Matters at Stake
Good problem solving and decision making can avert tragedy and help the people recover from the event
more quickly. Conversely, poor decision making? or the absence of decisions? potentially can result in injury or
death to victims or responders. (Clearly, in our case study, if the District Magistrate makes a poor decision-or
simply doesn’t make any decision before it’s too late-the consequences could be disastrous for the people of Murariganj
But the repercussions don’t stop there. Poor decisions in the early stages of an event can make the responders’
job more difficult and more dangerous. In addition, they can give rise to much more critical or complex decisions
later on? not to say the consequences on the lives of the local people. Good decision-making skills are one of your
most critical assets as an Administrator, and CSAT will test on this account before you step to the next stage for
the selection to top administrative jobs in India. In this book , we shall familiarize you with what CSAT will
actually attempt to test in you. We take here a case study to understand this aspect of making decisions in emergency.
Making Decisions in Emergency
What decision points did we identify in the above situation? It is to be noted that the central problem is that
if the dam breaks, the people in the downstream towns will be flooded. Numerous decisions must be made to
address this problem. Some of the key decisions that must be made are as follows, and we probably identified
others as well.
1. Should residents in the two downstream subdivisional towns of Murariganj and Dumdama be evacuated?
2. If the decision is to evacuate, when should the evacuation take place?
3. Who will notify the populace of the evacuation, and how?
4. What additional resources will be necessary to accomplish the evacuation and provide any shelter needed?
5. What is the most effective way to keep the dam from collapsing, and what resources will be needed to
DECISION MAKING PROCESS
Whether making ordinary day-to-day decisions or critical, time-sensitive decisions during an emergency,
using a standard problem-solving model will help ensure that your decisions are rational and logical.
There are many different decision-making/problem-solving models that a decision making person can use.
Following is a five-step model which may be used in an emergency situation
Step 1 Identifying the problem
Step 2 Exploring the alternatives
Step 3 Selecting the ‘best’ alternative
Step 4 Implementing the solution
Step 5 Evaluating the solution situation
When using this model, each step may be completed quickly, but every step must be considered. It is not
necessary to document each step, but it is important to think through every step.
Step 1 Identifying the Problem
Problem identification is undoubtedly the most important? and the most difficult? step in an situation. Whether
all subsequent steps are productive or not, will be based on how you define and assess the problem at hand.
What is a “Problem”?
Situation or condition of people or the organization that will exist in the future, and that is considered
undesirable by members of the organization is called a Problem
Problem or Solution?
We must distinguish between a problem and its solution in carrying out Step 1. Defining problems in terms
of their solutions is the most common error in problem solving. Sometimes people
think that they are articulating problems when actually they are stating a
Marking Out the Problem Parameters
1. Identifying the problem also involves analyzing the situation to determine the complete extent of the problem.
Problem parameters include :
1. What is happening (and is not happening)?
2. Who is/are involved?
3. What the stakes are?
Step 2 Exploring the Alternatives
To explore alternative solutions to the problem identified in Step 1 is the
second step in the decision-making process. This step really consists of two
- Generating alternatives
- Evaluating alternatives
Methods of Generating Alternatives
So, what process should we use to generate the alternatives for the case
study? There are three ways to generate alternatives.
- Brainstorming can be done individually or in a group. Brainstorming
requires an environment in which the participants (individuals or group
members) are free to “think out loud.” Participants blurt out as many ideas
as possible within a specified time period.
- Surveys economically tap the ideas of a large group of respondents.
Surveys present respondents with the problem and a series of alternative
- Discussion groups should consist of those who are directly involved in
decision making. In generating alternatives, the group members should
- Focus on the problem, not on the personalities of the people involved in
the decision-making process. (But be sensitive to the impact of
personalities on the process.)
- Avoid initial judgments (as in brainstorming).
- Be comprehensive.
Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives:
We must have some means of evaluating them, after we have generated
alternative solutions. We should lists criteria by which we can evaluate
alternatives. Another part of evaluation is identifying contingencies-what could
go wrong. Think in terms of Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”)
and identify what could get in the way of solving the problem you are facing.
Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives
Questions to Ask
1. Identify Constraints, Do any of the following factors serve as a limitation
on this solution?
•Human resources (limited ability of
relevant people to understand or initiate certain actions)
• Social (restrictions imposed by
organized groups with special interests)
• Political (legal restrictions or
• Economic (cost or capital
• Technical (limited equipment or
• Time (requirements that a solution
be found within a prescribed time period, thereby eliminating consideration of
2. Determine Appropriateness Does this solution fit the circumstances?
3. Verify Adequacy Will this option make enough of a difference to be worth
4. Evaluate Effectiveness Will this option meet the objective?
5. Evaluate Efficiency What is the cost/benefit ratio of this option?
6. Determine Side Effects What are the ramifications of this option?
Step 3 Selecting the “Best” Alternative
To select one of the alternatives explored in Step 2 for implementation is
third step in the problem-solving model. After you have evaluated each
alternative, one should stand out as coming closest to solving the problem with
the most advantages and fewest disadvantages.
Implementing the solution may not be easy, however. There may be
repercussions, and you should complete a “reality check” to identify and
evaluate the possible consequences of implementing the solution. Carefully
consider how the solution will be implemented before selecting an alternative.
Selecting an alternative is a critical step in the problem-solving process.
When selecting an alternative, you
will encounter factors that affect your decision making. These factors may
• Ethical factors.
• Financial factors.
• Political factors.
• Environmental considerations.
• Safety factors.
All of these factors may not be readily recognizable. Be alert for these
potential limits on the solutions that you can implement, as you examine the
situation and apply the problem-solving model, .