Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 17 Issue 3 (September 2009), Pages 143-202

Disasters, Lessons Learned, and Fantasy Documents (pages 146-156)

This article develops a general theory of why post‐disaster ‘lessons learned’ documents are often ‘fantasy documents’. The article describes the political and organizational barriers to effective learning from disasters, and builds on general theory building on learning from extreme events to explain this phenomenon. Fantasy documents are not generally about the ‘real’ causes and solutions to disasters; rather, they are generated to prove that some authoritative actor has ‘done something’ about a disaster. Because it is difficult to test whether learning happened after an extreme event, these post‐disaster documents are generally ignored after they are published.

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