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                          DSS News 
                    D. J. Power, Editor 
              April 10, 2005 -- Vol. 6, No. 9 
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* Ask Dan! - How could innovative DSS have assisted in specific crisis 
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Ask Dan!

How could innovative DSS have assisted in specific crisis situations?
by Dan Power

This Ask Dan! builds upon prior discussions of DSS for crisis planning, 
response and management. Rather than examine this broad topic from a 
general, abstract or theoretical perspective, there is an advantage to 
speculating about what might have been possible in specific exemplar 
situations.  My sense is that this type of exercise can improve contingency 
planning and help us develop more sophisticated DSS.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) website at URL, 
more than 44 countries currently are experiencing a crisis. Not all crises 
are of equal magnitude and different computerized decision support is needed 
in different types of crisis situations. Grappling with the complexity of 
generalizing about DSS for crisis, emergency, disaster and hazard situations 
has been and is challenging.

According to the WHO website, "People are exposed to a crisis when local and 
national systems are overwhelmed and are unable to meet their basic needs. 
This may be because of a sudden increase in demand (when food and water are 
in short supply), or because the institutions that underpin them are weak 
(when government and local services collapse because of staff shortage or 
lack of funds)."

"Crises can be triggered by:

1. Sudden catastrophic events - like earthquakes, hurricanes and sudden toxic spills. 

2. Complex and continuing emergencies - including over 100 violent 
conflicts, associated displacement and often dramatic political transformations. 

3. Slow onset processes - such as the gradual breakdown of a country's 
social institutions due to economic downturn, populations affected by 
chemical poisoning, or the impact of an inflating level of a fatal disease. 

People threatened by crises face heightened risks to their health primarily 
as a result of common illness made more dangerous by crisis conditions. 
Those who are most vulnerable experience excessive suffering and high death 

The following paragraphs primarily discuss sudden catastropic events like 
the Tri-State Tornado, Hurricane Georges, Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Bhopal 
gas leak, and the Uberlingen Midair Collision, continuing and recurring 
emergencies of various scales of magnitude, and private sector crises. 

In much of the world, recurring emergencies of a small scale like traffic 
accidents are managed from centralized dispatch centers with computer-aided 
dispatch (CAD) tools and the first responders bring some decision support to 
the scene of an incident with them.  There is a significant opportunity for 
expanding CAD to include more decision support while also enhancing its 
transaction processing role. More mobile decision support for triage and 
hazard management (like encountering dangerous chemicals) can also be 
developed.  Improved data collection and sharing can also lead to more 
timely traffic safety and traffic management decision making at the 
management control level in local jurisdictions and enhanced monitoring and 
problem identification at more macro level government organizations.

The Firestone Tire recall associated with Ford Explorer crashes demonstrates 
a crisis that was mounting slowly for two large multinational companies. 
Data collected from traffic accidents was eventually used to demonstrate a 
cause and effect link that led the US National Highway Traffic Safety 
Administration (NHTSA) to advise the companies involved to issue a recall of 
6.5 million tires. Estimates of the impact of the faulty tires are 
approximately 250 deaths and more than 3000 catastrophic injuries. Most of 
the deaths occurred in accidents involving the Ford Explorer which tended to 
rollover when one of its tires had a blow out. How could computerized 
decision support have helped? A data-driven DSS at NHTSA might have helped 
identify the problem sooner. In July 1998, a State Farm Insurance researcher 
had "advised the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that 
he had found twenty cases of tread failure associated with Firestone tires 
dating back to 1992." Bureaucracy, data inadequacy and the disbelief/denial 
by some decision makers delayed the identification of the problem and hence 
exacerbated a crisis situation at Ford Motor Company and at Bridgestone/
Firestone. Could DSS have helped decision makers at Ford and Bridgestone/
Firestone? Possibly. Managers at both companies had sufficient warning of an 
impending crisis to use computerized support to plan a crisis response. If 
it been available, managers could have used data at a much earlier stage to 
identify the problem and take action to avoid the problem. Business 
Intelligence systems would need to become much more sophisticated to help in 
this type of situation. Once the recall occurred, communications-driven DSS 
including simple bulletin boards could have improved coordination, gathered 
feedback and speeded decision-making.

