Decision making during extreme events

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Decision making during extreme events

  1. 1. Factors that Influence Crisis Managers and their Decision Making Ability During Extreme Events IntroductionThe purpose of this article is to review the major problem areas that areconsidered when emergency professionals make decisions responding toextreme events. ―An emergency is by definition a unique and unpredictableevent, and it is seldom possible, even in retrospect, to assess what the outcomeof an emergency response would have been if alternative measures had beenfollowed‖ (Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999, p. 92).The problems are unambiguous and recurring themes appear in the literature.Clausewitz offers a cohesive observation outlining these problematic areas: ―A commander must continually face situations involving uncertainties, questionable or incomplete data or several possible alternatives. As the primary decision maker, he, with the assistance of his staff, must not only decide what to do and how to do it, but he must also recognize if and when he must make a decision‖ (Clausewitz, 1976, p. 383).This research is important because the needs of the EM must be identified fromthe literature found within the emergency domain. It is important for the resultsof studies confirming the task type, needs and considerations of the practitionersthemselves to be observed so that technology, exercises, policy and procedurescan be developed to support the needs of decision makers for a rapid responseand recovery given a catastrophic even has occurred.Stress is an understandable emotion felt by EM. EM must make life and deathdecisions especially where such tragedies requiring triage may have to bedecided in the selection criterion between groups of people (Kowalski-Trakofler, Vaught and Scharf, 2003). Another source of stress arises whendecisions must be made under severe time constraints (Rodriquez, 1997,Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003). DMs have to forecast and make predictionsgiven the uncertainty in expectations of future events (Rodriguez, 1997). Timeis precious, and accurate decisions must be made along a time line at particularpoints in time over the duration of the event as a disaster evolves (Brehmer,1987; Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999). ―The operational commandercontinually faces an uncertain environment‖ (Rodriguez, 1997, p. 5). 1
  2. 2. Critical judgments must be made where large amounts of information areavailable for consderation creating information overload. To make mattersworse, this information can be wrong or incomplete (Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al,2003) or sufficient time may be lacking to gain the perfect and completeinformation needed before the decision is made (Rodriquez, 1997). ―In dealingwith the uncertainty of a continually changing environment, the decision makermust achieve a trade-off between the cost of action and the risk of non-action‖(Kowalski-Trakofler and Vaught, 2003, p. 283). Sometimes these decisions aremade on the decision maker‘s (DM) assumptions and intuition wheninformation is not attainable (Rodriquez, 1997).Small events occur frequently, and catastrophic events occur rarely (Hyndmanand Hyndman, 2006). Protocols or heuristics can be used for the emergenciesthat are smaller and occur frequently. However, management is posed with theproblem of not having any or little prior experience to larger events wherenational boundaries are ignored and the demands of the resources needed farexceed the availability of supply. Research reveals that extreme events havedifferent characteristics from smaller disasters (Skertchly and Skertchly, 2001).This calls for a dynamic approach to decision making to fit the task due to theoverwhelming nature of these extreme events considered with the limitations ofa human‘s mental capacity and ability to manage a large set of ongoingproblems at any one time. A major problem exists in a decision maker‘s abilityto effectively manage all of the ongoing events simultaneously during anextreme event (Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999; Kerstholt, 1996).One person is in charge of making the final decision for action, but this is acollaborative effort of numerous stakeholders sharing numerous overlappingtasks. ―As complexity increases, it becomes impossible for a single individualwith the limited information processing capacity to gain control‖ (Danieissonand Ohisson, 1999, p. 93). A dynamic decision making approach is a muchneeded method due to the inherent nature of the chaos characteristic of extremeevents (Danielsson and Ohlsson 1999). Extreme events need to be managedusing structure with flexibility to improvise or adapt where necessary to achieveagility (Harrald, 2009).In the remainder of this chapter, these facets will be elaborated, further probingdeeper into the needs of emergency managers. First, how extreme events aredifferent from small emergencies and must be approached as a different tasktype is covered. Second, extreme events are a wicked problem, and thesecharacteristics are laid out and matched with extreme events. Good versus bad 2
