By now most of you should be finished or most of the way through our first book, and we will be opening up the discussion portion of the book club. I am posting some discussion questions to get us started, but if there are any other salient points or questions you would like to ask, you are welcome. As always, let’s keep the discussion fact based, and cite your sources if needed.

1. Charles Perrow introduces us to concepts such as complex vs linear, tightly coupled vs loosely coupled,  and ranks different systems based upon their complexity and coupling. Where would you list your organization, or for that matter, emergency management? Why?

2. Perrow waffles somewhat on the concept of risk homeostasis: the idea that we all have a natural risk level, and that new safety features entice us to push the system to higher limits. Sometimes he accepts it as a legitimate cause of behaviour, other times he dismisses it, and still others he attributes it more to the macro-scale of production (it is less the individual’s risk homeostasis than the industry’s homeostasis). Which do you think is the more correct formulation? Do you think we are always seeking to push the boundaries, that it’s more the production pressures from the system, or does none of that play a role and it is just a natural consequence of the system at large?

3. Perrow in the last chapter takes a pretty dim view of what was to him recently a new class of professionals: risk assessors. Arguably many regulatory agencies are in bed with the groups they oversee, but he takes it one step further: arguing that they exist to legitimize the wisdom of the crowd. Expert knowledge, statistics and mathematical probabilities, he feels exist as a way to legitimize what would otherwise be unacceptable risks to a world, not as an objective measure of risk. Is he right? What does that mean for our profession (arguably we would fit in the class of risk assessors)?

4. This book was written back in the 1980s. The world has undoubtedly changed since then. What new technologies have arisen that you think fit in that class of risks that we should abandon, modify, or accept?

5. Are there any specific lessons, concepts, or ideas that you felt you could take away and use in your organization?

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