Staying in the transportation sector, the Uberlingen Midair Collision on 
July 1, 2002 was a major tragedy. A Boeing 757-200 operating as DHL flight 
611 and a Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev TU154 collided in midair over 
Uberlingen, Germany. Seventy one people died in the crash. Peter Ladkin 
(2004) analyzed the crash in a recent paper and a television documentary was 
made about the crash. Failures in the aircraft collision avoidance systems 
(decision support systems) and in the overall sociotechnical system led to 
the crash. Conceivably better computerized decision support and better 
procedures could have avoided this crash. Once the crash occurred, the 
crisis was poorly managed and eventually a second tragedy occurred when one 
of the Air Traffic Controllers was murdered by a bereaved parent of one of 
the Russian children killed on the Bashkirian Airlines flight. In 
disasters/crises like this, a document-driven DSS can help track the 
needs/responses for victims' families. 

On an even larger scale, a 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, was a tragedy 
that continues to stimulate strong emotions. In the early hours of December 
3, 1984, methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide India 
Limited (UCIL) plant in Bhopal, India. According to the state government, 
approximately 3,800 people died, approximately 40 people experienced 
permanent disability, and approximately 2,800 other individuals experienced 
partial disabilities. Union Carbide provided immediate and continuing aid to 
the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims. All the claims 
arising out of the release were settled with the approval of the Supreme 
Court of India. Could computerized decision support have helped responders 
during the immediate crisis? Probably not.  Computerized decision support 
could have assisted in managing, resolving and settling the claims. The goal 
must be to avoid this type of catastrophic accident.

When possible, it is also important to avoid environmental accidents and 
crises. For example, small oil spills are perhaps unavoidable and DSS can 
help first responders in clean up efforts by predicting the consequences of 
a spill and in managing the incident. The Exxon Valdez incident demonstrates 
the difficulties in responding to large scale spills. "On March 24, 1989, 
the Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh Reef, and spilled nearly 11 million 
gallons of oil into the biologically rich waters of Prince William 
Sound. ... In the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez incident, the U.S. Congress 
passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which required the Coast Guard to 
strengthen its regulations on oil tank vessels and oil tank owners and 
operators. Today, tank hulls provide better protection against spills 
resulting from a similar accident, and communications between vessel 
captains and vessel traffic centers have improved to make for safer sailing."

The Piper Alpha incident presents a different situation for computerized 
decision support. "On the evening of July 6, 1988, a fire broke out on the 
off-shore oil and gas platform Piper Alpha located in the North Sea. The 
fire was uncontrollable and evacuation plans inadequate. 167 men died and 62 
men were pulled from the sea." The overwhelming magnitude and suddenness of 
incidents like this tragedy creates a sense of helplessness, but perhaps 
better monitoring and automated decision systems could have triggered 
equipment to avert the tragedy or provide some time for evacuation.  
Computerized planning support might help test scenarios for this and similar 
situations and develop evacuation plans.

Some hazards can not be avoided like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, 
flooding, wildfires, mudslides, avalanches, and tornados. Longer lasting 
natural events like heat waves and droughts require different decision 
support. The impact of natural disasters can be very large and civil 
emergency and not-for-profit agencies need to invest in many DSS for a wide 
range of disasters. For example, the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925 was 
the worst tornado disaster in U.S. history. The tornado killed 695 people 
and injured 2027. From September 21-30, 1998, Hurricane Georges killed more 
than 600 people and the damage estimates for the U.S. including Puerto Rico 
were $5.9 billion. Although weather forecasting involves extensive 
computerized decision support, more can probably be done to provide 
computerized decision support for these situations.  Better early warning 
and notification systems can be built and monitored. DSS can support 
Incident Management and First Responders and assist in the followup of such 
disasters.  Web portals can help gather relief items and notify the public 
about facts following a natural disaster. Communications-driven DSS can be 
created to inform, notify and consult with individuals, including potential 