  3. 3. characteristics in EM decision making from the literature are listed. Third,types of bias that are specific in emergency situations and decision making arecovered. Next, literature findings concerning time, stress and informationoverload are provided. Methods describing how EM handles informationpresently are discussed and related to other research concepts already exploredin this research effort. Next, research indicating how feedback and expertintuition are used to manage uncertainty is examined. Extreme EventsLarge scale extreme events are not like small emergencies. Small emergenciesoccur regularly where most decisions are rule based due to the experience of theevent (Rasmussen, 1983). This is referred to as procedural expertise (Adamsand Ericsson, 2000). In the event that a small emergency should occur, the EMmay not even be notified because firefighters, police and emergency medicalattendants already know how to proceed (Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999). Onthe other hand, extreme events present a different set of characteristics due tothe problem type and task structure (Campbell, 1999; Mitchell, 1999; McLellan,et. al, 2003).In large-scale operations, the cognitive demands on the EM are severe(Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999). Team coordination strategies will evolve fromexplicit coordination under low workload conditions to implicit coordination aswork load increases. Large-scale emergency operations imply distributeddecision making in that decisions are disseminated among many stakeholders,of which no single individual has complete knowledge of the current situation(Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999; Mitchell, 1999; Kowalski-Trakofler andVaught, 2003).Wicked ProblemsExtreme events possess characteristics, are problem types and have taskstructures that are categorized as wicked. Wicked problems are volatile and of avery dynamic nature with considerable uncertainty and ambiguity (Horn, 2005).Wicked problems are ongoing and have no stopping rule (Rittel and Webber,1973, Digh, 2000). They are never resolved and change over time (Conklin,1998). Wicked problems are solved per se when they no longer are of interestto the stakeholders, when resources are depleted or when the political agendachanges (Horst and Webber, 1973). Many stakeholders with multiple valueconflicts redefine what the problem is repeatedly, reconsider what the causal 3
  4. 4. factors are and have multiple views of how to approach and hopefully deal withthe problem (Rittel and Webber, 1973, Conklin, 1998, Digh, 2000). Getting andmaintaining agreement amongst the stakeholders is most difficult because eachhas their own perception and, thus, opinion of what is best (Rittel and Webber,1973).Extreme events possess the characteristics of those found within the definitionsof wicked problems. ―Each dysfunctional event has its own uniquecharacteristics, impacts, and legacies‖ (Skertchly and Skertchly, 2001, p. 23).For example, catastrophic disasters have the following attributes anddimensions many of which are the same as those described in wicked problems:  *They don‘t have any rules.  Often, emergency services are insufficient to cope with the demands given the limited amount of available resources.  Vital resources are damaged and nonfunctional.  *Procedures for dealing with the situation are inadequate.  *No solutions for resolution exist on a short-term basis.  *Events continue to escalate.  *Serious differences of opinion arise about how things should be managed.  The government of the day and the bureaucracy becomes seriously involved.  The public takes an armchair position and is fed by the media.  *The number of authorities and officials involved are growing.  *Sometimes simply trying to identify which of the emergency services and investigative bodies is doing what results in complete chaos.  The need to know who is in charge is urgent (Campbell 1999, 52).*are characteristic of wicked problemsEM tasks differ from control task types in that, no two events are the same sodifferent decision processes are required to be implemented. Interactingvariables are many, and the domain is ill defined and unknown at times(Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999). An EM cannot project any future decisionswith any degree of accuracy due to all of the variables that are involved and allof the different scenarios that can exist due to the great amount of uncertaintyinvolved and lack of experience of the unknown (Newport: 1996). 4
