a decade approximately 8,000 tankers had gone in and out of the port without a single catastrophic failure. Based on such an empirical track record most stakeholders, presumably, would have seen little reason for any particular concern. Five minutes later, however, the incredibly sophisticated tanker had an incredibly stupid encounter with a submerged obstacle that was literally miles away from its original plotted course and clearly marked by a flashing red light.20 It may have been the 'success' of many trips in and out of Prince William Sound over an extended period contributed to a situation where the captain decided to retire to his quarters leaving the ship under the control of a third mate who would not have been expected by any formal risk assessment to be at the helm. Further complications may have derived from a failure by Coast Guard personnel on duty to monitor the low-power radar screens that remained at their disposal after cost-cutting efforts of a few years earlier.21 Issue: Past success (or lack of failure) inculcated restricted beliefs about what could happen and assumptions about reduced vulnerabilities for both individual actors and at organisational levels. (Unrealistic expectations about contingencies and capacity to respond) (The Exxon Valdez oil disaster) At least five contingency plans were in effect at the time of the spill.22 These included: o The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, o The Coast Guard’s Captain of the Port Prince William Sound Pollution Action Plan, o The Alaska Regional Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan o The State of Alaska’s Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, o The Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan for Prince William Sound. Among other expectations each plan assumed:23 o That rescue and response equipment would be at the ready. 20 Freudenburg, W.R. (1992) “Nothing Recedes Like Success? - Risk Analysis and the Organizational Amplification of Risks.” Vol. 3.1 of the Indexed Risk Articles of the Franklin Pierce Law Centre (URL: http://www.fplc.edu/risk/rapa.htm. 21 Freudenburg, supra Note 20. 22 Clarke, L. (1989) “Organizational Foresight and the Exxon Oil Spill,” unpublished paper, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University. 23 Freudenburg, supra Note 20. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 9 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  10. 10. o That material would be deployed in a carefully coordinated manner, with an efficient and effective division of labour among organisations being instituted almost immediately. o That communication channels among previously competitive or even adversarial organisations would be established readily o That interpretation of the communications would be without problems o That each responding organisation or agency would take precisely the right step at precisely the right time to fit the need of other organisations. The reality was that confusion seems to have been far more commonplace than communication. Rather than coordinating their activities the various organizations with a stake in the spill and the clean-up often seemed to have more interest in blaming one another than in working with one another.24 In contrast to the initial in-effectiveness of the official response, groups from the local fishing industry acted together to source oil barriers in Norway and arranged for their transport to Prince William Sound and their deployment.25 Issue: Lack of decision readiness and unrealistic assumptions about roles and actions to be carried out by relevant actors can lead to a state of operational gridlock. The contingency planning in place has been described as reflecting organizational perceptions regarding possible catastrophes and their nature, and claims that the likelihood of oil spills had been thoroughly considered. Such plans were intended to convey that the organisation was in control of a potentially uncontrollable situation.26 Bureaucratic attenuation of information flows (The Space Shuttle – Challenger Explosion) A number of investigations after the incident called attention to the fact that people within engineering areas of the launch group repeatedly expressed concern, sometimes quite forcibly, about the potential dangers of launching the Challenger under low-temperature conditions. It is interesting to note that persons at the top of the organisation reported never having heard anything about such concerns during the same investigations.27 Issue: Information filtering can lead to a reduced organisational capacity to make operationally difficult decisions. Further over time attenuation of information especially if it relates to the core functions of sub-systems can lead to organisational blindness. Such cultural phenomena have been said to manifest readily in pre-disaster incubation periods.28 How long the disaster needs before hatching would be highly variable. 24 Freudenburg, supra Note 20 25 Clarke, L. (1993) “The Disqualification Heuristic: When do organisations misperceive risk?” in Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 5, pp. 289-312 26 Clarke, supra Note 22 27 Freudenburg, supra Note 20. 28 Turner, B. A. (1978) Man-Made Disasters, Wykeham Press, London. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 10 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  11. 11. What role might there be for government in oversighting the organisational blind spots of industry? Further, how important might self-assessment of similar factors be for government? 5. Lessons from the farm - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (The Evolution of a Government Department) Organisations, in their modern forms, may be seen as seeking to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of decision-making processes. A central tenet of organisational governance is a standardisation (via routines) for handling decisions. These routines as cultural patterns then become the templates through which the information is filtered, and by which action is organised. By extension therefore organisations are, arguably, organised to be inflexible. This could mean that organisations will be more suited to do some things well and other things poorly.29 Exxon would be expected to be good at arctic exploration, oil management and lobbying of government but poor in crisis management and disaster preparation. Similarly the U.K. Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries (MAFF) is likely to have been effective regulatory agency but enhanced capacities to reliably connect the science - policy interface (critical for an effective regulation of science-based innovation and food safety) were, in hindsight, lacking. Why is this interface critical? Its importance relates to the reality that science and especially regulatory science in the public sector is often called on to generate advice on issues that are affected by considerable technical uncertainty. Notwithstanding the existence of confidence limits attached to advice, it will be used in policy and management decisions that are in turn affected by a need for certainty and surety. This is a key issue: the meeting of unavoidably soft science with the reality of irretrievably hard policy considerations. Recently, if you had been surfing the ‘net’ and perchance decided to see how your radioactive sheep were faring in the capable hands of the MAFF. You may have been surprised to find that the MAFF as public sector agency had been subsumed into a new entity – the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Why did this occur? While not a failure at crisis management it is likely that the MAFF might not be classified as a crisis prepared organisation. It is arguable also that as a ministry of government with lead agency status for animal health and by implication security of the food chain, there were critical failures in assessing its own needs for defining the nature and the parameters of the expanding crisis and options for managing it. Key issues within the BSE crisis were: o The Science - Policy interface o Uncertainty o Risk Communication 29 Freudenburg, supra Note 20 IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 11 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  12. 