Witnessing crisis

Witnessing is one of the issues in crisis management. In a crisis different people witness the same thing in very different ways, and one person will say, ‘there is a major flood in my street’, while another persons says, ‘oh it’s not that bad, it is puddle, it will go down’.

So both people call the emergency services and who do you believe? And where is that input taken and how is it dealt with? This is a huge problem. One solution is to base this on reputation: if a policeman calls, and says there’s a serious flood in the neighbourhood, it tends to be taken more seriously than when a random citizen calls saying ‘there is a huge flood in my backyard’.

Perception of the outcome of a disaster is a second issue in crisis management. Quillinan elaborates on several examples he knows. For example schools officially are not evacuated by the state anymore. So if your children are at school you’re expected to go and get them. But people have very strong perceptions of children. If you let a school flood and all the children die, that would be very bad. And you can imagine the government failing and falling because of that. Ethical positions in crisis management seem to be mostly defined by political perception, Quillinan finds. Even though the ethical position might be to save as many people as possible, it’s actually to save as many of the right people as possible. But defining who is worth saving or not is a very dangerous thing to do.