Decision biases and heuristics among emergency managers: Just like the public they manage for?

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This study found that emergency managers exhibit some of the same decision biases, sensitivity to framing, and heuristics found in studies of the general public, even when making decisions in their area of expertise. A national survey of county-level emergency managers finds that managers appear more risk averse when the outcomes of actions are framed as gains than when equivalent outcomes are framed as losses, a finding that is consistent with prospect theory. The study also found that the perceived actions of emergency managers in neighboring jurisdictions affect the choices a manager makes. In addition, our managers show evidence of attribution bias, outcome bias, and difficulties processing numerical information, particularly probabilities compared to frequencies. Each of these departures from perfect rationality points to potential shortfalls in public managers’ decision making. There are opportunities to improve decision making through reframing problems, providing training in structured decision-making processes, and employing different choice architectures to nudge behavior in a beneficial direction