Decision making in an emergency situation is different from that in a business or normal situation. Decision makers in an emergency must select the best course of action based on their experience and situation at hand. The outcome of the emergency response team depends on the decisions made by the incident commander (Huder, 2012). Some of the common problems experienced by the rescue team are recurrent. Response teams in major incidents experience poor planning, coordination, communication failure, poor resource management, and situation awareness. These problems have occurred in several emergency situations and can be attributed to faulty decision making processes. Responders can predict some of these problems and their predictions are based on past experiences. Sound command structure assist in critical decision making procedures that minimize flaws in rescue operations.
In several disaster situations, incident commanders experience unclear, conflicting, uncooperative, and isolated command structures. Large incidents involve multiple agencies, which introduces an assortment of resources available in the emergency scene. Every agency has its own mission, responsibility, and jurisdiction and uses its command and control process. This duplicates the efforts and leads to conflicting responses by the agencies. Critical decision making unifies the command structure since successful incident management requires collaboration, flexibility, and adaptability. Failure in an emergency situation arises from unclear command and coordination. A multiagency incident response team requires highly coordinated cooperation. Problems in management and control distract the incident managers from their job of mitigating the incident. This can only be rectified by critical decisions aimed at improving the activities of the response teams (Donahue and Tuohy, 2006).
Resources involved in a rescue operation are usually scarce, and effective resource allocation depends on the decisions made by the incident commander. Large-scale incidents demand personnel, equipment supplies, specialized capabilities and commodities that are provided by several agencies. These resources must be obtained rapidly when disaster strikes. This makes resource acquisition and management a determining factor for successful response. Response teams may be split into groups as a resource management procedure, but their success depends on the decisions made by the team leader. Wildfire response teams use an effective nationwide resource ordering and deployment. Some of the responses may remain underutilized in the scene while others are over utilized. Effective utilization of resources depends on the allocation strategies deployed by incident managers. The incident commander and incident managers require a comprehensive and effective plan on how resources available will be divided (Donahue and Tuohy, 2006).
Effective planning depends on the decision making abilities of the incident managers. Disasters create the need for massive evacuation of residents. Hurricane Katrina created the need for evacuation of people living in the gulf coast. Local residents had to be evacuated when the south canyon fire started. Evacuated people require means of transport, shelter, medical treatment, and food. Some of these people may become stranded when evacuation processes fail or are too slow. Incident management leaders must develop a detailed plan for evacuating residents and assign roles to teams involved in the process. Decisions involving resources required, agencies involved and their jurisdiction, and the commander bearing the overall authority call for hard choices. The planning team must avoid complacency and make decisions that minimize the danger facing local residents.
The decision making process depends on the experience of the incident commanders and incident managers. Decisions made during incidents have to be rapid due to time constraints. Experts execute tasks effectively due to previous experiences in emergency situations. Disasters do not occur on a predefined basis and response teams may not acquire the necessary experience. Therefore, extensive training is required for decision makers. Events in an emergency scene may escalate, which requires people with previous experience or advanced training to take over. Limited experience by decision makers can be countered by referencing decisions made in previous incidents or training the group on procedures required in such situations (Sinha, 2005).
Emergencies impact stressful conditions on decision makers, which are also faced with a time constraint. The emergency situation may also escalate calling for rapid decisions that have to be made within a short time. For example, forest fires may spread and blow up, which call for new and improved decisions. Several decision makers are ineffective under stressful conditions, and their decisions may endanger the rescue crew or the victims. Stress affects the thinking capacity of the decision makers, which in turn affects the physical health (Useem, Cook and Sutton, 2005). Training institutions have to produce leaders who can make solid decisions under stressful conditions and within a short time. Leaders of rescue teams attend schools and training sessions that refine their decision making skills under stress and pressure.
Decision making in an emergency situation determines the success or failure of the response team. Coordination, planning, resource management, and communication patterns depend on the decisions made by those in charge of the response team. These incidents provide stressful conditions for incident managers. Lack of experience in incident management of certain magnitudes may impede the decision making process of the teams involved. Emergencies usually involve different teams that have different areas of expertise and jurisdiction. This requires for critical decisions that unite the teams involved and utilize their resources effectively.
Donahue, A.K., and Tuohy, R.V. (2006). Lessons We Don’t Learn: A Study of the Lessons of
Disasters, Why We Repeat Them, and How We Can Learn Them. Homeland Security Affairs, 2(2), 1-28.
Huder, R. C. (2012). Disaster operations and crisis decision making. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.
Sinha, R. 2005. Impact of Experience on Decision Making in Emergency Situation. Lulea University of Technology.
Useem, M., Cook, J., and Sutton, L. 2005. Developing Leaders for Decision Making Under Stress: Wildland Firefighters in the South Canyon Fire and Its Aftermath. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(4), 461-485.