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Risk and Crisis Management lessons, and example, from history

Risk and Crisis Management lessons, and example, from history

May 1st, 2014

Risk and Crisis Management lessons, and example, from history

OK, so in this blog we talk about risk management, risk communication, crisis management and other modern ideas, right? Well let’s talk about these “modern ideas” that actually arose in Rome two thousand years ago.

Reportedly the first “Tiber River Management Authority” (Curator alvei Tiberis) was established by Emperor Augustus during a general restructuring of Roman administrations in charge of “highways”, water, fire protection and police. Under this new management concept the watercourse was cleaned of debris that could become hazardous during a flood, as a first level mitigative effort.

Despite the efforts, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, the Tiber river had again, in 15AD, a catastrophic flood, reported by Tacitus. The Roman central administration was caught by surprise by this tragic event, which destroyed many infrastructures and generated numerous casualties. In the aftermath of the event two commissioners were asked to formulate a mitigative plan as, apparently, the event(s) went over the societal tolerance threshold of those times.

The Roman Senate immediately debated over the road-map to risk mitigation, and in particular about two opposing strategies: one was a classic “do nothing” or Status Quo approach; the other one was a “brute force” approach encompassing the construction of Dams and even a Tiber river diversion. For a number of “political and religious” reasons the second approach was rejected by the Roman Senate. The Status Quo option was selected. At those time political reasons were already making people memory very short!

However, Emperor Tiberius, in his second year of reign, pushed aside the Senate’s decision, created a commission with five “friendly” Senators, and forcefully passed go-ahead decrees for the mitigations. As the hydraulic works were already very significant, the commission decided, as an after-thought, to further widen the sections as to enable navigation! The original Curator alvei Tiberis mandate was extended to include the dykes, banks, wastewater collections and drainages. Dykes roads were installed to allow pulling freight rafts.

Reportedly the frequency of the Tiber river flooding in the two centuries which followed these mitigations was significantly reduced.

So, twenty centuries have passed. It takes large catastrophes for us Humans to take decisions, overcome “local” interests and cognitive biases. Today we have better ways of supporting decision-making, but, unfortunately, not many of us take advantage of this knowledge.

Welcome to our “modern” world!

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Category: Crisis management, Mitigations, Risk analysis, Tolerance/Acceptability

2 responses to “Risk and Crisis Management lessons, and example, from history”

  1. Bob says:

    Enjoyed the article

  2. Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it…

    Wonderful historical context.

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