Time is short. What's your plan? Critical Decision Making During Crisis

February 19, 2014

Imagine you're the director of your city's emergency management department during a severe weather event. The lives, livelihoods, and property of the people of your city are in danger. It's your job to allocate resources and manpower to the affected areas and you need to start making allocations decisions now. Your staff has been arguing all morning, they can't agree on the best approach and are looking to you for the final word but you don't have all the facts there's not enough information Time is short. What's your plan?

Hopefully you won't find yourself in this type of situation, but the reality of working in emergency response is that you will be called upon to make decisions that affect the safety and security of the public.

"As leaders in the response community we are trained and provided resources to carry out tasks and make critical decisions," said Denny Thomas, Corporate Risk Manager for Ministry Health Care and subject matter expert and instructor at the State Preparedness Training Center. "When making critical decisions during a crisis, we have limited time, a level of uncertainty, unknown resources and a snap shot of information, yet, we must act decisively to mitigate the threat and respond in a safe and effective manner."

The Critical Decision Making (CDM) course, developed by the National Center for Security & Preparedness (NCSP), is designed to provide training for government officials, department chiefs, and managers on making important decisions under stressful conditions. "We are faced with critical decision making in our daily lives," said Thomas. "However, during a high consequence event, many factors influence our decision making ability."

CDM is designed to put students in stressful situations so that after the two days they will have a better understanding of the effect that personal emotion, bias, and fatigue have on their decision making ability.

Responding to disasters is a statewide responsibility that requires state agencies, first responders, utility companies and others to work together. In these situations, the lack of communication and information sharing between these organizations can lead to uncoordinated and inefficient recovery efforts. It's crucial that these organizations develop the capabilities necessary to share information and deploy their resources in a coordinated and effective manner.

According to Donna Canestraro PMP, Program Director at the Center for Technology in Government, who led the development of the information sharing module of CDM, "The CDM course provides students with a framework for understanding the principles of and challenges to information sharing." Canestraro, who works with state and federal agencies as well as international organizations on projects to enhance inter- and intra-organizational information integration capability notes, "It's important to understand the barriers to communication sharing and strategies for resolving them before a crisis strikes. "

During an emergency response there is a degree of ad hoc collaboration on the part of emergency managers who are able to think on their feet and identify the needs and capabilities of the organizations around them.

"A crisis is not the time to start building capability for information sharing."

- Donna Canestraro PMP

However, effective information sharing in the context of a crisis requires mutual trust and understanding among organizations to be effective. "Crises are effective at breaking down barriers between agencies," said Canestraro, "but it takes time and knowledge to mitigate the barriers to sustain an information sharing environment past the initial event."

"The most exciting part of the course is that it gives students the opportunity to practice their critical decision making skills in a problem-based scenario; critical thinking at both the individual and group levels, working with their peers, and refining their skills,"said Denny Thomas. "This is one of the few courses in the country that offers this unique opportunity to play out scenarios, have a debriefing, and build upon your skills as an effective decision maker."