Regulatory Disaster Scene Investigation (2014)

What is the best way for governments to learn from disasters and crises such as financial crashes, offshore oil spills and nuclear accidents?

This project team explored that question as part of the larger research effort Recalibrating Risk at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Almost always these disasters/crises prompt special inquiries by legislative committees or blue-ribbon commissions that are convened as one-off investigations. The team investigated the potential expansion of more permanent investigative bodies such as the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Chemical Safety Board (CSB). Team members examined the NTSB and CSB, including their origins and evolution and their institutional strengths and weaknesses. The project included travel to Washington, DC, to interview NTSB and CSB officials, as a means of fleshing out their organizational culture, professional ethos and sense of independence. Team members also interviewed officials at financial, energy and environmental agencies to explore whether and how investigatory institutions might be used in these policy domains.

The team contributed to a forthcoming book that will have both a descriptive dimension (identifying broad patterns in crisis-driven regulatory policy) and a normative element (formulating recommendations for how policy-makers can prevent at least some crises through paying more attention to “near misses” and design regulatory institutions so that governments can better handle unanticipated crises). Team leaders presented research at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) headquarters in Paris.


May 2014 – July 2014

Team outcomes

The Global Diffusion of Regulatory Impact Assessment (session at World Congress on Risk 2015 chaired by Jonathan Wiener, with related presentations from Bass Connections project team research)

Commissions of Inquiry and Crisis Events (presentation by Emily Pechar)

This team in the news

Bass Connections Inspires New Teaching, Research

Regulatory Disaster Scene Investigation: A Bass Connections Project Team and the Library

Regulation Students Interview National Officials in DC

Jonathon Free: My Bass Connections Pathway

Dissecting Disaster: 4 Best Practices for Government Response

Photos on Bass Connections Flickr

The most rewarding aspect for me was the interaction with the other members of the project team. We divided our research into three subgroups, and I was lucky enough to work with the one undergraduate student on the team. While we have opportunities as graduate students to teach introductory-level classes, this experience gave me the chance to mentor an advanced undergraduate doing sophisticated research for the first time. —Jonathon Free

Additional support for this project is provided by the Silver Family Kenan Institute for Ethics Fund in Support of Bass Connections.

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Edward Balleisen, Trinity - History*
Lori Bennear, Nicholas School - Environmental Sciences & Policy*
Carson Holloway, Duke Libraries*
Kimberly Krawiec, Law School*
Jonathan Wiener, Nicholas School of the Environment*

Graduate Team Members

David Cheang, Nicholas School - Master of Environmental Manageme
Jonathon Free, PhD in History
Megan Hayes, Nicholas School - Master of Environmental Manageme
Emily Pechar, Nicholas School - Environmental Sciences and Polic

Undergraduate Team Members

Tess Harper, Environmental Sciences (BS)
Kate Preston, Public Policy Studies (AB)

Community Team Members

Multiple Contributors, United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
Multiple Contributors, US Chemical Safety Board

* denotes team leader


Completed, Archived