Managing cognitive biases during disaster response: the development of an aide memoire

  • Benjamin Brooks
  • Steven CurninEmail author
  • Christine Owen
  • Chris Bearman
Original Article


Disasters are highly complex with often extreme consequences and are often exacerbated by decision errors. Human behaviour in this domain offers a fertile ground for studying decision-making and identifying opportunities for improvement. This research sought to improve the quality of decision-making by developing an aide memoire for managing cognitive biases in emergency management. Based on the appropriate literature, 58 of Australia’s leading marine spill disaster response experts identified and ranked the most important cognitive biases in a group setting. The results were translated into language relevant to emergency management practitioners and reframed into a series of questions. The identification of nine cognitive biases in the aide memoire can first be used to assess the available information, intelligence and decisions, and then used to determine the meaning of the information, intelligence and decisions. The paper discusses the applicability of the aide memoire to decision errors identified in recent man-made and natural disasters. Finally, the article addresses a criticism that research findings are often not useful to industry by suggesting how the aide memoire can be used in practice.


Cognitive bias Decision-making Disasters Emergency management decision aid 



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Australian Maritime CollegeUniversity of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia
  2. 2.School of Social SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  3. 3.Appleton InstituteCentral Queensland UniversityWayvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research CentreMelbourneAustralia

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