Developing Accurate, Complete and Current Information is a BAD Idea

Every single decision EOC responders make depends on accurate, complete and current situational awareness.

This quote comes from a seasoned emergency manager in a recent Emergency Management Magazine article.  Simply said, I don't agree with this key point.  This kind of unilateral thinking leads us down a very dangerous path as it builds up false expectations and breads unrealistic thinking. To quote a colleague, "the mythical quest for perfect authoritative data can be paralyzing."  

"Accurate, complete, and current" information is a nice goal, but is entirely impractical and unrealistic in reality.  In a recent email listserv conversation regarding the Nepal earthquake, a number of very experienced information managers discussed the difficulty in simply keeping up with the flow of information during a disaster.  Perhaps this can be better achieved in the future, but in current practice it is near impossible to manage and achieve, even before a disaster. 

The more important aspect of this is to understand HOW accurate, complete and current the information is. For example, if you know information is two hours old, you can assess the value of it for your own decision making. When you receive information, you should know who it is from, how old it is, and what is addresses.  This "meta-information" is critical for good SA/COP and is actually quite informative for a decision maker.  Granted the information is not ideal, but one can make a more educated decision based on his or her own assessment of the data or information.  

Plus, you  can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to gather accurate, complete and current information.  This can produce a effort-to-outcome imbalance where you spend more time gathering and organizing less valuable information.  Time can be better spent on working with the  information you have, regardless of its condition, which can be more valuable for decision making and action taking during a disaster. 

Also, while I agree with the author's points about thinking through the process for gathering and disseminating SA, the existing processes for developing information requirements are equivalent to throwing a dart at a dartboard blindfolded. While you were pointed in the right direction to begin with, you still have no idea where you are aiming. The result is a set of information put into SA/COP, but not understanding of its relative value across responders and different disasters.

In fact, the decision approach to identifying information requirements gives a false sense of security as you only define information requires you may face and can identify ahead of time. There are usually a host of unanticipated critical decisions the need to be made during a disaster. Developing information requirements is arguably more important for the unanticipated decisions.