Adaptive Capacity Labs

When we are in the middle of what we study

Comments as the rolling outbreaks of COVID-19 unfold across the world

By David Woods – woods.2 (at)

The work in Cognitive Systems and Resilient Systems as well as in systems safety and disaster resilience around the world have looked at emergency operations in complex systems across many settings for a very long time.  The events and studies have been scaling up over the last 20 years and now we are in the middle of a global scale event.  We are experiencing ourselves many of the processes that play out for people caught up in these events – the noise, the uncertainty, confusion, the selfish responses, the mis-coordination, the exemplary behavior, the incredible endurance of those who find themselves at the front lines,  the slow/stale reactions of the management and political classes, and the muddling through that is always part of these events whatever the scale.

Here are my comments as the situation has unfolded and emailed as part of discussions with colleagues.

4/3 Team Defense 2

My colleague Mike Rayo followed up Team Defense is about Help basketball metaphor with his own from volleyball. He writes: “Sports give us plenty of guidance about teamwork, which we need right now! We need to think of ourselves as #TeamUSA, and we’re all suiting up. One important lesson comes from volleyball: You never call

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4/2 What is moral in a pandemic?

A discussion on the moral dimensions of responding to a pandemic with Sidney Dekker too.  You may want to refer to what I wrote on moral agency on March 26 and in the 10 point piece (see link at March 31 entry).

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3/31 Team Defense 1

Team Defense is based on a system of help In the March 30, 2020 webinar on Resilience Engineering and Covid-19 pandemic, a colleague asked how should society make the trade-off between the consequences of massive economic disruption versus the aggressive actions needed to turnaround virus transmission, reduce hospital overload, and minimize fatalities. As is always

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3/31 REA Webinar/10 pts. writeups

The video of the webinar is now up at REA site under webinars or go direct at this Zoom recording link. find the short write-ups (10 points each) at ResearchGate: What Matters When We are in the Middle of Evolving Covid-19 Pandemic Building Adaptive Capacity in this series of Beyond-Surge-Capacity Outbreaks: Reconfiguration under pressure at

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3/28 beyond-surge capacity

Adapting when faced with a beyond-surge capacity incident is essential for effective disaster response.  Studies of sudden-onset, no-notice disaster show that emergency departments and hospitals engage in a massive ad hoc effort to generate adequate resources. They have to mobilize and reconfigure response capacity despite overload, uncertainty, and time pressure. The hospital’s ability to adapt

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3/27 links to videos

The series of conversations with Tom Seager, Dave Alderson and myself are also available at the ISSST 2020 site.  Look for a new on on moral actions in the pandemic with Sidney Dekker. ISSST2020 Call for Creativity Talks

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3/26 moral imperative in a crisis

Moral agency in our crisis is about: can you do some thing to make difference, where that difference means reducing excessive deaths and supporting the people near or on the front lines who care for the sickest victims.  If you can, then there is moral imperative to act to make that difference.  [Afterwards we will find

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3/25 minimize excessive deaths

Multiple commentators (e.g.,  Levitt in LA Times) are pointing out the  rate of infections will peak and turn around so things will be OK eventually. The issue is what actions get the rate turned around — I keep repeating, get transmission rate below 1.  One way that this happens is when the virus runs out

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3/20 Decompensation

Another three-way conversation recorded From a colleague with family in Madrid: “I think it is very good that Ohio moved very swiftly; this was not the case in Madrid and the consequences are apparent. It is also shocking how fast everything happened… almost no issue by the beginning of the spring break, but major issues

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3/19 Reciprocity

I think there is a basic confusion between stopping the current outbreak and what is the long term, endemic, state of the virus, interventions, and risks associated with the virus.  We are in ‘stop the outbreak’ urgency while coping with the outbreak’s consequences for at risk groups. Some of the confusion is due to multiple

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3/18 shortages

Another 3 way conversation recorded Protective gear shortages: Ohio Governor’s briefing says insufficient protective equipment (PPE) in state and actions to “conserve” supplies. A colleague just got a story from a nursing friend: all the nurses received their ONE paper bag last night with their PPE in it which they were instructed to “reuse” for

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3/16 Polycentric governance in action

Social scientist (@RebeccaGruby) asks Ostrom’s Polycentric Governance should say a lot about how to handle outbreak.    The response to COVID-19 is a form of polycentric governance: multiple, overlapping decision-making centers operating with some autonomy, acting in ways that take account of others. Polycentricity scholars, what are some useful insights from our work? A few

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3/15 Satire on unethical policies

The announced English government policy (already collapsing) that large gatherings do not need to be cancelled/banned and that schools do no need to be closed is hard to justify especially given NHS overload, presumably they wanted to try to reduce the economic losses of responding to the outbreak.  Then they rolled out a justification claiming

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3/14 Getting slammed

Looking at the  Italian doctors interview about his ICU getting slammed and trying not to be overwhelmed by the surge.   A lot of the stuff we talk about in general is evident in his experiences.  It also parallels our study of a mass casualty response – the clinicians adapt to somehow make up a

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3/12 Resilience perspectives on pandemics

We can think about the current unfolding epidemic as a case at scale of the general systems issues we have been thinking/writing… about for more than a decade. We are part of a multi-national scale natural laboratory on managing a spreading disruption relative to saturating critical points in the response system.  Looking at this analysis

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