Sunday, November 11, 2012

Human Factors and Disasters

This article describes the work of William Helton and James Head from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. They compared the differences in cognitive performance of participants before and after a local earthquake. Their findings are summarized below:
  • There was an increase in errors of omission following the earthquake.
  • The participants who reported feeling depressed following the earthquake were slower in responding to the cognitive task.
  • The participants who reported feeling anxious following the earthquake responded faster and made more mistakes in the cognitive task.
  • The researchers concluded that humans are under increased cognitive load following a disaster and are prone to make more errors.

As the nation is recovering from the aftermath of Sandy, it is the right time to think about the role of human factors in disaster management. Special attention needs to be given to the design of training programs and tools that emergency responders receive to perform disaster management.  

Photo credit: The National Guard (Maryland National Guard  Uploaded by Dough4872) via Wikimedia Commons.

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