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Never Forget Human Element

By Gamal Newry

We watched on April 1, 2013, as members of the union representing Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) line staff prevented access and departure from the Corporation’s Blue Hill Road headaquarters. These events, and those such as the Boston Marathon bombings, are all examples of disruption that require human intervention at various stages for the protection, prevention, preparation, response and recovery from these incidents.

With this in mind, we can now direct our attention to what, in my opinion, is the most critical element in this equation. This is the human factor. I think David Brooks’ May 27, 2010, Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, entitled ‘Drilling for Certainty’, is point on when he sums up risk perception as follows:

“Humans are not great at measuring and responding to risk when placed in situations too complicated to understand.”

Mr Brooks adds:

  1. People have trouble imagining how small failings can combine to lead to catastrophic disasters.
  2. People have a tendency to get acclimatised to risk and to living with small failures.
  3. People place elaborate faith in back-up systems and safety devices, often without testing their assumptions.
  4. People have a tendency to match complicated technical systems with complicated - and often unclear - governing structures.
  5. People tend to spread good news and hide bad news.
  6. People in the same field begin to think alike and cease to see the larger context.

What Brooks is suggesting is that notwithstanding our best efforts in management, if the human element is not adequately accounted for, the system will fail. I cannot agree more, as during training on self-defense or emergency preparedness, I am often advised that when panic occurs all reason and, in some instances, sensibility, is thrown out the window. Here, in my opinion, is where the success of any robust system is so heavily dependent on ‘Preparedness’ or, rather, readiness based on awareness and education.

The single most critical point of failure is the ability, or rather inability, of the concerned parties to respond adequately to a particular event. Thus they must be educated, trained, drilled and tested so that the response is appropriate and efficient. Then they must become familiar with alternatives and be given some room to be innovative. Notwithstanding, I believe that if plans are not drilled and tested, they are mere words that have no meaning. As Brooks further states: “The real issue has to do with risk assessment. It has to do with the bloody crossroads where complex technical systems meet human psychology.”

The plan, policy, procedure or whatever you want to call it must be given a human face and feelings. For example, during an emergency evacuation, evacuees are told to leave their personnel items behind. But is the ‘office diva’ really going to leave her designer hand bag behind, filled with lipstick and make-up, not to mention the matching wallet.

On the other end of the spectrum, what about handicapped individuals who must now use the stairwell as opposed to the elevator, or the hearing impaired who does not hear the alarm? Are they to be left on their own, or are employees assigned to help them? What happens if the evacuation is occurring during a major power outage? These questions and the like demand more than just saying what you are going to do, but also doing it, proving it and, certainly because of the human element, improving upon it.

The end result is a robust management system that ensures the company maintains its market readiness, survivability and sustainability. This is not business acumen as you were probably trained in banking, law or as a hotelier. Nevertheless, today’s market requires full participation in this process.

NB: Gamal Newry is the president of Preventative Measures, a loss prevention and asset protection training and consulting company, specialising in policy and procedure development, business security reviews and audits, and emergency and crisis management. Comments can be sent to PO Box N-3154 Nassau, Bahamas, or e-mail gnewry@preventativemeasures.org or visit us at www.preventativemeasures.org

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