Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A smattering of takeaways from a talk on disaster recovery

I went to a talk tonight on tangibly rebuilding after an International Disaster.  Some good takeaways for risk assessment anywhere, not just from a building/urban planning perspective.  After 20 minutes exalting the presenters and all their collective colleges and universities, making sure to carefully massacre each name, the presentations actually started.

Regarding preparation, for just about anything, "Be open to scales that you can't imagine."  In this case, while history and all your prediction technology shows earthquakes shouldn't be higher than 4.3 in a particular area, imagine if they were larger, and then plan for even larger.  This lesson can obviously be applied to any number of scenarios.  You have an event in a room with a capacity of 300.  You allow 500 people to RSVP, "knowing" that at least 40 percent won't turn up.  But what if they do?  What if your event is suddenly picked up by the local paper and 2000 show up?  Conversely, what if there is a freak storm, and you can't reschedule, and 30 people show up?  Do you have a contingency plan for a larger crowd?  Did you include the words "RSVP does not necessarily guarantee attendance" to mitigate angry persons turned away?  Do you have a way to broadcast over the internet to assist in either aforementioned scenario?

Another takeaway, "Compliance is better than enforcement."  In other words, it's better that the rules are followed without you needing to slap someone on the palm with a ruler, metaphorically or literally.  How do you get buy-in?  How do you, not only convince someone they have to do something, but that they want to do something?

Specific to this talk was convincing someone that your way was better.  How do you convince the people of Nepal, the people of Haiti, to change how they build their houses.  Households make decisions about their own risk based on their *perception* of their own risk.  Often they don't know there is a risk (there is only one way to build a house, so there are no options, therefore collapse is not a risk, it's an inevitability) or if they recognize the risk, they don't know what to do about it.  Or maybe they know what to do about it, but do not possess the socioeconomic means to mitigate said risk.

So you have to first convince a person there is a risk.  In this example, if they have no reason to know that there is another way to build, why should they believe you when you tell them there is?  Especially if you tell them the cost is going to be higher.  So now you have to convince them that, A:  there is another way, they don't have to just accept that their family are likely to die in an earthquake and B:  this is a priority.  That second part is likely going to be much harder than the first and involve a lot more psychology.  While you can use models and demonstrations to convince someone that there is a better way to build, how will you convince them that it should be a priority to do so, when they have only lived through one earthquake, when most people have the, "It couldn't happen again" mentality.

Another takeaway: organizational cooperation is like learning to dance together, even when you're dancing at different beats or to different songs entirely.  If you have to work with another person, if your office has to work with another office, if your entire multinational organization needs to work with another multinational organization, find out how they dance.  And share how you dance.  There is a lot said about cultural awareness, understanding, and appreciation.  But that doesn't just have to be about the cultures of another nation.  It can be the business culture of the other office.  A more relaxed management style versus a more rigid one.  Maybe there is someone leading the dance.  But maybe it's a matter of learning how to dance in the same space without taking someone's head off or knocking over a table of drinks.

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