Critical Decision Institute goes private

The Critical Decision Institute (CDI) began offering crisis management seminars in January, but the foundation is not an official Portland State program, according to CDI board chairman Ron Tammen.

The institute, which offers disaster response training to local government and business officials from around the country, has instead become a private, non-profit organization.

According to Tammen, the institute has received $500,000 in initial funding from the federal Department of Homeland Security, and an additional $250,000 from businesses in Oregon to fund its first year’s programs, and will be “self-sustained.” The CDI staff currently operates out of office space donated by Conkling, Fiskum and McCormick, Inc., a public affairs and research consulting firm.

The institute hopes to attract as many as 1,000 people per year to its programs. The programs will use high-tech simulation programs, many developed by Oregon companies, to train participants on how to make decisions in response to disasters ranging from earthquakes to terrorist attacks.

Many people first heard of CDI from a September 2003 Willamette Week cover story, called “Doomsday U,” which reported that Tammen, who is also director of PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, was trying to establish an anti-terrorism program at PSU.

The article, however, contained some inaccuracies, according to Tammen.

“The Willamette Week reporter assumed that it was a PSU program, but it is not,” Tammen said.

PSU’s School of Government is listed as a sponsor of the seminars on CDI’s website, however, along with Oregon Health Sciences University and Oregon State University. The School of Government handled registration for the institute’s first seminars, offered in Coos Bay, Medford and Eugene, but the seminars are not an accredited university program.

Tammen also said that he feels the article, which quoted a Cato Institute fellow speculating about smallpox and anthrax attacks, overemphasized the CDI program’s focus on terrorism, and pointed out that the program offers training on how to respond to disasters, whether caused by people or nature. According to Tammen, the reality of the program is “a lot less flashy” than they the way it was portrayed.

“I think the reporters didn’t get the story right, which is a shame, because it is such a great program,” he said.

Development of the CDI program began last year when Mark Kroeker, Portland’s chief of police at the time, approached Tammen and Oregon Health Sciences University President Dr. Peter Kohler with the idea to establish a national disaster training program in Portland, an idea that Kroeker had been developing for a long time, but gained a new relevance after the events of September 11, 2001.

“Experience comes at a great price, as we learned on September 11. Our whole world changed, and the unimaginable became real for us. That’s why this Critical Decision Institute is here – to provide help to people who need to study the fine art of making critical decisions,” Kroeker said in a video statement last August.