12. The Rt. Hon Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the publication of the BSE inquiry report, 26 October 2000 (extracted from Hansard) referred to the following points from the executive summary the BSE Inquiry (The Phillips Report) that investigated activities of the Government up to 1996:30 - At times officials showed a lack of rigour in considering how policy should be turned into practice, to the detriment of the efficacy of the measures taken. - At times bureaucratic processes result in unacceptable delay in giving effect to policy. - The Government introduced measures to guard against the risk that BSE might be a matter of life and death not merely for cattle but also for humans, but the possibility of a risk to humans was not communicated to the public or to those whose job it was to implement and enforce the precautionary measures. - The Government did not lie to the public about BSE. It believed that the risks posed by BSE to humans were remote. The Government was preoccupied with preventing an alarmist over-reaction to BSE because it believed that the risk was remote. It is now clear that this campaign of reassurance was a mistake. When on 20 March 1996 the Government announced that BSE had probably been transmitted to humans, the public felt that they had been betrayed. Confidence in government pronouncement about risk was a further casualty of BSE. In the same speech the Hon the Minister detailed a number of government actions derived from 'lessons in public administration' that resulted from the BSE inquiry. These were improvements in: o Implementation of policy decisions; o Processes of contingency planning; o Co-ordination across Departments and other agencies; o Assessment, management and communication of risk; o The role of scientific advisory committees; o The Government's assessment and use of scientific advice. Key findings from the enquiry into the handling of the BSE crisis focused on failings of hazard and risk communication. But absent also was a demonstrated capacity to deal with the organisational issues within the MAFF and relational issues between the agency and external stakeholders. While these ‘lessons in public administration' from the BSE inquiry listed above do not map perfectly to the pre-disposing factors of crisis-prone organisations discussed earlier, there are critical similarities. The need for enhanced contingency planning and a focus on the type and nature of information needed for risk communication between scientific staff and policy advisers are core issues. In most circumstances this internal organisational communication is as critical as communication with the public. 30 Statement by the Rt. Hon Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the publication of the BSE inquiry report, 26 October 2000 (Extract from Hansard) IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 12 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  13. 13. 6. Why a flexible Crisis Management capacity is important for the Public Sector While many varieties of crisis can occur in either of the private or public sectors there remains central to them all a loss of credibility and support in either a branded commodity or the responsible public sector agencies. The value of an effective crisis management response capacity covers a number of areas. A functional system can: o Support the establishment of effective and timely responses to crisis situations. o Enhance business (service) continuity. o Assist government to meet the needs of the public when confronted by technical uncertainty and concern. o Define short to medium term responses to incidents that entail multiple events (simultaneous concurrency) and emergent phenomena that vary over location and time. o Promote a capability to anticipate areas of strategic concern, and their implications, before impacts occur or become significant. o Provide the means for reducing organisational and societal vulnerability to unplanned or unexpected change. A crisis management capacity of this nature in the public sector might entail: o A robust threat assessment capability and capacity that includes sub- functions for - Environmental Scanning (Weak signals) - Emergency Management Escalation Triggers (Incident/Issue recognition) - Consequence Analysis (supporting the development of impact frames in the context of high uncertainty) - Crisis Management Decision-making Capacity (separate to routine business decision making structures).31 o Clearly stated, understood and tested communication mechanisms for reporting emergent incident/issues to the CEO and senior management. How might such a Crisis Management capacity be developed? An obvious first step is to ensure the support of senior management and especially the CEO for the processes involved and the benefits that can accrue. From this critical first step the following needs should be considered: o Build capacity and capability in applying foresight, via interdisciplinary teams, to issues that have can limit achievement of organisational goals (such issues may not yet be obvious). o Ensure that robust analytical & conceptual frameworks of risk assessment are developed appropriate to the functions of the organisation. o An integrated Corporate Governance and Risk Management System. o Clarity of organisational purpose and related goals. Within organizations disaster provoking events tend to accumulate over time because they are invariably over looked, misunderstood or misinterpreted. Crises 31 Smart & Vertinsky Supra Note 18. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 13 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector
  14. 14. are not normally caused by a single factor but emerge from an aggregation of complex chains of events and other triggers.32 While all of these points on developing a suitable crisis management capacity are important a critical need for public sector organisations is the implementation of effective systems of corporate governance. If designed to ensure an appropriate mix if rigidity and flexibility such systems can increase the likelihood of identifying dysfunction within an organization. Public Sector organizations stand to gain much from effective crisis management systems in place. These benefits may be defined as: o Increased capacity to limit the likelihood of the occurrence of major systems failures with propagating impacts (prevention). o Enhanced capacity to limit the severity of incidents and consequent impacts. o Increased capacity to adapt to changing circumstances (internal and external). o Increased capacity to achieve the strategic goals of the agency. o An effective means to demonstrate the worth of the agency to communities. o An enhanced reputation as a credible and effective public sector partner (over time). 7. Conclusion The modern world is, as mentioned earlier, in a constant state of change. A strong expectation remains among the many public(s) that government agencies will continue to provide appropriate and relevant services to them. A lexical appreciation of governance would suggest emphasis on smooth guidance and steady control. Crisis management as both an outcome and as part of an organisational repertoire should be integral to providing such service and for maintaining relevance in the face of changing social needs. A suitable aphorism for crisis management may be … ‘do not expect the un- expected, anticipate what is plausible and act.’ 32 Turner, B. (1976) The Organisational and Inter-Organisational Development of Disasters, in the Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 21, Sept. pp.378-397. IPAA Qld State Conference 2001 Page 14 P. Barnes – Risky Business: Crisis Management Needs in the Public Sector