Emergencies and Effective Decision Making

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Decision making and problem solving are critically important skill areas for emergency managers, planners, first responders, voluntary agency coordinators, and other professionals in emergency management.

Gaining control of an incident is difficult. Lives. reputation or property hang in the balance. Emergency Response could be stated quite simply as problem solving. Emergencies are typically complex problems with limits on time and severe consequences of failure and a host of other difficulties. Effective decision-making, perhaps more than any other skill, is critical to successful out comes.

Let’s clarify what we mean by problem solving and decision making and how they relate to one another. Problem solving is a set of activities designed to analyze a situation systematically and generate, implement, and evaluate solutions. Decision making is a mechanism for making choices at each step of the problem-solving process. Decision making is part of problem solving, and decision making occurs at every step of the problem-solving process.

Therefore, a decision making process is a critical component in any organizations response.

Following are the important steps of the decision making process. Each step may be supported by different tools and techniques.

Step 1: Identification of the purpose of the decision.

The first step is to recognise any problems and identify options that may be available.

Step 2: Information gathering.

What is relevant and what is not relevant to the decision? What do you need to know before you can make a decision, or that will help you make the right one?

Step 3: Principles for judging the alternatives.

What alternative courses of action may be available to you? What different interpretations of your data may be possible?

Step 4: Brainstorm and analyse the different choices.

Generate several possible options. Ask “what if” questions.

Step 5: Evaluation of alternatives.

What criteria should you use to evaluate. Which alternative will best achieve your objectives?

Step 6: Select the best alternative.

Explore the provisional preferred alternative for future possible adverse consequences. What problems might it create? What are the risks of making this decision?

Step 7: Execute the decision.

Commit to making the decision work, allocate resources and put a plan in place to implement the decision.

Step 8: Evaluate your results.

Capture the lessons learned from past successes and failures, with the goal of improving future performance. It is an opportunity to reflect on an event so that you can do better the next time.

As an emergency response professional, your ability to identify current and potential problems and to make sound, timely decisions before and during an emergency can literally affect the lives and well-being of the local citizenry. Your decisions can impact the ability of response agencies to do their jobs and can make the difference in how quickly the community is able to recover from an event.

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