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The strategic void 

The cover story on this issue of Crisis Response Journal is an interview with Philippe Baumard who sounds a global warning that strategic governance is losing touch with reality, that command has become a matter of: "Mastering the figures, not the facts; the compliance, not the meaning."

Individuals - whatever their level of seniority - are being discouraged from using their creative judgement or from questioning core beliefs, and those who dare to do so are denounced by their peers or treated as 'insurgents'. Baumard contends that constant and immediate scrutiny have led to the adoption of "The most rapidly visible approach."

Baumard's theories are expressed in universal and global terms within his interview with Professor Lagadec, but it is interesting to see how other articles in this issue seem to illustrate his views with specific regard to emergency services and post-incident analysis.

Mike Hall questions how the safety domain is affecting the Fire Service, pointing out that: "We are seeing in people a marked reluctance to move into positions of responsibility within our services." He adds that health and safety legislation, coroners' inquests and official inquiries are: "Blessed with the religious clarity of hindsight," and have little regard for the realities and pressures of emergency management.

Indeed, Ed Blakely is scathing about official reports on disasters, saying they: "Look for a 'smoking gun' or 'quick fix' but, as useful as such documents are, they contribute very little to how we can prevent future disasters."

Elsewhere in this issue, Michael Eburn casts a legal eye over a high-profile fatal incident that occurred in the UK. He concludes that the incident commanders in question operated correctly and complied with their employers' stated policy. But, he says: "These real situations demonstrate the very real dilemmas facing incident commanders and the problems of applying work health and safety laws in the context of the emergency services. The law requires everyone, including firefighters, to do what is 'reasonable', but that gives little guidance."

He continues: "If we want rescuers to exercise imagination, flexibility and adaptability, then the training and doctrine of the organisation has to empower and authorise them to assess outcomes and, if necessary, depart from policy."

Let's be clear: this problem is not confined to any particular emergency service or country. And we are certainly not questioning the constant need to improve safety and standards, nor the wisdom of learning from past incidents.

But unintended consequences appear to be snaring first responders, who sometimes seem to be hamstrung, stifled by this universal strategic void and confounded by an abundance of restrictive edicts, unclear legislation, contradictory directives, media scrutiny and an enthusiastic litigious system.

If this were a classic Gordian knot, we could slice through the red tape and acknowledge that safety and common sense are not mutually exclusive. Sadly, today's complex reality may prove more challenging. 

Philippe Baumard, 30/05/2012
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