  5. 5. Decision Making in Emergency ManagementDecision tasks are perceived to be difficult by the EM where issues involvinglife saving operations such as evacuations or triage have the potential to havedevastating results if not conducted accurately (Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999).Studies show an EMs most difficult aspects of work are:  Lack of routine and practice–refers to the infrequency of major accidents, making it difficult to get experiences of the command and control proper.  Communicational shortcomings o Information overload is salient during the initial phase of an emergency response and is seen as especially severe if no staff members are available to perform communication duties. o Technical equipment inadequacy o Lack of skills in handling communication equipment  Feelings of isolation–lack of peers with whom to discuss common problems (Danielsson and Ohlsson 1999, p. 94).Other psychological processes are associated with decisions made by EMs.Effective decision makers must take many factors of the environment intoconsideration to understand that these are complex, dynamic, time-pressured,high-stakes, multi-person task environments (McLellan, et. al, 2003).Some hazard conceptualization and management problems developed fromMitchell, 1999 are presented:  *Lack of agreement about definition and identification of problems  *Lack of awareness of natural and unnatural (human-made) hazards  *Lack of future forecasting capabilities  *Misperception of misjudgment of risks associated with hazards  Deliberate misrepresentation of hazards and risks  *Lack of awareness of appropriate responses  *Lack of expertise to make use of responses  Lack of money or resources to pay for responses 5
  6. 6.  *Lack of coordination among institutions and organizations  Lack of attention to relationship between ‗disasters‘ and ‗development‘  Failure to treat hazards as contextual problem whose components require simultaneous attention  Lack of access by affected populations to decision making  Lack of public confidence in scientific knowledge  Lack of capable and enlightened political leadership  *Conflicting goals among populations at risk  *Fluctuating salience of hazards  Public opposition by negatively affected individuals and groups.*wicked characteristicsMany of these are also characteristic of the wicked problem types definedearlier and have characteristics in common with those of extreme events (Ritteland Webber, 1973; Campbell 1999).Time ―Time lost is always a disadvantage that is bound in some way to weaken he who loses it‖ (Clauswitz, 1976, p. 383).Time is a critical factor that further complicates the decision making process. Inextreme events, an EM must consider an enormous number of factors quickly(Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003). Decisions must be made, sometimes forceddue to time constraints. ―The faster a decision has to be made, the less time theinformation processing system has to convert or gather enough accurateinformation to convert assumptions to facts‖ (Rodriquez, 1997, p7-8). Thismeans that decisions are made under uncertainty and without full consideration.An EM must weigh delaying the decision making against the negativeconsequences that may occur while waiting for more requested information(Kowalski-Trakofler and Vaught, 2003). Once time has passed, alternativeactions are no longer possible and perhaps the best decision has been bypassedleaving only less optimal conditions from which to choose.Kowalski-Trakofler and Vaught conducted a study of good decision makingcharacteristics under life threatening situations. They found that, during anyphase of the decision making process, a set of factors could significantly impactone‘s ability to deal with complex problems under time critical situations.These factors are: 6
  7. 7.  Psychomotor skills, knowledge and attitude  Information quality and completeness  Stress–generated both by the problem at hand and any existing background problem  The complexity of elements that must be attended (2003, p. 285).One research finding indicates that performance can be maintained under timepressure if the communication changes from explicit to implicit (Serfaty andEntin, 1993). They found that ―Implicit coordination patterns, anticipatorybehavior, and redirection of the team communication strategy are evident underconditions of increased time-pressure. The authors conclude that effectivechanges in communication patterns may involve updating team members,regularly anticipating the needs of others by offering unrequested information,minimizing interruptions, and articulating plans at a high level in order to allowflexibility in the role of front-line emergency responders‖ (Serfaty and