We have created a complex public/private infrastructure that can fail and 
lead to "man-made" disasters. New York City experienced electrical blackouts 
in 1965, 1977 and 2003. An earlier Ask Dan! (August 31, 2003) commented on 
the 2003 crisis. The Aug. 14, 2003 blackout demonstrated that a failure in 
control and decision support systems can have wide-ranging consequences.  
U.S. President Bush said the power outages across the Northeast and Midwest 
were a "wake-up call" to the antiquated state of the nation's electrical 
grid. David Talbot, a senior editor at Technology Review wrote recently that 
there are "computer models under development that could help avoid the kind 
of cascading blackout that occurred on Aug. 14, 2003 in North America. The 
key to this solution is rapidly throwing switches and rerouting power so 
that, when necessary, large parts of the grid that are ordinarily 
interconnected are quickly broken into isolated 'islands'." Decision 
automation and DSS will be built to help limit the consequences of 
infrastructure failures.  The First Responders to such crises will continue 
to use computerized command centers and better incident management decision 
support to reduce the loss of life and property that might result. Chemical 
storage facilities create similar problems on a different scale. For an 
example, check the DSS case on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and 
plume modeling by Tomaszewski at

Dam collapses have had an important place in the realm of crisis management 
and dam safety is an ongoing issue. The St. Francis Dam Flood in California 
on March 12, 1928 killed 306 people. The failure of the Teton Dam in 
southeastern Idaho resulted in the loss of 11 lives and millions of dollars 
in property damage. In February 2005, a newly built dam collapsed under 
heavy rain waters in southwestern Pakistan killing at least 135 people. In 
China in August 1975, the worst dam disaster occurred. The Chinese called 
it "Chu Jiaozi" (The river dragon has come!). Altogether 62 dams broke in 
this incident. Downstream the dikes and flood diversion projects could not 
resist the flood of water from the initial dam collapse. The flood spread 
over more than a million hectares of farm land throughout 29 counties and 
municipalities. Eleven million people throughout the region were severely 
affected and more than 85 thousand died as a result of the dam failures. 
According to Thayer Watkins (San Jose State economist) "there was little or 
no time for warnings".

What about terrorism and the resulting crises? Implementing structural 
solutions to reduce risks when possible are better than hoping that improved 
computerized decision support will identify and avoid terrorist threats. My 
Ask Dan! column of September 23, 2001 briefly discussed whether DSS and 
decision support technologies can help reduce the threat of terrorism. The 
United States has changed as a result of the 9/11 attacks (see www.9- More than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center; 
125 died at the Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes. The death toll 
surpassed that at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The case study at 
DSSResources.COM by Matt Walton (2003) documents DSS used in response to the 
9/11 crisis. During the 1970s, many terrorist attacks occurred in Western 
Europe. The Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction (West Germany), the Red 
Brigade (Italy) and the Action Directe (France) created an ongoing terrorist 
threat. Improved Law Enforcement databases and improved communications 
helped reduce that threat and ended an ongoing crisis.

The number of crisis exemplars is large and diverse, but I'll end with only 
three more: public health crises, organizational crises of leadership and 
succession and large scale financial crises.

Public health crises have been a problem for humankind for thousands of 
years. Plagues and epidemics have ravaged nations and communities. 
Collecting data has helped monitor the spread of disease and identify the 
causes of such events. Computerized decision support has taken on an 
increasing role in this crisis management and response domain. Severe Acute 
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Mad Cow Disease, and Bird Flu are modern 
pandemics. These crises have killed people, hurt trade and led to the 
destruction of millions of animals. Could DSS have avoided these crises? No, 
but the goal of new DSS must be to help decision-makers identify outbreaks 
sooner and respond faster and more appropriately.

Leaders die suddenly.  Often such events create organizational or national 
crises.  For example, in 2004 there were two sudden succession crises at 
McDonald's ( On April 20, 2004 McDonald's Chairman and 
CEO Jim Cantalupo, 60, died of an apparent heart attack. His successor 
Charlie Bell was quickly appointed. On November 23, 2004, a second abrupt 
succession crisis occurred at McDonald's. President and Chief Executive 
Charlie Bell resigned to battle colorectal cancer (Wall Street Journal). On 
January 16, 2005, Charlie Bell died of cancer. He was 44. Jim Skinner is the 
current CEO of McDonald's. Succession plans, computerized staffing support 
and crisis response teams can help in this type of situation, but is there a 
need for new type of DSS? Probably not.  But a good Web site can help a 
crisis response team provide information to shareholders and other 

