What is Surge Studies?

Surge Studies is the name I’ve given to what I hope will become an inter-disciplinary field of expertise, research and, above all, applied-practice focused upon surge events of all kinds. 

Many groups of people have experience of and expertise in managing and creating surge events, but that experience and expertise tends to stay within those groups. The idea behind Surge Studies is to pool that experience and expertise so that anyone involved in surge can benefit from them. I hope also that Surge Studies will come to be identified by a common and agreed set of concepts, so that everyone operating in a “surge business” area speaks more or less the same language.

Q. Who should contribute to and have an interest in Surge Studies?

Anyone involved in any “business” where surge events occur. This includes anyone responding to surge events or seeking to create them. So it includes people who work in:

  • the emergency services (police, fire-fighters, paramedics, sea rescue etc)
  • hospitals (especially A&E, trauma and intensive care)
  • epidemiology and infectious disease management
  • environmental management
  • disaster and humanitarian relief
  • the military
  • crowd management
  • retail supply and operations
  • “high street” businesses – estate agents, firms of solicitors and accountants
  • all other business organisations
  • local government
  • government departments
  • NGOs & charities
  • media & PR organisations
  • schools & colleges
  • community groups
  • teams of all sorts
  • all other types of organisation
  • explosive sports
  • events with explosive surge sub-events (eg pit stops in F1)
  • individuals & families

Q. Why do we need all this focus on surge events?

The simple answer is because many surge events are among the biggest and worst events there are in terms of the damage they can do. Many are both challenging and destructive. Think hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wild fires, pandemics and rapid-development famines. Clearly we need to get even better at managing natural surge events and even better at managing those that are not primarily natural – sudden mass migrations, for example, and dealing robustly with calamities such as stricken nuclear facilities.

Moreover, climate change will mean even more impactful surge events. Floods and water shortages will be two of the factors precipitating massive displacements and migrations. Conflict and failed state conditions are likely to lead to more humanitarian surge requirements. Pandemics are almost inevitable and likely to pose massive challenges.

So it would be no exaggeration to say that the future of our species depends on our getting to grips with the mega surges that could easily overwhelm us. This reason alone is enough to warrant the emergence of Surge Studies. But surge response events are required for more common if still dreadful situations – mass casualty incidents, for example, terrorist incidents and conflagrations such as the terrible Grenfell Tower disaster. We need a relentless focus on surge readiness to cope with these events.

But as already indicated, all organisations need sometimes to operate in surge mode – for example, when they have an exceptional work-load or need to respond robustly to a reputational hammer-blow. Every individual and every organisation from a family to a multi-national needs to have the wherewithal to surge if and when required. The best way of ensuring they do is to make surge a focus in its own right.

Q. Are there more positive reasons for focusing on surge events?

Definitely. Surge can be a major proactive strategy for accomplishing goals. It can often be more effective than a gradualist approach. Companies can use surge to get to the next desired level of production or to optimise the energy and talents of a high-performing team. This is surge-by-design rather than surge from necessity.

Virtually every organisation can reap the benefits of surging. Think of schools, hospitals, charities, NGOs, local authorities and community groups – all would have options for operating that they wouldn’t have if surge strategies were not on their menus.

The primary need is for intentional surge action to become a go-to option for any organisation or community. This means surging consciously, by design and with as much expertise and readiness as possible rather than just responding in as surge-like way as they can when something “goes wrong” or even unexpectedly “right”. A really resilient organisation will have the consciousness, the capacity and the agility to respond both to sudden, unexpected events and to ones that can be planned for. Engaging with Surge Studies will help them to develop the wherewithal for what might be called full-spectrum surge competence.