Interorganizational Communications in Disaster Management

Interorganizational Communications in Disaster Management

Jing Yang (Oklahoma State University, USA), JinKyu Lee (Oklahoma State University, USA), Ashwin Rao (Cornell University, USA) and Nasrat Touqan (Oklahoma State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-390-6.ch013
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In response to the lessons and criticisms over the recent large-scale disasters and relief activities during the disasters, many government organizations around the world have recently launched initiatives to improve their disaster management capabilities. While a revision of disaster management capability may entail transformation of organizational structures, business processes, and technical infrastructure across multiple organizations, the field of disaster management suffers from lack of theoretical foundation. With a special emphasis on information and communication technologies (ICTs), the chapter provides a review on various issues examined in the recent disaster management literature and develops a conceptual framework of the relationships between technological properties of ICTs and multiagency collaboration in disaster management. This chapter contributes to the theoretical foundation of the field by identifying major research issues in the disaster management communications and their relationships with relevant entities and environmental factors. Discussions on future research directions are also presented.
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A large number of government agencies around the world have recently launched initiatives to improve their disaster management capabilities, in response to the lessons and criticisms over the recent large-scale disasters and relief activities during those disasters. One of the most pressing issues for the initiatives is inter-organizational communication and coordination. During the 9/11 terrorist attacks1 (2001), the police and fire departments could not communicate with each other over the radio, and thus could not coordinate their rescue efforts in a collaborative manner. In response to Hurricane Katrina2 (2005), New Mexico’s governor offered troops to Louisiana State, but the actual dispatch was delayed by one week due to the lengthy paperwork process between the two states (Adams, 2005). Indeed, military rescue teams were not able to send helicopters into the disaster zone, in a timely manner, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency3 (FEMA) did not have the authority to allow it. While the logistics were being worked out and permissions obtained, valuable time was wasted and many lives were lost (Adams, 2005). The lack of inter-organizational communication and holistic coordination resulted in a chaos in the emergency response and relief operations, in addition to the already devastating aftermath of the disaster. Many government organizations, whether they were actually involved in the response and relief operations or had observed the past disasters, have been trying to implement what they have learned from the very expensive lessons, especially in the area of inter-organizational communication and information sharing among disaster management organizations (DMOs).

An important lesson from past disaster management efforts is that although the response activities undertaken by official first responder agencies (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical crews) are crucial, those activities constitute only part of the big picture. Equally significant is the manner in which those first responders interact with and obtain support from non-government relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, private companies in the telecom and building industries, and financial companies (Kapucu, 2006). In that sense, success of disaster management is dependent upon effective sharing and use of valid and timely information among a large number of stakeholders in the society, including government authorities, non-government organizations (NGOs), private sector organizations, and the public. 9/11 provided a chance, in a sense, to recognize the needs of the private sector industries in the US, and now Corporate America4 is anticipated to communicate with their stakeholders more openly and more expediently than they would have done before 9/11 (Wright, 2002). Unfortunately, the response to Hurricane Katrina revealed that, 3 years after 9/11, DMOs were still ill-equipped with information and communication technologies (ICTs) that should have effectively supported various DMOs in times of crisis, as well as in day-to-day emergency response operations that required coordination between several different public safety agencies (Weiser, 2007).

Disaster management researchers have been working on ways to prepare for future disasters, natural or man-made. Many case studies that compare various ICTs and organizations have been conducted in order to organize the ideas about how to leverage ICTs in order to facilitate inter-organizational communication among DMOs. For example, Turoff (2002) summarized the requirements for an effective system and proposed major factors for a successful disaster management system. Moe (2006), developing a new approach to natural disaster management, highlighted the importance of having proactive and reactive strategies for natural disaster management. Weiser (2007) and Mendonca et al. (2007) examined a wide variety of ICTs to find out how ICTs are developed and used by DMOs and the challenges for them. While numerous studies have also argued that appropriate use of technology and a suitable communication infrastructure can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of relief operations in disasters, the majority of them are based on isolated case studies without overarching perspective over the related issues.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organizational Adaptability: Refers to the degree to which an organization (or a group of collaborating organizations) can adjust its structure and business processes and successfully achieve its goals, in accordance with the peculiar characteristics of dynamic environments, a process a.k.a. improvisation. An adaptive ICT may be adopted in an attempt to increase organizational adaptability, but it is neither necessary condition nor sufficient condition for organizational adaptability.

Multi-Agency Collaboration for Disaster Management: Refers to cooperative endeavors of multiple disaster management organizations in an effort to coordinate their relief activities or find alternative solutions to manage the disaster situation.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): An umbrella term that includes all technologies for the manipulation and communication of information. ICTs may encompass any technology to transmit, receive, store, and process data or information of any format. In this chapter, it refers to any technology involved in disaster management, including public/2-way radio, television, cellular phones, computer, network hardware and software, satellite systems, etc.

Interoperability: Refers to the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate). The term is often used to refer to a technical property in an engineering sense, or alternatively in a broad sense, taking into account social, political, and organizational factors that impact system performance. Interoperability of an ICT in disaster management refers to the capability of the ICT to work with different ICTs used by various DMOs, which may involve supports for common radio frequency spectrum, communication protocols, information/message formats, etc.

Disaster Management Organizations (DMOs): Refer to organizations that prevent, mitigate, and recover unexpected events that adversely affect people or resources and threat the continued operation of organizations. Unexpected events include any natural or man-made disaster. DMOs are responsible for preparing for disaster before it occurs, minimizing the impacts when it occurs, and rebuilding society from the aftermath of an occurred disaster. DMOs may include government agencies (e.g. Police, Fire, Medical Services), non-government organizations (e.g. UN, Red Cross), and some private sector first responder organizations (e.g. utility, transportation, healthcare, construction firms).

Disaster Management Systems: A collection of ICTs, DMOs, relationships among the DMOs, and operational procedures/business processes of the DMOs, of which objective is to prevent, mitigate, and minimize the impact of disasters.

Inter-Organizational Communication: Refers to a process of information transmission and/or reception that occurs between two or more purposeful partners across organizational boundaries. The communication partners may be individuals, groups of people, or computerized (software) agents.

Adaptivity of ICT: Refers to the capability of an ICT to self-organize and self-adjust according to the peculiar characteristics of dynamic environments. It is a multidimensional concept, related to the flexibility, scalability, and intelligence embedded in an ICT for disaster management.

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