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Research profile: Answering the question “How safe is safe enough?”

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Professor Ilan Vertinsky's current research is focused on crisis management, including environmental, societal, and corporate.

“I am especially interested in current questions related to safety,” says Dr. Vertinsky, “so I am trying to determine what boundaries we should set when developing safety levels and how much time and money we should invest in crisis preparedness and resilience.”

He elaborates on this topic by describing the phases of crisis management: pre-crisis; crisis; and recovery. Pre-crisis, or resilience, is focused on preparedness which also includes ensuring the optimal type of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ infrastructures are in place to prevent or mitigate the potential consequences of disasters. He cites the example of Japan having higher-than-required building standards to diminish the potential damage caused by earthquakes. This country has also invested in storm walls in an attempt to prevent tsunami damage caused by an earthquake. Despite these efforts, however, Japan is still coping with the disastrous consequences of the recent earthquake and the tsunami it triggered.

The question “how safe is safe enough?” is complex and involves ethical, economic, social and political dimensions. Dr. Vertinsky’s research aims to inform the development of improved strategies and policies to promote pre-crisis preparedness of organizations, communities, and systems. In particular he is concerned with the problem of under-investment in safety.

He cites several examples of private and public sector organizations that invested significant amounts of resources on emergency preparedness only to be criticized when the expected crisis did not happen. Conversely, he has examined organizations that were accused of being negligent in their duties when they were inadequately prepared for crises that did occur. His analysis includes issues of political feasibility, characteristics of communication, and organizational strategies that promote the development of a safety culture prior to and during a crisis.

Dr. Vertinsky suggests that to build a resilient society we need to learn from our experiences. This learning requires us to shift from the ‘name and blame’ mentality that emerges after a crisis to a ‘culture of learning and reform.’ His research is especially timely in a world where disasters of epic proportions seem to be in the news on a daily basis. His research results could provide much needed support to decision makers who develop effective plans and training protocols for individuals involved in crisis situations.

Read more information on Dr. Vertinsky's work.