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Swine Flu Back in the Headlines

Swine ‘Flu was back in the headlines this week as the WHO attended the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to explain its management of the H1N1 pandemic. As the immediate threat of the pandemic appears to have receded, attention has now turned to analysing if the incident could have been managed better. In particular, concerns have been voiced over the extent to which governments stockpiled vaccine. Does this public debate serve a useful purpose?

On the one hand, a thorough post-incident review process is a critical, and often overlooked, component of any Business Continuity Management System. An effective review process will not only identify ways in which similar incidents can be handled better in the future but may also identify generic improvements which will be of benefit in many different scenarios and in other organisations. We can all benefit immensely from this sharing of learning.

On the other hand, it appears that the primary focus of many involved in the current discussion is to identify some convenient scapegoats. A review process that concentrates on apportioning blame is unlikely to identify many useful lessons: much of the improvement in aviation safety over the last 30 years is attributable to the shift in accident investigation from blaming individuals to trying to identify root causes.

Above all, we must be aware of the danger of hindsight. It is very hard to remember how uncertain the outlook was back in April 2009 but that is what we must try to do. To maintain that it was always obvious that this pandemic would be mild is a gross distortion of the truth which serves no useful purpose.

Conducting a post-incident review, even after a relatively minor disruption, can be an extremely useful process for any organisation; however the process needs to be conducted with care if learning is to be maximised. Furthermore, the remedial actions identified must then be actively tracked through to completion if we are not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.

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