Entin,1993).StressStress is defined as ―a process by which certain work demands evoke anappraisal process in which perceived demands exceed resources and result inundesirable physiological, emotional, cognitive and social changes‖ (Salas,Driskell, and Hughs, 1996, p.6).Information during an emergency can be the source of stress in many ways(Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003). First, due to technical malfunctions or justpoor implementation, the initial warnings can be ambiguous and create a greaterneed for clarity in a situation. This causes the situation to be interpreteddifferently and leads to different interpretations in how people are to respond.Another stressor due to information mismanagement is when people do not fullyunderstand what is going on or have disagreement between stakeholders on thesituation; the right information is not gathered. This wastes time and causesmore stress and aggravation. Other stressors come from poor leadership. Ifleadership is weak, then it adds to worse decisions or no decisions being madeand can result in confusion. Last, when technology or other apparatus fails, thisleaves people without information and the inability to keep current withresponse efforts and will add more stress (Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003).Stress is a major factor in decision making especially during life criticalsituations (Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003). One of the primary stressors is the 7
  8. 8. lack of information immediately after the event during the early phase of theemergency response where it concerns determining scale and the characteristicsof damage (Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999).A major problem occurs when people are making decisions under stress thatleads to poor decision making. Research shows all of the feasible choices arenot considered, and a decision is likely to be made prematurely (Keinan,Friedland, and Ben-Porath, 1987). This is not good because no matter howexperienced a DM may be, they will be confronted with situations they have notexperienced previously (Harrald, 2009). So, all of the influential informationthat time allows should be considered in order to make the most appropriatedecision.Information OverloadGood incident commanders function as if they have a good practicalunderstanding of the limitations of their information processing system, and thecorresponding limitations of others (McLellan, et. al, 2003). In particular, theyoperated in such a manner that (a) their effective working memory capacity wasnot exceeded, (b) they monitored and regulated their emotions and their arousallevel, and (c) they communicated with subordinates in ways that took intoaccount subordinates‘ working memory capacity limitations. The foundation oftheir ability to manage their own information load effectively seems to be priorlearning from past experience.Studies show that during an emergency, information quality varies on threedimensions: reliability, availability and relevance (Danielsson and Ohlsson,1999). The decision to use information at any given time and the weight of theusage of the information is based on these dimensions.BiasMany forms of bias exist when it comes to decision making, but emergencymanagement has a set that is associated with disastrous leadership. Researchindicates that this is from a lack of self awareness which is a normal reactionconcerning information processing. Table 2.1 lists the bias types along with abrief description derived by Adams & Ericsson (2000). Table Bias in Emergency Management Decision Making Bias Type Description 8
  9. 9. Sunk- Persisting with a tactic, which to the dispassionate observer costs is demonstrably ineffectual, simply because time and resources have already been invested in the tactic. Optimism Choosing a course of action which necessitates nothing whatsoever going wrong if it is to succeed. For example, positioning a crew on steep sloping terrain with high levels of burnable material above and below them. Need for Good incident commanders frequently report having to Action deliberately exercise self-restraint so as not to precipitately commit resources to a course of action before completing a thorough situation assessment Linear Associated with disastrous incident command at wildland Rate of fires; human beings seem to be incapable of accurately Change predicting non-linear rates of change.Muddling ThroughA large amount of information must be considered in a very small amount oftime. Time to fully explore all alternatives is lacking not to mention, stress hasa tendency to make DM focus narrowly on the list of available alternatives.Studies found that good DM only focus on the most feasible and reliablesolutions and eliminate the nonessential information (Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al,2003). This