Perspectives on Avoidable Deaths

Perspectives on Avoidable Deaths – Mr David Wales

Short interviews were conducted to gain multiple perspectives on avoidable deaths.

Dr Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett interviewed two ADN’s Advisors Mr David Wales and Professor Michael Peterson in 2021 to gain multiple perspectives on avoidable deaths.  Please read Mr David Wales’ interview transcript below. To read Professor Michael Peterson’s, please click here.

Mr David Wales is the founder of SharedAim and is an Advisory Panel member for the Crisis Response Journal. He gained significant experience in all aspects of emergency planning and response following a distinguished career in the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) in the UK. Mr. Wales is an experienced presenter, author and has worked extensively across multiple sectors, including fire and emergency, health/burns, academia, electrical and customer experience.

Mr David Wales’ Interview Transcript:

‘One event, multiple experiences’ is a phrase that I first came to appreciate many years ago, when as a fire officer, I was researching the public’s response to discovering a fire in the home. It reminded me that no two people will experience an emergency in the same way. This insight has important repercussions at all stages of a disaster and means we must often challenge our own assumptions. Now, as a customer experience and service design consultant, the phrase still resonates strongly and is reflected in the name of my company, SharedAim. I continue to seek, and help others find, different perspectives from which to view issues as it remains one of the most powerful ways to identify needs and new opportunities. As such, I am delighted to have been asked to contribute to this newsletter and offer a perspective that reflects my interest in the human experience of disasters.

  1. Do you believe it is possible to achieve the Sendai Framework’s first two global targets?  First target is to substantially reduce disaster mortality by 2030; and the second target is to substantially reduce the number of affected people by 2030).

There are so many potential avenues from which to explore this question, but for brevity, my general belief is that yes, it is possible to achieve both targets. Whether that is realised will of course depend on many factors, not all of which are knowable or controllable.

However, I hope that these targets are not pursued too narrowly but are seen as a catalyst in the broader context of a direction of travel. For an excellent (and brief) talk on the constraints of success/failure thinking in complex environments see – Rob Ricigliano – Dump the Terms ‘Success’ and ‘Failure’ – YouTube.  If considered this way the targets also serve to ask important questions about what it would take to achieve these outcomes, not just by 2030 but beyond.

We know that history is an increasingly poor guide to the future when it comes to the risks we face. The complexity, scale, and speed at which some of these will be realised pose very different challenge to the ones we are more familiar with. They may stretch, or increasingly be beyond, the capability of the existing infrastructure. In common with many others, the crisis sector is one that has evolved organically and somewhat fragmentally as a sum of its parts over time. This has some advantages, notably the skills, knowledge and passion of the people that work in it. But from an organisational and systems perspective, it has many limitations.

As such, crucial to achieving and sustaining the targets will be the need to determine whether the current model is fundamentally sound and capable of incremental improvement. Or will achieving the 2030 and future targets rely on a radical transformation of the sector? While it would be challenging to create new models, it may also be our best or only hope of creating a new vision and capability.

  1. In no more than 2 sentences what is the most effective way to achieve the Sendai Framework’s first two targets?

To acknowledge and develop the inherent willingness and capability of citizens or communities to contribute to their own wellbeing at every stage of the disaster cycle. To create new models of funding and partnership working which reduce the impact of silos and work effectively in conditions of uncertainty or ambiguity.

  1. In your opinion which organization should take the lead in achieving the Sendai’s first two targets?

I am not sure I feel well qualified to offer a specific view on this in terms of identifying an individual organisation or body that could take the lead. However, within the time frame of these targets, a degree of pragmatism is required. The best opportunity is likely to be through the creation of a collaborative partnership model. One that can embed some of the urgency and focus that underpinned the search for a vaccine during the pandemic. A ‘whatever it takes’ mindset and commitment is often the most powerful force to inspire people to overcome organisational inertia and boundaries.

That along with a strong and human connection to the citizens, communities, and other stakeholders. There are many ways to achieve this, but they serve to act as safeguards to ensure that the ‘as imagined’ is the same as the ‘as is’.

The longer-term issue of leadership in the sector is clearly an important one. This will have to reflect the direction of the sector, whether that is incremental change or something more disruptive and transformational. But it must also look widely to ensure it can connect with other agendas that impact, or are impacted by, disasters. And of course what we understand as leadership is itself changing, reflecting traits such as a growth mindset, willingness to take risks, managing uncertainty, and nurturing rather than controlling to name but a few.

  1. Are you aware of any good practices in reducing the number of avoidable disaster deaths and affected people?

There are many great examples, both of direct practice and enabling practice. I admire the ‘A Nation of Life Savers’ initiative in Singapore. It combines a very human-centred model with ambitious use of technology as an enabler. When applied intelligently, technology has so much to offer and increasingly provides opportunities to move interventions much further upstream. It can also release staff from monotonous task to enhance front line or face to face roles, and in so doing can enhance the human connection. But, technology for the sake of it can be detrimental in many ways and should never be considered as an end in itself.

I also like the work of Kindling (Fire nonprofit | Kindling ( whose mission is ‘to is to connect fire safety knowledge to local and global humanitarian and development efforts to reduce the unequal impact of fire on people, property and livelihoods in vulnerable communities around the world’. Addressing the social aspects and inequalities of disasters is crucial to realising any targets.

I recently found the work of Ripple Effect Images | Help a Woman, Help the Planet who are using amazing imagery to communicate their message, positively and elegantly. Whilst recognising the challenges, we must also build on the inherent spirit and potential within all our communities to inspire hope and action.

And finally, I believe that there is much to be learnt from other sectors. For example some of the tools we use in the customer experience field, such as service design, journey mapping and voice of the customer could easily and usefully be applied to disaster work.

  1. Why should we reduce avoidable disaster deaths and the number of people affected by disasters?

I believe that the desire to help others and avoid or relieve suffering are deeply ingrained within human nature. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that when faced with immediate adversity such as a disaster, people care for each other, even taking risks to assist strangers.

But the challenge is tackling avoidable deaths and other resultant harm when the impact is distant (in any sense) from its source. And historically, how to translate a collective acknowledgement of what needs to be done into individual actions at scale has proven difficult. And that speaks to the use of the word ‘we’ in the question. Institutions and organisations have achieved much but must now increasingly adopt new roles that release the power of individuals and communities to help themselves and each other. Through that process, we grow, learn and ultimately recognise that what unites us is more valuable than what divides us. Even loose connections help us to care about others and it is not in our nature to allow those that matter to us to experience avoidable harm. So, I believe we should reduce avoidable deaths because it is in our nature to do so.

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