Exploring the Rationale for Emergency Management Information Systems for Local Communities

Exploring the Rationale for Emergency Management Information Systems for Local Communities

Niklas Hallberg (Swedish Defence Research Agency, Linköping, Sweden and School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden), Jonas Hallberg (Swedish Defence Research Agency, Linköping, Sweden), Helena Granlund (Swedish Defence Research Agency, Linköping, Sweden) and Rogier Woltjer (Swedish Defence Research Agency, Linköping, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/ijiscram.2014040102


Emergency responders at the local community level are the prime actors concerning emergency management. It has been claimed that information systems have considerable potential to support emergency management. However, development of such systems is demanding, due to the complexity of emergency management. The ability to be able to reveal the stakeholders' needs for support are essential for successful system developments. The objective of this paper is to explore the rationale for emergency management information systems at the local community level. This was accomplished by an extensive needs assessment based on 49 governing documents and 12 interviews with representatives for local as well as regional emergency response organizations. The analysis uncovered eleven areas where emergency management information systems could enhance the capability of local communities' to manage emergencies. The identified needs categories are proposed to constitute a foundation for design patterns for the development of emergency management information systems for local communities.
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1. Introduction

Emergencies and crises are characterized by the existence of some sort of relatively unexpected threat that requires urgent action (Quarantelli, 1993), where conditions can change with high magnitude of societal impact and rate of change, and a low degree of predictability. Response organizations must therefore be flexible and possess the ability to adapt and improvise to varying degrees according to the demands of the situation, which may require the involvement of people and organizations in ways not planned for (Comfort, Sungu, Johnson, & Dunn, 2001; Drabek & McEntire, 2003; Kendra & Wachtendorf, 2006; Mendonça & Wallace, 2004; Moorman & Miner, 1998; Rankin, Dahlbäck & Lundberg, 2013; Schafer, Carroll, Haynes, & Abrams, 2008; Trnka & Woltjer, 2014; Turoff, 2002).

Emergency management is a comprehensive activity which includes prevention, forecasting, preparedness planning, surveillance, response, post-emergency assessment, and restoration (Haddow, Bullock, & Coppola, 2010). According to Levchuk, Yu, Levchuk, and Pattipati (2004) command and control in emergency management includes four main responsibilities: (1) monitoring external events, (2) decision making, (3) executing tasks, and (4) communicate tasks and information with other organizations. Molino (2006) states that emergency managers must be able to perform the Five Cs, i.e., command, control, communication, coordination, and cooperation. Command is the prime ability, a necessity to gain control of the situation. Communication needs to be clear and concise, so that orders and shared information cannot be misinterpreted. Coordination is essential for effective engagement of available resources. Cooperation is a precondition since most emergencies and crises are too large for a single actor to handle. Molino (2006) as well as Turoff, White, Plotnick, and Hiltz (2008) express the importance of the coordination of responses, performed by organizations with different cultures and expertise.

Further, Haddow, Bullock, and Coppola (2010) state that emergencies should be managed at the local level using existing resources that are situated close to the scene. Hence, the emergency managers have to adapt the responses based on the current situation and on the local resources that are available at that time. In local community settings, several emergency responders act in a network structure, where each organization to some extent is independent and different from the others (Pilemalm & Hallberg, 2008). To handle emerging situations, these organizations need to be able to communicate, share information and act in coordination. Hence, emergency management requires coordinated engagements of several organizations, where different situations require different responses (Shen & Shaw, 2004). Further, the local emergency managers must also be able to collaborate with organizations at the regional and national levels. Efficient emergency management is also dependent on the ability to coordinate the activities performed by organizations with different work cultures, personnel, expertise, and technical systems (Jungert, Hallberg, & Hunstad, 2006).

Information systems have been acknowledged to have the potential to enhance emergency management by, e.g., improving situation assessment and sense-making, support decision-making, coordinate actions, and support the exchange of information (Kapucu, 2008; Jefferson, 2006). However, the introduction of information systems will not automatically lead to efficient and effective emergency management. Information systems need to be flexible to support the evolving and unpredictable emergency management process (Mendonça, Jefferson, & Harrald, 2007; Peinel, Rose, & Wollert, 2012). Information systems that provide sufficient support to evolving organizations and businesses, e.g., in the emergency management sector, are intrinsically difficult to develop (Kasser, 2007; Turoff, 2002; Van de Walle, Turoff, & Hiltz, 2009).

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