Information sharing during disasters: Can we do it better?

Andre Dantas, Erica Seville and Alan Nicholson
Resilient Organisations Research Report 2006/02. (PDF, 1.7 Mb)

Executive Summary

This report presents a critical review and analysis of issues involved in implementing electronic data and information sharing frameworks for organisations involved in emergency response and recovery activities. Response to major emergencies involves multiple organisations collecting, collating and communicating data and information to enable better decision making that minimises social and economic impacts. The challenges involved in co-ordinating an effective response to large scale events are compounded by the number and variety of organisations involved. These complexities emphasise the need to develop robust yet simple frameworks for sharing information and communicating decisions within and between organisations involved in response and recovery activities. This report specifically focuses on organisations involved in response and recovery activities for the State Highway network during times of emergency, and how information sharing between these organisations might be streamlined to improve the effectiveness of that response and recovery. The first section of the report reviews the New Zealand emergency management context, and those organisations involved in emergency response for the State Highway network in particular. The report then describes a case study emergency event in Matata, where the interactions between organisations involved in restoring the road network were observed to better understand how response and recovery decisions are made, and the realities of information sharing during crisis. The report then reviews opportunities for improving communications and proposes a new framework for data and information sharing within and between organisations involved in response and recovery for the State Highway network. The framework proposed utilises Transit NZ’s current inventory database (RAMM) to generate a Dynamic Geographical Information System (DGIS) for emergency response. A Dynamic GIS differs from a traditional GIS system in that it has the capability to incorporate, display and share information continuously. The report also discusses challenges to implementing such a framework and the potential implications for organisations involved. In particular it highlights that there are significant challenges to encouraging enhanced communication and data/information sharing, particularly given that most communications interoperability issues are not technical in nature. Organisational cultures, differences in terminologies, and incompatibility of standard operating procedures all create barriers for progress. However, perceived barriers can be reduced if technology is employed according to an organisation’s needs rather than the other way around. During design of the proposed DGIS framework significant focus was placed on the nature and background of involved organisations; the characteristics of their involvement in response and recovery activities; their data/information needs; their data/information sharing needs; and how organisations could/should share data and information. It is hoped that by involving end-users during all development stages of the electronic data and information sharing framework, that researchers and end-users together, can develop an effective framework that complements the organisational structures, cultures and existing interfaces between the organisations involved.

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