Aqaba accident — repeated patterns of crisis response behavior

WhatsApp Image 2022-06-28 at 10.02.40 AM
(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
WhatsApp Image 2022-06-28 at 10.02.40 AM

Nasser bin Nasser, Global Comment

The writer is founder and CEO of Ambit Advisory.

Jordanians were saddened and infuriated by last week’s accident at the port of Aqaba. On June 27, 13 port workers and members of Jordan’s civil defense and gendarmerie directorates died and many others were injured when a chlorine container bound for export fell and ruptured as it was being loaded onto a ship. It was yet another accident in a series of unfortunate and avoidable ones in recent years.اضافة اعلان

When it comes to such accidents, Jordanian authorities and the general public exhibit a regular pattern of behavior that has become all too familiar. While authorities can be defensive or even appear uncertain in their response, the general public tends to exhibit disbelief and self-deprecation. Where they both overlap is the anger and burning desire for revenge to bring those responsible to justice. Regrettably, none of this serves to address the accident in question or prevent future ones from occurring. A different approach is needed.

One way to address this issue would be to change the way investigations are carried out, to de-politicize them and keep them objective. This, however, poses a challenge when emotions run high and people have been harmed.

“Root cause analysis”, a well-known investigation technique that is universally used for accidents that occur in critical sectors or facilities, including the nuclear, aviation and financial, could be used in this case. But it can only be conducted when an independent team of experts is tasked with investigating incidents away from public pressure and without rushing to lay blame on a specific individual but to identify the systemic errors that led to the incident.

Interestingly, a common approach that experts adopt in such investigations is to ask “why” five times before understanding a particular cause. In the case of the Aqaba accident, for example, a simple assessment that the cables broke as the container was being loaded onto the vessel will not suffice.

All accidents are avoidable, yet they occur in even the most developed countries and facilities. When they occur, and they do occur in critical facilities everywhere, investigations are held in order to learn why they occurred and to take measures to prevent them from happening again. The general public is not meant to be involved in this investigation phase. It is meant to become involved at a later phase, when the investigation is over and findings need to hold up to public scrutiny.

Why are roles reversed in Jordan? Why is the general public judge and jury when accidents occur, but has no role or interest once investigations are complete?

This may be fueled by footage that is almost always leaked once an accident occurs, which serves no practical purpose except for encouraging the public’s role in the investigation.
...Investigations are held in order to learn why they occurred and to take measures to prevent them from happening again. The general public is not meant to be involved in this investigation phase.
Showing photos from the scene of a criminal who took his own life a week after his gruesome murder of a university student last month is another recent example. Commentators had plenty of conspiracy theories, disputing the claim that he had taken his own life and even disputing his identity as the perpetrator of the heinous crime.

Authorities should start by tightening their information security protocols. They should have the prerogative to release footage when it serves a practical purpose, at the conclusion of an investigation.

There is pressing need to redirect the sense of anger exhibited by everyone toward something constructive; in this case, the governance of accidents such as these. While individuals need to be held accountable, the desire to take punitive measures against specific individuals rarely succeeds in addressing system-related flaws. We should no longer take the same actions and expect different outcomes.

Nasser bin Nasser is the founder and CEO of Ambit Advisory.

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