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  1. Complexity and U.S. National Preparedness Stephen J. Krill Jr., CEM, PMP, CFCP PhD student in Engineering Management with a focus in Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, The George Washington University 13th Annual Emergency Management Higher Education Conference, June 7-10, 2010

  2. Acknowledgements • Presentation adapted from a research paper prepared for Dr. Richard Sylves, Environmental Hazards Management (EMSE 334), Spring 2010 • Faculty Advisor – Dr. Greg Shaw http://www.gwu.edu/~icdrm/

  3. Part I: What is Complexity Theory?

  4. Complexity theory explains complex phenomenon when traditional methods do not • Integrates ideas derived from other fields, such as chaos theory, to examine systems as they are – and not by simplifying them • Recognizes that complex behavior emerges from a few simple rules and that all complex systems are networks of many interdependent parts which interact according to those rules BusinessDictionary.com

  5. To understand complexity theory, consider complex systems • In a complex system numerous independent elements continuously interact and spontaneously organize and reorganize themselves into more and more elaborate structures over time • Within complex systems, relationships between elements are frequently non-linear – that is, they are unpredictable Sand pile

  6. Characteristics of complex systems Ferreira

  7. Complex systems perpetually evolve through an “adaptive cycle” of growth, crisis, transformation, and renewal Gunderson and Holling

  8. So, what about chaos theory? • Chaos theory – some systems, such as weather, are ultimately unpredictable because of the effects of small-scale events that cannot be included in prediction equations Lorenz’ butterfly effect

  9. A little more about chaos theory.. • Chaos theory – is also a board game http://www.educationallearninggames.com/chaos-strategy-game.asp

  10. Whither complexity? • Complexity as an analytical method allows us to better understand how systems are created, unfold and develop and are transformed • Complexity as an analytical tool allows us to understand the interactions between a disaster and its social, political, economic and environmental context

  11. Part II: How Does Complexity Theory Apply to Emergency Management?

  12. Disasters are complex events Helbing

  13. History as a predictor of the future • When organizations prepare for a crisis, their preparations are based on experience and often follow routinized management approaches • But the crisis management approaches that worked yesterday may not be effective today – and may even have counter-effects tomorrow

  14. Complexity within international disaster response United Nations

  15. What about predictability and control? • Because if events are random, we are not in control, and if we are in control of events, they are not random • There is a fundamental clash between the need to feel we are in control and our ability to recognize randomness The Drunkard’s Walk

  16. While complexity theory leverages non-linearity, especially in the natural world… • … emergency managers use approximations to plan for different types of disasters • Planning assumptions • Hazard substitutions • Mandated lists (e.g., National Planning Scenarios) do not completely account for all types of disasters, do not address emerging disasters and treat disaster as an event rather than a system

  17. Emergency management is full of complexities, challenges, and interdependencies that influence preparedness and response Readiness to respond within hours “Fighting the Last War” syndrome Lack of integrated preparedness missions Complexity Federalism – “Who is in charge?” Collision of decision rights involving multiple players Less emphasis on the unknown risks Absence of a common preparedness doctrine

  18. While U.S. national preparedness features aspects of complexity... • Engaged partnership – leaders at all levels develop shared response goals and align capabilities so that no one is overwhelmed in times of crisis • Tiered response – manage incidents at the lowest possible jurisdictional level and provide support when needed • Scalable, flexible, and adaptable operational capabilities – as incidents change in size, scope, and complexity, adapt to meet changing requirements • Unity of effort through unified command – respects the chain of command while harnessing seamless coordination across jurisdictions in support of common objectives • Readiness to act – provide the best response possible

  19. …it does not account for self-organization... • Through self-organization, systems develop a range of extremely efficient, relatively simple solutions for solving very complex problems • Characteristics • Engage the whole system • Keep expanding the circle • Create abundant information • Develop quality relationships • Support collaboration • Forget boundaries • Focus on creating sustainability

  20. … which suggests a need for a further shift in our approach to preparedness Traditional Approach Emerging Approach • Operate from a single perspective • Maximize objectives • Stay within organizational boundaries • Limit openness, trust, and collaboration • Mobilize around shared issue • Optimize system • Transcend traditional boundaries • Remain independent while working across sectors on common interests

  21. Part III: What Comes Next?

  22. Complex adaptive systems can supply the crucial conceptual “glue” to manage the process of self-organization • Complexity theory provides a different perspective on preparedness because it endorses flexibility and adaptability while traditional measures emphasize structure and hierarchy • Regardless of when or to what extent complexity theory is adapted by emergency management, there is a need for understanding the non-linear characteristics of emergencies and the concept of self-organization • Achieving self organization is core to complexity theory and a condition the U.S. national preparedness system should strive to achieve

  23. Maximizing the network of relationships to enhance preparedness within a system would promote self-organization Key Considerations • Identify and empower stakeholders • Be an initiator • Embrace interdependence • Allow for ambiguity • Reward collaboration • Strengthen social networks

  24. Conclusions • Complexity theory is metaphorically useful in that it offers lessons in how to think about emergency management systems • Complexity encourages us to consider preparedness in different terms and to use approaches that thrive within uncertainty and disorder • The system that can adapt best and most quickly in an environment characterized by unpredictability, uncertainty, and rapid change, will prevail

  25. “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” − Albert Einstein