Working in a complex world: Systems ergonomics and the threats from insiders

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Denis Fischbacher-Smith, University of Glasgow

The attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in January 2015 highlighted the difficulties associated with the protection of organisational space. The roving shooter attacks that also occurred in Paris in November 2015 illustrated the devastation that can be caused in urban areas by assailants who are suitably armed and willing to cause harm. Also in 2015, the murders of a reporter and cameraman live on air by a former colleague and the murders of 14 co-workers shootings in San Bernardino California

The spate of attacks from so-called “lone wolves” and the threats that occur from organisational insiders have generated challenges for organisational controls that sit at the interface between several professional disciplines including ergonomics, human resource management, and organisational security. At the governmental level we can also add the generation and interpretation of intelligence and threat assessment. Taken together the range of threats can be seen to require a holistic, systems-based perspective on the nature of threat management for human actors.

The challenges associated with the management of hostile actors within organisations have taken on a more urgent perspective in the wake of a spate of mass casualty events in both the USA and the EU. Whilst the availability of weapons is invariably the focus of policy makers, the challenges for the organisation lie in terms of the nature and vulnerability of organisational controls, the processes around recruitment, and the abilities to identify and act upon early warnings. This paper sets out a theoretical framework for considering the nature of those vulnerabilities and does so from the perspective of both internal and external threats. The relationships between such threat actors are often symbiotic as external actors will seek to expose internal vulnerabilities by coercing ‘trusted’ employees to allow defences to be bypassed. The paper sets out the processes by which organisational crises develop and, particularly, the role that individual actors (both hostile and benign) can play in the transition form a complex systems state to a chaotic one.

Date & time

7-8 June 2016

NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham

What is a Complex System?

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