Learning from the NTSB

Tremendous recovery efforts are continuing as a result of the devastation related to Hurricane Ike.  This is particularly true along the upper-Texas coast and the southwestern coastal sections of Louisiana.  I have no doubt that several official reports will eventually be written on the response and recovery efforts.  These report writers will be well-meaning but, in my opinion, will likely still miss the mark.


I remember many of the reports written after Hurricane Katrina.  The White House (The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina), the U.S. Senate (Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared – Special Report of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs), and the U.S. House of Representatives (A Failure of Initiative: Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina) all published reports after Katrina.  They were primarily focused on response issues.


These hurricane disaster reports were limited in their focus and contrast sharply with reports written after transportation disasters.  For example, if there is an airplane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) immediately sends in a team to the crash site to look at all aspects of the crash and to determine whether there were problems related to aircraft design, inspection and maintenance of the aircraft, pilot errors, weather conditions, air traffic control procedures, etc.  The NTSB is a standing, independent federal agency that leads the investigation but team members include experts from all stakeholders – the airframe manufacturer, the airline, the FAA, and others.  Although the NTSB recommendations do not carry the force of law, stakeholders ignore them at their peril.  This has resulted in a safety record that has steadily improved over the years.


A similar structure is needed for all disasters.  An article by Gina Eosco and Bill Hooke was published in the June 2006 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) that recommended Congress and the administration work together to explore the establishment of a standing National Disaster Review Board (NDRB).  The NDRB would take the big picture approach and include, for example, recommendations on land use, building codes, communications, education, and development and protection of critical infrastructure.


The NDRB would not only document what went wrong, but also recommend steps necessary to reduce future losses.  If we don’t take the big picture approach to disasters, I’m afraid that we are destined to continue repeating many of the mistakes of the past.  I have borrowed liberally from the BAMS article (http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0477/87/6/pdf/i1520-0477-87-6-751.pdf) in this blog and will continue to share on the NDRB concept in some future blogs.


One thought on “Learning from the NTSB

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