Our cover story 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." He says individuals at all levels are discouraged from using their creative judgement or from questioning core beliefs; and those who dare to do so are denounced. Constant and immediate scrutiny have led to the adoption of: "The most rapidly visible approach."
Baumard’s theories are expressed in universal terms, but seem to be backed up by specific examples in this issue. On p56 Mike Hall questions how the safety domain is affecting the Fire Service, saying 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.
On p10 Michael Eburn casts a legal eye over a recent high-profile fatal incident, concluding that the incident commanders in question operated correctly and complied with their employers’ stated policy. But, he says: "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: the examples highlighted in this issue are drawn from the UK, but the problem is a global one; we are not questioning the constant need to improve safety and standards, nor the wisdom of learning from past incidents.
But unintended consequences are snaring first responders, who sometimes appear 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. Reality may prove more challenging.
This comment was published in 2012