CCRM Seminar: Paul R. Schulman and Emery Roe

CCRM event panelists


The Covid-19 pandemic is arguably the seminal international event in the 21st century so far. It’s had huge consequences for public safety, with 2.8 million world-wide deaths as of April 1st. In the U.S. there was an “excess mortality” of 390,000 deaths in the 10-month period from January to Oct 2010 over the previous 5-year average mortality rate for that period.

But the pandemic has also challenged the effectiveness of many national public health agencies and regulatory processes, as well as policy-making with respect to health care resources and their priority. With early and fundamental uncertainties connected to its means of transmission and the treatment of its victims, uncertain information about case, infection and mortality rates (even the numbers cited above are hedged by their collectors) and the ability as well of the virus to generate genetic variants with different transmission and virulence properties, Covid-19 has also challenged processes of medical research, information gathering and decision-making.

In the upcoming virtual meeting of the UC Berkeley Center for Catastrophic Risk Management (CCRM), we propose to review and analyze not only the practical medical and public health challenges posed by the Covid pandemic, but also the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic poses to our understanding of basic concepts applied to public organizations, their administration and management.

Our topic is not about assigning blame for “poor performance” in public health management and policy relative to the Covid pandemic. It is to explore what performance standards can we expect against problems such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but also possibly a host of public problems with similar properties in other problem domains.

What do “reliability”, “resilience”, “effectiveness” and even “accountability” mean as performance standards to apply to policy and management efforts in the face of problems that propagate with such speed and on such a global scale? How do we identify “error” under such conditions and identify it readily enough to promote policy learning and resilience? How do we appraise risks in order to better guide decision-making, when the stakes are so consequential in scale and time?

Are conventional arguments about crisis management useful when applied to crisis conditions like those in a rapidly changing, uncertain but potentially multi-year long crises like the Covid pandemic? How do you build consensus for policy action when measures such as lockdowns directed toward limiting the spread also threaten general economic well-being and strongly held values like freedom of assembly and movement?

We hope to engage participants in thinking deeply about these practical and conceptual questions in the domains of healthcare, public health and well beyond. If your time permits, this pdf of a recent article discusses at greater length some of these issues.


About the Speakers

Paul R. Schulman (B. A. Tulane University, M.A., Ph.D. in Political Science from the Johns Hopkins University) is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley and Emeritus Professor of Government at Mills College in Oakland, California. He has written extensively on managing hazardous technical systems to high levels of reliability and safety, within organizations and across networks of organizations. His books include (with Emery Roe), Reliability and Risk: The Challenge of Managing Interconnected Critical Infrastructures (Stanford University Press, 2016),  High Reliability Management (also with Emery Roe) (Stanford University Press, 2008), and Large-Scale Policy-Making (Elsevier, 1980). He has been a consultant to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the California Independent System Operator, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Invitae, a genetic testing start-up and an advisor to the California Public Utilities Commission. He is currently a member of the Joint Genome Institute’s Synthetic Biology Internal Review Committee in the U.S. Department of Energy.

Emery Roe is a senior research associate at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California Berkeley. He has been a practicing policy analyst and is author of many articles and other publications. His most recent book, co-authored with Paul Schulman, has been published by Stanford University Press in 2016 as Reliability and Risk: The Challenge of Managing Interconnected Infrastructures. His other books include Making the Most of Mess: Reliability and Policy in Today’s Management Challenges (2013, Duke University Press); High Reliability Management: Operating on the Edge (with Paul Schulman, 2008, Stanford University Press); and Narrative Policy Analysis (1994, Duke University Press). Read his blog.