Worst case scenarios: Their role in safe decision making in bushfire fighting

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This research attempts to understand the use of worst case scenarios in decision making. There is evidence that more effective decision makers consider worst cases in planning and situation assessment. Worst cases may be overlooked because they seem so unlikely, but this can lead to serious mistakes and disastrous outcomes.

Fire fighters are familiar with worst cases and know that minimising them is likely to increase safety. Thinking about worst cases is an exercise in imagination: You need to imagine possibilities, as well as estimate probabilities. In the bushfire fighting domain, worst cases may involve death, serious injury or substantial loss of assets.

Through incident report analysis, targeted interviews and investigation into training practices and procedures, this research has developed a greater understanding of how worst cases can improve decision making by bushfire fighters. By developing training recommendations for fire agencies that are tailored to complement existing structures, this research aims to improve safety in decision making.

This PhD thesis by Claire Johnson at La Trobe University was formally submitted in March 2011.

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In this video series, Claire Johnson, based at La Trobe University, talks about her completed PhD project on preparing for worst case scenarios. Claire completed her PhD in March 2011.

Part 1 - what this research is about and what it found.

Part 2 - how this research can be used.

Part 3 - what is planned for the future with this research.