Simulations and All-Hazard Preparedness Against the Threat of Global Pandemics
University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Pandemic preparedness is characterised by high uncertainty, with policy-makers and practitioners mitigating against threats that are novel and high-consequence. The risk of new global pandemics is a pressing concern in the West, mobilising substantial budgets and resources. In the UK, the national Risk Register ranks pandemic flu, for example, as a Tier 1 risk, the highest category contemplated.
Despite the anticipated devastating effects that a pandemic could unleash, pandemic risk remains largely under-specified and unspecifiable. A number of pathogens (including novel ones) could trigger the outbreak – due to a naturally occurring DNA or RNA modification or re-assortment, zoonotic diseases jumping species or intentional release of a biological agent. The outbreak inducing pathogen cannot be identified in advance, and the high-consequence pathogens with pandemic potential already known to us have widely different aetiologies, vectors and communicability pathways. They would also be producing different outcomes in terms of symptoms, risk groups initially targeted and mortality rates. This means that measures to mitigate the emergency would also need to be very fluid, fast to deploy and easy to re-calibrate to the appropriate scale.
In this paper I discuss the findings of a three-year project on pandemic preparedness and reveal how the plans to mitigate pandemic risk are heavily relying on simulations. Drawing on sociological knowledge, alongside medical and other knowledges already dominant in pandemic planning, is key in unpacking the far-reaching consequences of assigning such a pivotal role to simulations, and analysing the implications of recent developments in all-hazard preparedness.
Turning a Blind Eye to Risk and Resilience: Images of Crisis, Transformation and Emergency Preparedness
University of Siegen, Germany
In our contribution, we present findings from our research project about continuity and change in the context of crisis and uncertainty. We zoom in a rural area in Germany (population 100.000 inhabitants) with a particular focus on its small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are high in number and are described as “hidden champions” in reference to their global economic success (Simon 2009). The paper is based on results from two of our empirical studies: First, data from a representative local survey with over 2.200 replies where we asked people about their prior experiences with crisis in the area, the impacts on their life, but also generally about their living situation, emergency preparedness and networks. Second, we reflect on insights from a qualitative study in small and medium enterprises in the same area that is also focused on experiences with crisis, their dealing with economic, digital and social change and the involved risks and uncertainty that go along with these processes (methods: participant observation, qualitative interviews with different stakeholders). Although the companies are located in a rural area, they are highly intertwined with the European and global markets, rely on the supply of material, but also have an large international sales market and so on. This blurring of boundaries and the international networks are often described as further challenges and “necessary risks” by many of the managers. One interesting result from our analysis is the low level of emergency preparedness both in the SMEs as well as in the civil society, despite their prior experience with multiple extreme events in the area and their awareness of particular risks (like landslides, large fires, blackouts etc.).
The Critical Potential Of Ignorance: (Re)Writing Expertise Reports On The Brétigny Derailment (France)
Telecom ParisTech, France
This paper tackles mechanisms of knowledge production after accidents comparing four expert reports on the last major derailment in France (at Brétigny in 2013, causing seven deaths). The purpose is not to provide a socio-technical explanation of the accident. It is to highlight how mechanisms of knowledge and ignorance production strongly depend on experts’ “social position”. More precisely, it shows that the extent to which certain groups of experts consider the knowledge of other groups of experts depends on their institutional and administrative base. Four types of report are chronologically examined. They differ in their framing of expertise work. Whereas the railway company experts try to impose a purely technical definition of the accident, other experts (working for the employees, the Transport Department, and the examining magistrate) highlight the conditions of maintenance work and the dilapidation of the railway network. The paper analyses the explanatory processes at work in the reports, focusing on how some causal elements evolve, become more complex or disappear. Depending on the data used, the definition of the accident and of the responsibilities change. Building upon works on the production of ignorance, the paper identifies two mechanisms of ignorance production: ignorance by omission and ignorance by submersion. The comparison of the 4 types of reports shows that what is silenced by one group of experts becomes a resource for another one to criticize and contest previous analyses of the accident.
Governing (through) Anticipation, Vigilance, Affect
Mid Sweden University, Sweden
The perceived increase in and transformation of societal insecurities necessitates novel approaches for governing societal responses to future disruption (e.g. O’Malley, 2008). One such novel approach is the establishing of public disaster simulation centres to ensure a vigilant and prepared population. Societal insecurities do not necessarily mean trans-boundary or de-localized modern risks (in Beck’s, 2009, sense), but may just as well imply threats to geographically delimited communities, societies, and regions, for example nature-induced (yet social) disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, and insecurities originating from extreme weather conditions due to climate change (e.g. hurricanes, heatwaves, landslides, flooding). This paper presents a case of public simulation centres understood as a manifestation of the Foucauldian notion of self-technology, emphasizing, as it does, the modification of individual conduct: Not only skills but also attitudes must be aligned towards the overarching goal of preparedness (Foucault, 1988:18). Based on a diverse assemblage of empirical sources (e.g. individual’s accounts of their simulation experiences, notes from sensuous ethnographic field work, and governmental rationalizing of the need for public simulation centres), the paper puts forward an analysis of the mechanisms and technologies by which individuals become “resilient”. One overall tentative conclusion is that the sensuous-affective experiences conveyed by the simulation (like excitement, thrill, discomfort, stress) are intended to have an empowering effect on the participants.