Abstract: Anticipatory Risk and Crisis Management Systems: Conceptual Issues derived from Historical Experience

Gordon Boyce and Paul Barnes


Failure in human systems are familiar events in the modern world, with some commentators suggesting that such "disturbances" may be increasing in complexity and in consequence. Analyses of major accidents concluded that approximately 20 to 30 percent of the causes of accidents were technical in nature with 70 to 80 percent involving social, administrative, or managerial factors. Given that most organizations link humans and technology together, it is logical to think of organizational failures as elements within a broader class of socio-technical crisis. Can the lessons learned from failures reduce the likelihood of future crises or at least attenuate consequent impacts? With the presumption that causal and conditional evidence about failures always awaits discovery and that humans and human systems do "learn" from such events, the viability of anticipating future failure is self-evident. Moreover, it has been suggested that in the longer term, as operating circumstances change, organizations must also un-learn established practices and retain a capacity to adapt and anticipate in order to survive. This paper outlines conceptual issues derived from historical instances of major systemic failure, successful crisis management, and prevention.