Does a centralized crisis management structure make sense?
My colleague Christopher Rivera attended an inter-agency exercise where he had a few heated discussions on the topic. He argued in favor of a decentralize model with centralize support (Lootok’s philosophy), whereas a number of his colleagues at the table argued for dedicated central crisis management team that did everything. His colleagues at the table believe in Power to Center, where Lootok believes in Power to the Edge.
The desire to centralize is our natural predilection to try to simplify things and codify procedures to create predictability and reduce errors. The problem with Power to Center, an autocratic centralized model, is that it requires control, prediction, time, and universal knowledge of everything. Unfortunately, control is not possible in complex adaptive environments where there are many independent actors. Control requires prediction as well adequate levers of manipulation. Both requirements are in little supply in the crisis environment. Time is always working against us in today’s global 24/7 environments. In global organizations, knowledge of the local environment and threat effects are necessary to be able to optimally manage and respond to a spectrum of threats. The centralize desire to take the human element out of everything, which is the most important factor in the equation, is almost irresistible.
In complex environments, orderly processes and centralized decision making are ineffective. We also can’t codify a set of procedures for a nonlinear complex event because we have to take the context into account. Independence and improvisation are essential. Decentralize structure (local, country, regional) works best when the threat is within the leadership command and control accountability and responsibility.