The power of decentralized crisis management : the Gustav case

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Crisis is charaterized by its suddenty, its unpredictability and the gravity of its possible consequences. It forces organization to react quickly in order to protect itself as well at its components and agents.

That implies many things. Decide on the way to react, which suppose to have reliable and exhaustive information. Then manage to deliver orders, which means to be sure everybody will be able to receive an accurate top down information flow. And, as we can expect either the ascending or descending flow won’t work, making it impossible to make the right decisions or to enforce them, cross flows are needed in order to help people to coordinate themselves on their own.

All of that is about twho phenomenons I wrote about earlier : the fact a networked organization is less fragile than a centralized one (read here for the Toyota and al Qaida cases) and the need for an increased visibility on everyone’s activities and informations in order everyone can adapt its own strategy to the other’s without any central coordination.

I’m sure than everybody, by observation or experience,  has the remembering of a crisis situation where no one knew what to to, everybody lacked informations about what what was happening and this lack prevented people from making the right decisions, either at the top or at the bottom of the organization.

By the way…do you know Gustav?

Of course you do. The hurricane is the typical case of a crises situation. So government is trying to anticipate things, medias relay the message but there’s a much more efficient thing that has been set up. It’s possible to follow what happens, to know what others are doing, at such a speed that even traditional medias can’t keep up. No central organization, no government involvement, everything rely on people who built on their own one the more powerful crises information system eve. Spontaneously, moneyless. It’s made of :

• A dedicated social network gathering everyone people should know.

• A twitter for reports.

• A blog.

Even the Red Cross is a part of the online game and communicates on its twitter account.

And much more.

The underlying principles are very interesting : individual initiatives, the ability offered by tools to gather and redistribute contents, to allow interractions between people. Simple, comprehensive, reactive, flexible.

No let me ask you one question. How many organization does have the needed tools to set up something as powerful in order to face so tragic and sudden situations, in so little time ? I’m taliking about situations when we know the head will not be able to to everything and when people will have to do things and make decisions on their own. According to me, very few, and for two reasons.

– lack of flexible enough tools to allow this decentralized way of communicating

– and (perhaps that explains the previous point) the belief that, anyway, people can’t to things by themselves, implying that only the head has to decide and communicate, prefering a top-down wrecking to a bottom-up evacuation;

Does the way the “crowd” is dealing with Gustav inspires you anything about the way organization are able to face such sudden and risky situations ? The fact that the point, here, is to preserve people although many organization may (sometimes legitimately) argue they have to protect themselves or their head before protecting their people and agens may be a piece of explaination.

What say you ?

PS : Here‘s an interesting post from the Chicago Tribune about blogs and decision making in the Gustav Case.