The Role of Resilient Information Infrastructures: The Case of Radio Fukushima During and After the 2011 Eastern Japan Catastrophe

The Role of Resilient Information Infrastructures: The Case of Radio Fukushima During and After the 2011 Eastern Japan Catastrophe

Hans J. Scholl (Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA) and Akemi Takeoka Chatfield (University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/ijpada.2014040101
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In the unfolding of a catastrophic incident, also known as extreme event (EE), resilient information infrastructures (RIIs) have the capacity to continue providing actionable information, which is a time-critical resource of greatest value. Despite the recognized importance of RIIs, however, their role in providing actionable information under the conditions of an EE has not been empirically studied and assessed. This study analyzes the case of a local radio station (Radio Fukushima), which resourcefully and rapidly adopted social media as a new II to switch from routine commercial radio broadcasting to disaster information broadcasting during and in the aftermath of the 2011 Japan EE. This theory-building study illustrates the critical role of RIIs and further builds theory that helps explain the impact of disturbances to an existing information infrastructure. It also develops a better understanding of the contribution and importance of social media-based near-real time co-production of actionable information in an unfolding catastrophe.
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1. Introduction

In recent decades, natural disasters and catastrophes have increased in frequency, scale, and impact (Scholl & Patin, 2014). In 2011 alone, over 302 natural disasters caused 29,782 deaths worldwide (United_Nations, 2012), affected more than 206 million people (Ferris & Petz, 2012), and caused a record US$370 billion in economic damages (Anonymous, 2012). For some time, the worldwide emergency and disaster management community has transferred many lessons learned from previous disasters into planning and preparing for improved disaster response, recovery, and risk mitigation against all hazards. A cornerstone of agile and adaptive responses to any extreme event (EE) is timely and actionable information (Scholl & Patin, 2014). Without that particular type of information, perceived as trustworthy by the public, neither responders nor affected populations would be able to arrive at adequate situational awareness and understand the magnitude of the EE impact at hand on a local scale. Actionable information provides greatest value if it is available in near-real time. In the dynamic and even tumultuous circumstances of an EE, however, actionable information with the properties mentioned above tends to become a scarce resource of highest value and most critical importance, whose availability hinges upon the resilience of the underlying information infrastructure (Scholl & Patin, 2014). The more resilient an information infrastructure, the better it can serve the decision-making processes in the unpredictable and dynamically changing environments of an unfolding catastrophe (Scholl & Patin, 2014). Information infrastructures comprise organizational (routines, rules, resources, and governance structures and processes), social (personal, group, interpersonal, and intergroup relationships), and technological (hardware, software, and embedded services) elements (Scholl & Patin, 2014).

Beyond the traditional information infrastructures such as government-internal networks and mass media among others, in recent EEs, such as the March 2011 Eastern Japan Catastrophe, the 2011 Queensland Floods in Australia, and the 2012 superstorm Sandy in the USA, social media added an important new dimension (Ngak, 2012; Starbird & Palen, 2010) and made an essential new contribution to providing actionable information to both responders and the public in near-real time. In those cases, government agencies and citizens co-produced actionable information and disseminated it via these new channels, thereby greatly enhancing the situational awareness of communities and responders (Zavattaro, 2013). Moreover, the co-production of relevant and actionable information by government agencies and members of affected communities in near-real time (Starbird & Palen, 2010) enhanced the resilience of the critical information infrastructures as the backbones for EE-related decision-making both responders and citizens (Chatfield, Scholl, & Brajawidagda, 2013).

Despite the recognition of its importance, however, so far, the role of resilient information infrastructures for mobilizing adaptive capacities and supporting decision making under EEs have not been empirically studied in a systematic fashion ( Chatfield & Brajawidagda, 2012, 2013; Comfort, 2002; Comfort, Boin, & Demchak, 2010; Comfort, Dunn, Johnson, Skertich, & Zagorecki, 2004; Scholl & Patin, 2014; Scholl, Patin, & Chatfield, 2012).

The aims of this study are (1) to analyze the case of a previous EE (that is, the 2011 Eastern Japan Catastrophe) along the lines outlined in the conceptual framework for resilient information infrastructures (Scholl & Patin, 2014) and (2) to develop a better understanding of the contribution and importance of social-media based near-real time co-production of actionable information in an unfolding catastrophe.

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