Adaptive standard operating procedures for complex disasters
Harwood, Shawn M.
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Standard operating procedures (SOPs) guide emergency responders in a crisis, providing predetermined steps to manage anticipated events. Modern disasters, however, often manifest as complex systems—susceptible to nonlinear interactions and feedback in the environment that produce unanticipated outcomes. As a consequence, the application of prediction-dependent SOPs to such prediction-defiant scenarios yields ineffective emergency management. In contrast, case studies suggest that crisis responses demonstrating adaptable behavior often succeed in a complex environment. If adaptability mitigates complex problems, then modern crisis SOPs should embrace an adaptive approach. This thesis proposes two practical, executable means of integrating adaptability into SOP-driven crisis response. Both options rely on current research in complex adaptive systems theory and a pragmatic application of the Socratic method. The first proposal is the incorporation of adaptability prompts into pre-existing crisis SOPs. These prompts are instructional steps that help emergency responders identify unanticipated behavior during complex events and adjust their crisis response plans accordingly. The second proposal recommends the creation of a crisis co-pilot, an ad hoc advisor who helps the lead emergency responder identify any divergence from predicted behavior and encourages adaptation in the field. To support these policy recommendations, this thesis also presents a computer simulation of air traffic controller responses during the 9/11 attacks, quantifying hypothetical improvements in response times attained by implementing the adaptive design proposals. Today's emergency response paradigm must acclimate to the unpredictable nature of complex environments. This thesis recommends operational modifications that promote adaptability to manage complex crises.
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