does not compromise the DM ability to make good decisions, butrather, simplifies the process allowing them to focus on the critical issues.This same approach was validated by other research studying decision processesof good DM (McLellan, et. al, 2003). The study indicated that all of theinformation was scanned but focus was only considered on a ‗need to know‘basis and only on the relevant factors which needed to be considered.This decision making strategy is described by Charles Lindblom that he refersto as Muddling Through (Lindblom, 1959, Lindblom 1979). This employsmethods that help a (DM) focus on the most relevant subgroup, given a list ofalternatives from which to choose for any given task. Muddling through aproblem guides decision makers to direct their focus into selecting incrementalchanges.UncertaintyThe demands on emergency management are described by The CatastrophicAnnex to the National Response Plan (NRP; DHS 2004): ―A detailed and 9
  10. 10. credible common operating picture may not be achievable for 24 to 48 hours (orlonger). ―As a result, response activities must begin without the benefit of adetailed or complete situation and critical needs assessment‖ (Harrald, 2006, p.258). Due to the nature of an extreme event, many judgments must be madewith information that is often ambiguous, wrong and incomplete (Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003). The operational activities involve ―hierarchical teamsof trained individuals, using specialized equipment, whose efforts must becoordinated via command, control, and communication processes to achievespecified objectives under conditions of threat, uncertainty, and limitedresources, both human and material‖ (McLellan, et. al, 2003, p. 2).Not only are the decisions made presently under dicey information, butforecasting future events also poses a challenge due to the uncertainty in thefuture events as they play out over the duration of the extreme event(Rodriguez, 1997). ―To make decisions about an uncertain future, thecommander must make many assumptions. Intuitive thinking is an importantskill in the ability to make a sound assumption‖ (Rodriguez, 1997, p1). This iswhere the experts are using intuition to fill gaps in information needs.FeedbackTimely and reliable feedback is one means to help DM make good judgments.One type of uncertainty is from the lack of feedback or reported informationfrom the initial assessment from affected areas. Particularly annoying to EMcan be in the lack of feedback where the next decision cannot be made withoutthe present information acquired especially when the damage cannot bevisualized (Danielsson and Ohlsson, 1999). This can have detrimental effectson the outcome of the event, because the DM performance is diminished.Expert IntuitionAssumptions are used by DM to fill in gaps where uncertainty exists(Rodruguez, 1997). Intuition plays a large role in filling in these gaps and canhave good consequences from those with experience. ―For experiencedcommanders, intuition fills in the decision making processes where imperfectinformation leaves off‖ (Battle Command, 1994, p. 25).A study conducted on a large group of top executives supports the concept thatintuition was used to guide critical decision making situations. The situationsand environments in which intuition was mostly used and helpful were found tobe where: 10
  11. 11.  A high level of uncertainty exists  The event has little previous precedent  Variables are often not scientifically predictable  ―Facts are limited‖  Facts do not clearly point the way to go  Time is limited and the pressure is to be right  Several plausible alternative solutions are available to choose from, with good arguments for each (Argot, 1986, p 18)When considering the issue of analytical versus intuition judgment, the NationalInstitute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported: “The point here is that research which focuses on judgment must include scrutiny not only of decisions that are made, but also of real-world variables that influence them. The quality of any decision may have little or no direct relationship to the eventual outcome of its execution in a given situation. This is because a decision-maker is constrained not only by the stress of the situation or personal knowledge and attitudes, but also because he or she can only weigh information that is available” (Kowalski-Trakofler, et. al, 2003, p. 286).Normal decision making techniques do not suffice in such complex situations asextreme events. Characteristics were identified as:  Novelty—the officer had never encountered such a situation before,  Opacity—needed information was not available,  Resource inadequacy—the resources currently available were not sufficient to permit an optimal response (McLellan, et. al, 2003, p. 3).The EM is continually facing an uncertain environment. There is insufficienttime for the EM to get the correct information they need and this must beweighed against the need to make a decision at a particular time, so he/she mustrely on assumptions and intuition. Intuition helps the DM to make decisionsfaster and more accurately, contributing to initiative and agility (Rodriguez,1997). Conclusion 11
