For the last several weeks, I have been watching the haphazard response to the appearance of Ebola in the U.S. through the eyes of a professional pilot. With limited federal control over matters related to public health, elected officials around the country are rushing to enact emergency measures to prevent Ebola’s spread, resulting in major disagreements about how best to do that. We saw the limits of that approach in New Jersey, and then in Maine, when the first person subjected to forced isolation called her treatment “inhumane” and defied quarantine orders, setting off a debate among public health experts, civil liberties groups and even the White House.
I have devoted my entire professional life to the pursuit of the safety of the public. Aviation and medicine are both high-stakes endeavors with little margin for error. All complex systems are different, but they all abide by similar rules and need a coordinated system of protocols and uniformity to bring into play under situations that can be very different. Over many decades, aviation has developed a systems approach to manage the complexity and interrelatedness of an endeavor that involves inherent risk, and an effective culture of safety that can, in substantive ways, be transferred to medicine.