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The flood

Today marks the one-year anniversary of one of the greatest natural disasters in the history of Germany. The flood in the Ahrtal, West of Germany, caused at least 189 deaths.

This documentary shows chronologically the failure of the system and politicians to act: There were warnings days before the flood hit from various weather expert institutions such as Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD) and the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS). It is argued that if these warnings had been perceived equally urgent at all ends of the information / process chain it possibly could have prevented many deaths through earlier preventive actions.

It is said in the documentary, that there was a gap of understanding between the ministry of environment, who issues the (water) status quo report to the district councils who needs to inform the municipalities so they initiate the required measures of evacuation etc.

The ex-minister of environment Heinen-Esser says: “Afterwards, through the work of the investigative committee, we found out that the status reports did reach the district councils, but that the district councils didn't work with them at all, they ended up disappearing in the waste-paper basket. And that was certainly due to the fact that the reports, one has to be honest, were not so clear and precise that the employees in the district councils could do anything with them.”

Stefan Kämmerling, chairman of the investigation committee says: “In the ministry of environment it was understood how great the danger is. But no one went and translated in such a way that it would be understood.”

This is a very drastic example of how data is informing but not causing action. The information of “200 liter per square meter of rain” apparently did not trigger anything. It is very abstract. “The water will reach the second floor of the houses next to the river” probably would have been more meaningful.

Obviously, we cannot compare this disaster to what is happening in our corporate environment. This tragedy has caused so many deaths and my condolences go out to their families for their loss. Yet, there are similarities in how we go about some of the reports and KPI-dashboards we receive: we throw it in the waste-paper basket. Even though, there might be valuable insights in it, that help us navigate the ship away from the iceberg.

We need to walk a new path in our communication to be heard. To be understood. To act.

Thanks to Sylvia Lier for texting me to watch this eye-opening documentary.

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