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The Only Statistically Significant Difference
February 05, 2013
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Sometimes the disagreements in emergency management between practitioners and academics isn’t as pronounced as it is thought.

Case in point is a report that was actually released a year ago – but just came to my attention.  Maybe you missed it, too.  If so, don’t get distracted by its title:  “The ISCRAM Future Threat Delphi: Nostradamus Revisted.”

ISCRAM is the acronym for "Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management". It’s an international group that researches information systems for crisis management and response. They have a conference coming up in Baden Baden, Germany in May and the program is impressive.  One of the panels is being done by the several German agencies and is called: “Closing the Gap between Practitioner’s Needs and Scientific Results.”

Sounds good to me.  It is only €750 for registration. Plus travel, of course.

Anyway, during the ISCRAM conference in 2012, the Future Threat Delphi paper was released and this is how it was described:

"During a 5 month period from November 2011 to March 2012, 36 professionals participated in an exploratory two-round Delphi to develop a list of 86 threats in 11 categories important for the next decade which they felt were not now receiving adequate planning or adequate development of mitigation options. This involved 14 academics studying Emergency Preparedness and Management, eight practitioners in Emergency Management, and 14 professionals in other related fields…..The second round included a rating of all the threats developed on the first round."

A Delphi is a process based on the assumption that a forecast from a group is more valid than from an individual – so panels of experts are pulled together to address a particular topic. The list of participants in this Delphi was impressive and from all over the world.  I only know three of them:  Steve Davis, Lawrence Province and Rick Tobin.

I’m not going to get into all the particulars, you can go check it out yourself. The report goes into a lot more detail about all 86 threats identified by the Delphi group, including comments and suggestions for realistic mitigation efforts.

These are the ten events with the highest mean average and majority of the votes from the Delphi group as the most important – as yet unaddressed – threats during the next decade:

  1. Disruption of electrical power
  2. Disruption of essential information services
  3. Population growth
  4. Reoccurring financial crisis or a true major recession
  5. Deforestation
  6. Tornadoes and floods
  7. Critical infrastructure breakdown due to aging
  8. Vulnerability of cyber infrastructure
  9. Open conflict between two leading countries of the world
  10. Increasing frequency and severity of extreme climate events.

What caught my attention is that there was only one item in all 86 that showed a statistically significant difference in how the groups voted.

This is how one of the authors (Murray Turoff) of the report put it:

"This one was sort of amusing because academics and emergency managers both thought the others had different views and out of 86 threats they came up with for the next decade there was only one where there was significant disagreement on importance of the threat for better planning."

The difference was in the threat “Development of New Technologies That Can Aid Terrorism”.  Practitioners gave a higher importance rating to this item than the other groups.

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