A diagnosis of state highway organisations’ decision-making during extreme emergency events

A diagnosis of State Highway Organisations’ decision-making during extreme emergency events

André Dantas, Sonia Giovinazzi, Erica Seville, Frederico Ferreira

Resilient Organisations Research Report 2010/02

Executive Summary

This report introduces the development and application of a method to analyse the decision making process of New Zealand’s State Highway Organisations (SHO) during extreme events. Building upon our previous research efforts (Dantas et al, 2007 and Ferreira et al, 2008), the aim is to obtain an unbiased and complete overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the current decision making. The report proposes procedures and metrics to analyse the quality of decision making, based upon the study of theoretical and practical concepts of decision making processes.

The method used to analyse the quality of decision making was applied to 3 real events and 4 exercises, which have been observed since 2005. In addition to the real events, the exercises provide a realistic representation of the decision making processes likely to be implemented in the occurrence of extreme events and conditions. Above all, the research team’s assessment is that the exercises represented the most likely interaction between MCDEM / Regional Civil Defence / Lifeline groups and NZTA at national, regional and local levels. The results of the Quality of Decision Making (QDM) analysis indicate that SHO are capable, experienced and competent in dealing with major disruptions or crises that may affect the State Highway Network of New Zealand. SHO have achieved Good and Fair levels of resilience in terms of decision making activities during emergency response events and exercises.

Depending on the event or exercise, this means that SHO can:

  • Be mostly or partially coordinated;
  • Be mostly or limitedly adaptable;
  • Be effective or partially effective in most circumstances;
  • Provide comprehensive or limited solutions delivery; and
  • Provide comprehensive or limited feedback to involved organisations.

Our analysis revealed that SHO performed slightly better in real events than in simulation exercises. The differences in performance are mostly due to the fact that exercises have exposed more junior staff to situations which they do not yet fully understand and/or have the required experience to deploy and coordinate resources allocation.

SHO’s major strengths were mostly observed in terms of their ability to perceive, assess and act based on outstanding experience and technical skills. These skills were most often derived from extensive networking (informal and professional) with key individuals involved in emergency response. Senior SHO staff demonstrated high levels of situation awareness and leadership in various situations. SHO’s major weaknesses in terms of decision making during an emergency response are mostly related to resource allocation and information sharing. Most decisions were made without clear and / or rationalised/ structured processes supporting them.

Based on this report’s findings a series of recommended initiatives are listed. They comprise:

  • An extensive program to address the observed vulnerabilities;
  • A continuous program of event and exercise observation;
  • Creation of a decision making vulnerability matrix for use in exercise and event
    debriefs;
  • Training package for decision making simulations;
  • Standardisation of symbols for maps generated during emergencies;
  • A GIS-based information sharing framework; and
  • Use of GIS to support simulation exercises.

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