Prevent Disasters: How to Identify and Manage Risks by Learning from Near-miss Events

Although organizations may extract valuable lessons from visible failures, they too often neglect near-miss events—those that occur before a catastrophe—for the early learning opportunities these events can provide. Near-misses are situations where a failure could have occurred except for the intervention of good fortune and are often harbingers of a future failure. Prior research has demonstrated a natural propensity for individuals and organizations to ignore these warning signals because they perceive the near-misses as successes. This presentation will describe more than a decade’s worth of research into identifying near-misses and mitigating risky responses in applications from space missions, natural hazard events, homeland security, commercial aviation, coal mining, and supply chain management.

Robin Dillon-Merrill image

Robin Dillon-Merrill

Robin Dillon-Merrill

Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

Robin L. Dillon-Merrill is a professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. From 2017–2019 she served as the Program Director for the National Science Foundation’s Humans, Disasters and the Built Environment program in the Directorate of Engineering. She seeks to understand and explain how and why people make the decisions that they do under conditions of uncertainty and risk. This research specifically examines critical decisions that people have made following near-miss events in situations with severe outcomes including hurricane evacuation, terrorism, and NASA mission management. Professor Dillon-Merrill has received research funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security through USC’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis for Terrorism Events. She has served as a risk analysis and project management expert on several National Academies Committees including the review of the New Orleans regional hurricane protection projects and the application of risk analysis techniques to securing the Department of Energy’s special nuclear materials. She also served as the co-chair of the Georgetown University Environment Initiative from 2015–2017. She has a BS/MS from the University of Virginia in systems engineering and a PhD from Stanford University.