Finally, financial crises occur. Depressions, financial collapses, 
bankruptcies and loan defaults occur.  Risk management is an ongoing issue 
in banks and in financial regulatory organizations. Could DSS have helped 
avoid the 1929 Stock Market crash in the U.S.? One can only speculate based 
upon the 1989 crash and other recent financial debacles that DSS can both 
compound financial meltdowns and help reverse them. Let's begin with the 
Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) crisis of 1998.  The LTCM hedge fund was 
highly leveraged and regulators had to bail out the banks that had lent 
money to the fund managers. The Financial Times reported LTCM had built a 
total market exposure (in credit) of US$200 billion. "LTCM's notional gross 
market position, adding together the value of all outstanding derivative and 
other financial contracts, could be several times that" (28 September 1998). 
According to some estimates, the gross value of LTCM's contracts exceeded $1 
trillion. "The proximate cause for LTCM's debacle was Russia's default on 
its government obligations." A case study about LTCM is on the Web at Computers and information technologies have created decision 
support capabilities for implementing hedging using derivatives. DSS and 
information technology are actually creating some crises. According to the 
case study, some lessons learned include: 1) "sophisticated financial models 
are subject to model risk and parameter risk, and should therefore be stress-
tested and tempered with judgement" and 2) financial institutions must 
aggregate exposures to common risk factors. Both lessons learned suggest 
better computerized decision support is needed by various participants in 
the making and regulating of financial markets.  The complexity of modern 
financial transactions means that more DSS are needed to manage the risks 
associated with lending operations and credit decision making. Check the Ask 
Dan! of July 18, 2004 titled "How can DSS help implement Basel II?"

Other crisis exemplars such as computer failures, computer virus attacks, 
hazardous material spills, product tampering and political crises like the 
overthrow of a government or the Cuban Missile Crisis may be discussed in 
a future Ask Dan! column.

What can we conclude? Only some emergencies and crises require or will 
benefit from elaborate computerized decision support. DSS are not especially 
relevant, helpful or useful in some crisis situations. We need a typology of 
crisis situations to analyze DSS needs and gaps for crisis planning, 
response and management. We need to critically examine who "owns" the crisis 
related DSS capabilities and how such capabilities should be funded and 
maintained.  Also we need to critically assess what DSS are needed by 
public sector first responders, by both private and not-for-profit sector 
organizations, and by national and international government agencies.



Bhopal Website maintained by Union Carbide Corporation Bhopal Information 
Center at .

Firestone Tire Recall Legal Information Center, .

Ladkin, P. B., "Causal Analysis of the ACAS/TCAS 
Sociotechnical System," 9th Australian Workshop on Safety 
Related Programmable Systems (SCS'04), Brisbane, 2004, URL .

LTCM-Long-Term Capital Management case,  .

Power, D., "Can DSS and Decision Support technologies help reduce the 
threat of terrorism?", DSS News, Vol. 2, No. 20, September 23, 2001.

Power, D., "Can DSS/IS/IT improve the Incident Command System? What needs 
can DSS meet?", DSS News, Vol. 6, No. 8, March 27, 2005.

Power, D., "How can computerized decision support help in crisis 
situations?", DSS News, Vol. 4, No. 18, August 31, 2003. 

Power, D., "How can DSS help implement Basel II?", DSS News, Vol. 5, 
No. 15, July 18, 2004. 

Power, D., "How can DSS help in crisis planning, response and management?", 
DSS News, Vol. 6, No. 6, February 27, 2005. 

Tomaszewski, B., "Erie County Emergency Response and Planning Application 
Performs Plume Modeling", posted at DSSResources.COM March 6, 2005.

US Environmental Protection Agency, Exxon Valdez case, .

Walton, Matt S., III, "Rebuilding an Emergency Operations Center for NYC 
following 9/11", 2003, posted at DSSResources.COM September 11, 2003.

Watkins, T., "The Catastrophic Dam Failures in China in August 1975," at .

Yi Si, "The World's Most Catastrophic Dam Failures: The August 1975 Collapse 
of the Banqiao and Shimantan Dams," in Dai Qing, The River Dragon Has Come!, 
M.E. Sharpe, New York, 1998 (cited by Watkins).


           May 22-26, 2005, Orlando, Florida USA. 


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PLEASE NOTE: Dr. Dan Power will be discussing DSS for Crisis Response and 
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5. 2005 NPRA Plant Automation and Decision Support Conference, October 18-
21, 2005, Gaylord Texan Hotel, Grapevine, Texas.  Check


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DSS News - March 27 to April 10, 2005 
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive 

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