  12. 12. Decision making by emergency managers in extreme events has problem areas that need support in order to minimize the disastrous effects that can cripple the outcome and recovery efforts. This is a review of the research literature specifically from the emergency domain. The problem areas identified are time, stress, information overload, bias, and delayed feedback. Considerations must be made when developing technology, writing policies, conducting exercises and such occur. Flexibility needs to be incorporated so that a basic set of rules or procedures can be modified or implemented to fit the various needs and scenarios that can play out given an extreme event. ReferencesAdams, R. J. & Ericsson, A. E. (2000). Intoduction to the cognitive processes ofexpert pilots. Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments, 5(1), 44-62.Agor, W.H., The Logic of Intuitive Decision Making (New Yorik: Quorom,1986), 18.Battle Command. Leadership and Decision Making for War and OperationsOther than War. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Battle Command Battle Laboratory,22 April 1994.Baumgart, L, Bass, E., Philips, B. and Kloesel, K. Emergency ManagementDecision-Making During Severe Weather, Weather and Forecasting, In Press,2008.Campbell, R. 1999, ‗Controlling Crisis Chaos‘, Journal of EmergencyManagement Australia, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 51-54.Clausewitz, Carl Von, On War. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UniversityPress 1984.Danieisson, M. and Ohisson, K. Decision Making in Emergency Management: ASurvey Study. International Journal of Cognitive Ergonomics, 1999, 3(2), 91-99.Harrald, J. Aginlitly and Discipline: Critical Success Factors for DisasterResponse. Annals, AAPSS, 604, March 2006. 12
  13. 13. Harrald, J. Achieving Agility in Disaster Management. International Journal ofInformation Systems and Crisis Management, Volume I, Issue I, 2009.Keinan, G., Friedland, N. and Ben-Porath, Y. (1987) .Decision-making understress: Scanning of alternatives under physical threat., Acta Psychologica,Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., North Holland, Vol. 64, pp.219.228.Kerstholt, J. Dynamic Decision Making. TNO Human Factors Netherlands,1996.Kontogiannis, T. and Kossiavelou, Z., Stress and team performance: principlesand challenges for intelligent decision aids, Safety Science, December, Vol.33,Issue 3, pp. 103 -128, 1999.Kowalski-Trakofler, K., Vaught and Sharf, T., Judgment and decision makingunder stress: an overview for emergency managers. Int. J. EmergencyManagement, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 278-289, 2003.McLennan, J., Holgate, A., and Wearing A. Human Information Processingaspects of Effective Emergency Incident Management Decision Making. HumanFactors of Decision Making in Complex Systems, Dunblane , Scotland,September, 2003.Mitchell, J.K. ed. 1999, Crucibles of Hazard: Mega-Cities and Disasters inTransition, United Nations University Press, Tokyo.Naval War College, Joint Military Operations Department, Operational DecisionMaking. United States Naval War College Instructional PPer NWC 4108, JointMilitary Operations Department, 1996.Rodriguez, David M., Dominating Time in the Operational Decision MakingProcess, Final Report NAVAL WAR COLL NEWPORT RI, June 1997.Salas, E., Driskell, E. and Hughs, S. (1996) .The study of stress and humanperformance., inJ.E. Driskell and E. Salas (Eds.) Stress and HumanPerformance, Lawrence ErlbaumAssociates, New Jersey, pp.1.45.Skertchly, A. and Skertcly, K. Catastrophe management: coping with totallyunexpected extreme disasters. The Australian Journal of EmergencyManagement. Volume 16, Issue 1, Autumn 2001. 13
  14. 14. Murray Turoff, Connie White, and Linda Plotnick. Dynamic EmergencyResponse Management For Large Scale Extreme Events. InternationalConference on Information Systems, Pre-ICIS SIG DSS 2007 Workshop.Connie White, Starr Roxanne Hiltz, and Murray Turoff. United We Respond:One Community, One Voice, Information Systems for Crisis Response andManagement, ISCRAM, 2008 Washington, DCConnie White, Murray Turoff, and Bartel Van de Walle. A Dynamic DelphiProcess Utilizing a Modified Thurstone Scaling Method: Collaborative Judgmentin Emergency Response. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Information Systems onCrisis and Response Management, (ISCRAM), Delft, Netherlands. 14

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