David Rubens – You Call That A Crisis…?!

David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates
David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates

In David Rubens eighth exclusive article for Infologue.com, he discusses self organising social networks. David writes; “I have been thinking a lot about snow recently. Not just because of the normal seasonal reasons associated with jolly Santa Clause and red-nosed reindeers, but mainly because I have spent the last ten days in Ukraine, where the temperature is around the minus fifteen degrees mark (though it will get to minus twenty five in a couple of months), and much of the country is suffering from a major snows-storm. I am in KamnetsPodilsky, a place full of history that has been ruled and conquered at various times by the Poles, Cossacks, Bulgars, Mongols, Ottomonsand pretty well everyone else who fancied themselves as a regional power. However, at the moment it is under a meter of snow, it is cut off from the rest of the country, and yet life carries on pretty much as normal. You can imagine the reaction when I describe how 2cms of snow in the UK pretty well brings the country to a halt, with airports and schools closed, and official government advice for people to stay in their homes except for the most pressing of  journeys.

“Changing weather patterns are a good example of where it seems that what we used to think of as ’rare events’ are in fact becoming increasingly common, and are moving from the corner of the risk management matrix marked ‘low likelihood / high impact’ to what is actually ‘high likelihood / high impact’. Whether it is snow causing major disruption across the UK, including international air travel, or serious flooding in places where new developments were assessed as having a risk of flooding ‘once in a thousand years’, we are still labeling as rare events situations which are increasingly becoming part of the normal fabric of our society.

“Which brought me on to the topic of how well we are prepared to deal with genuine crises. It is clear over the last few days that the local government in KamnetsPodilski has little interest in doing anything about the snow, or even considering it something that they should be responsible for. What does happen is that everyone makes sure that their patch of pavement is clear, students come out and clear roads (and make wonderful snow sculptures at the same time), and everyone basically gets on with it. It is a clear example of a Self-Organising Social Network in progress. Self- Organising is described in Wikipedia as ‘Self-organization is a process where some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system. This process is spontaneous: it is not directed or controlled by any agent or subsystem inside or outside of the system’. It is similar to Emerging Multi-Organization Networks (EMON’s) self-organizing in crisis such as Hurricane Katrina or 9/11, where different agencies came together to create innovative solutions to emerging problems, without any clear hierarchical command-and-control structure directing them.

“One of things that seems to have been clear to me in KamnetsPodilski is that there is a collective memory and understanding of crises, and what needs to be done to at least give everyone the best possible chance of getting through them. The memories of the Second World War, life under Soviet rule, famines, mass national expulsions and transportation to the Siberian gulags, as well as the historical legacy of earlier experiences as a city that was the center of a constant battle between different political, military and social structures has given them a toughness and robustness that we have lost in the West. As a Russian businessman said to me in Moscow recently, ‘What you call a crisis in UK, we can only dream of!’.

“There is a feeling that we are reaching a tipping point in our inter-connected, technology-based society, where the problems that we may be facing will be beyond our capabilities to respond and manage, much less control. Climate change, pollution, growing concentration of chaotic urban populations and scarcity of water resources are some of the sorts of issues that come under this heading, and the recent power-shortage that left 600 million people without power across northern India is an indication of how these sorts of problems might manifest. It is easy to finger-point when things go wrong, and there is certainly a need to understand where political and social responsibility lies for ensuring the safety and well-being of the nation and its population. However, when push comes to shove, and the hard times come, it is likely that it is the neighbourhood working together that will be the most reliable framework for getting through the crisis – and that is something that the veneer of civilization that we all live under can never change.”

David Rubens has been involved in UK security consultancy for twenty years. He holds an MSc in Security and Risk Management (Leicester University), and is a Visiting Lecturer and Dissertation Supervisor on their Security, Terrorism and Policing MSc programme. He was a Visiting Lecturer on the Strategic Leadership Programme at the Security and Resilience Department, Cranfield University, UK Defence Academy (2009-’10), focusing on terrorism & public policy and the management of large-scale, multi-agency operations. He has written specialist reports for government agencies in Japan, Russia, Dubai, Nigeria, Liberia and the Caribbean, and is highly-regarded as a speaker on the international security circuit. He is currently on the Professional Doctorate programme at Portsmouth University Department of Criminology & Justice, where his research is concerned with the strategic management of security operations at the extremes of organisational complexity. He can be contacted at david@davidrubens-associates.com/www.davidrubens-associates.com

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