When Things Go Right in Disasters: The Moderating Effect of Specific Knowledge on Task Performance

When Things Go Right in Disasters: The Moderating Effect of Specific Knowledge on Task Performance

Arvind Gudi (Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, USA), Weidong Xia (Florida International University, Miami, USA) and Irma Becerra-Fernandez (Marymount University, Arlington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJISCRAM.2018040101

Abstract

Since emergency management tasks are complex and knowledge intensive, task performance is dependent on the dynamic interplays among task characteristics, the type of knowledge involved and the ways in which such knowledge is effectively integrated. Based on literature reviews, extensive field observations and a survey of emergency managers involved in a large emergency operations center (EOC) in the southeast region of the US, the authors test a set of research hypotheses that depict the moderating role of knowledge specificity on the relationship between task complexity and task performance, and between knowledge integration and task performance. The authors conceptualize two dimensions of task complexity: components and interactive complexity. Two types of specific knowledge, discipline-specific and context-specific knowledge, are measured. The results indicate that the two task complexity dimensions negatively affect task performance, knowledge integration positively affects task performance, and these relationships are moderated by the type of specific knowledge that is used.
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1. Introduction

In recent years, emergency management has increasingly gained the attention of policy-makers at all levels, in particular following the 9-11 attack and natural disasters such as the Japan Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. However, post disaster analyses revealed that systemic and repeated mistakes have been made in emergency response management at various levels (GAO 2006). As such, there is a critical need to understand and develop appropriate organizational and procedural mechanisms that can help systematically improve emergency management performance (Feldman, 2005; Green and Kolesar, 2004; Sakurai and Thapa, 2017).

Past experiences and empirical studies can help emergency managers build necessary mechanisms to anticipate outcomes and executive plans accordingly. However, many emergency situations, whether natural or man-made, are unique and unpredictable and threaten high-value priorities such as life, financial well-being, and physical structures (Jennex and Raman 2009). Emergency management is complex, dynamic and poorly defined because the emergency events are rare and diverse in nature; hence, prior decision-making processes and mechanisms may not be easy to apply (Becerra-Fernandez et al., 2008). Emergency management organizations seldom operate under “normal” conditions (Turoff et al., 2004) and at each level, managers need to make decisions that can be very risky and some of these can be irreversible (McKinney, 2008).

Because of the complex and inter-organizational nature of emergency management tasks, effective knowledge management has been widely recognized as a critical success factor (Bali et al., 2011; Majchrzak et al., 2007). Researchers investigating specific problems, such as public evacuation decisions in hurricane preparation, recognize the overall scope of issues confronting emergency organizations and call for further research on improving the decision processes for disaster preparation and response (Mohsin et al., 2016; Regnier, 2008). However, there is scant research that has systematically considered both the characteristics of emergency management task complexity and the integration of specific knowledge required for performing the tasks. The main contribution of this paper is to shed light on the intersection of these two areas of research. The research objective is to examine how the type of specific knowledge involved moderates the effects of task complexity and knowledge integration on task performance.

There is a growing body of research focusing on knowledge management and knowledge management systems support for emergency response. Knowledge management systems have proven vital for linking experts to pool their skills required to respond to emergency situations in disaster events (Pan et al., 2012; Raman and Jennex, 2010). With recent advances in information and communication technology (ICT), emergency organizations are seeking to leverage ICT support in general (Bergstrand et al., 2016; Nikolai et al. 2016) and knowledge management systems in particular to support the management of their response operations (Jennex and Raman, 2009; McKinney, 2008; Turoff et al., 2004; Van de Walle and Turoff, 2007).

Because of the significant number of different organizations and specialized knowledge involved in emergency management, effective knowledge integration becomes crucial for emergency task performance. Emergency operation centers typically deal with a range of disaster situations including hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires, floods, and earthquakes. To deal with the challenges encountered in these conditions, emergency managers need to effectively draw on diverse specialized knowledge from individuals as well as from organizations engaged in the emergency operations.

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