Page 48

4—
Achieving an Impact in the Crisis Management Community

Interactions between the Information Technology Research and Crisis Management Communities

For research by the information technology community to have an impact on the crisis management community, considerable interaction between the two is required. Workshop participants representing different parts of these communities discussed a number of different models for such interaction (Box 4.1) and presented ideas on how research and technology transfer could be effective for crisis management. A wide range of issues were discussed, but there was agreement on some themes related to the interaction of information technology research and crisis management:

The crisis management community is focused primarily on short-term, integrated solutions using existing technology. Information technology researchers, on the other hand, are interested in developing and testing longer-term, leading-edge technology. This difference in outlook and goals must be addressed in research programs such as the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Digital Government initiative.

Technology transfer is a critical and often missing link in the crisis management view of information technology research. Without a guarantee that a technology will be supported after the initial development and prototype testing, the crisis responders and the entire crisis management community have been wary of trying new ideas that are not off-the-shelf technologies.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 48
Page 48 4— Achieving an Impact in the Crisis Management Community Interactions between the Information Technology Research and Crisis Management Communities For research by the information technology community to have an impact on the crisis management community, considerable interaction between the two is required. Workshop participants representing different parts of these communities discussed a number of different models for such interaction (Box 4.1) and presented ideas on how research and technology transfer could be effective for crisis management. A wide range of issues were discussed, but there was agreement on some themes related to the interaction of information technology research and crisis management: • The crisis management community is focused primarily on short-term, integrated solutions using existing technology. Information technology researchers, on the other hand, are interested in developing and testing longer-term, leading-edge technology. This difference in outlook and goals must be addressed in research programs such as the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Digital Government initiative. • Technology transfer is a critical and often missing link in the crisis management view of information technology research. Without a guarantee that a technology will be supported after the initial development and prototype testing, the crisis responders and the entire crisis management community have been wary of trying new ideas that are not off-the-shelf technologies.

OCR for page 48
Page 49

BOX 4.1 Types of Interactions Between the Information Technology and Crisis Management Communities In his presentation at the workshop, Ronald Larsen described four types of interactions that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has sponsored between information technology researchers and military units responsible for crisis management actions. These approaches support short- to long-term research activities and a range of deliverables, from demonstrations to products. The first approach involves working in the field to deploy technology to end users. This approach is the most difficult, slowest, and most expensive, yet it is the most likely to achieve the end result of getting technology into the hands of people who need it. The second approach, which is perhaps the most familiar to information technology researchers, involves the development of laboratory integration prototypes. It involves understanding an application, giving researchers the task of developing systems to address the needs of the application, and demonstrating the solutions. This approach requires good relations with the end users and close collaborations with early adopters. These are the people in the field who have an interest in technologies that will improve their performance. Larsen called the third approach the "science fair"—several researchers working on related and perhaps competing technologies are asked to prepare presentations based on a given scenario. The user community is then invited to see these presentations at a specific site, and people serving as brokers look for the most promising interactions. The final approach is serendipity, whereby a new application requirement appears that is ideally suited to a new technology that has been or is being developed. One example of this approach cited by Ronald Larsen was the teaming up in the early 1990s of U.C. Berkeley's visual library project with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). The DWR was interested in making its legacy documents more useful. The university decided to scan and enliven the materials to make them more like typical digital documents. Then, in the floods of 1997, the DWR discovered that these digitized documents were its most valuable information resources. The university's resources also proved valuable in providing public information. The DWR gave pictures of flood damage and road washouts to the Berkeley team, who scanned them, put them up in the library, and made them available to the public and the press. It was "an extraordinarily successful experience from the standpoint of learning about how these technologies can apply to crisis management," Larsen said. • When a technology is identified as promising, there is the challenge of commercializing it. The federal government typically provides funding only up to the prototype stage. When an experimental technology becomes interesting to a crisis manager, the need arises for both a process and a party to take on the task of identifying and interacting with a commercial vendor who will develop a product for sale.

OCR for page 48
Page 50 • Interaction with end users from the crisis management community is essential. For example, user-centered design begins with an understanding of the user (e.g., crisis responders), and people who design systems used in crises must have a good understanding of the environment in which their systems are used. • Testing in environments that are as realistic as possible is crucial to the acceptance of any new technology. The crisis management community regularly stages exercises using simulated crises to train people and to learn about new systems and situations. These are valuable opportunities for researchers to be involved in defining testbeds and specific problems that would form the basis for research programs. For example, workshop participant Albert Guber noted the importance of stress in emergency situations—a feature that is difficult to replicate in laboratory settings but that is one of the most important factors in determining how well a system will function in a real emergency. Today's disaster-response exercises attempt to duplicate many of the real stresses. • Other research communities have a role to play in information technology research for crisis management. For example, statistical techniques would be useful in finding ways to validate crisis models, reduce the information overload during the response phase, and give rapid estimates of the state of the crisis. • Successful interactions between information technology researchers and the crisis management community are facilitated by having a third party acting as a bridge or broker. Brokers that were mentioned during the workshop included the funding agencies (e.g., DARPA and NSF) and organizations like the Pacific Disaster Center (Box 4.2) and the Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information (Box 4.3). These brokers see their role as understanding the problems of the crisis management community and

BOX 4.2 The Pacific Disaster Center The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) supports emergency managers in the Pacific region by providing them information that they can use to make better decisions. The PDC develops capabilities and information products based on user needs. The experience, according to the PDC's Ernest Paylor, has been that the crisis management community is not interested in technology per se. Instead, it is seeking integrated information solutions using off-the-shelf technology as much as possible. The PDC has also found demonstrations to be an important part of the development path, particularly in helping potential users to develop trust in the information that the new products will be delivering. The PDC has served as a broker by identifying gaps between technology capabilities and user needs and encouraging research in those areas. One example is a new NASA research program built around providing modeling and simulation capabilities for the PDC.

OCR for page 48
Page 51

BOX 4.3 Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS's) Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information (CINDI) is a research facility that develops and evaluates technology for information integration and dissemination; performs research in data integration, analysis, modeling, and decision support; and supports the ongoing evolution of the USGS's processing and delivery of hazards data. As part of the humanitarian response to Hurricane Mitch, ClNDI has provided integrated information to support emergency managers and international relief organizations in understanding how to respond effectively to the devastation caused by Mitch. One of the products developed by CINDI is a digital atlas that provides more than 60 different types of geospatial information in a form that can be manipulated for analysis. These maps, based on information extracted from satellite images, existing geologic maps, air photos, and other digital and paper sources, show the locations of landslides and floods, damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, precipitation information, and impacts on agricultural lands. _________ SOURCE: Adapted from Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information. 1998. CINDI: Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C. Available online at <http://cindi.usgs.gov/>. the capabilities of information technology research, identifying critical gaps, and finding matches. Management Challenges to Using Information Technology in Crisis Management Workshop participants noted that advances in information technology must be accompanied by changes addressing organizational, management, capacity, and resource issues. Some of these issues are listed below: • Resistance to change. Avagene Moore observed during the workshop that people initially resist change and do not always appreciate the value of learning to use new technologies. Information technology can be perceived in the crisis management community as imposing new tasks rather than providing useful tools for doing one's job. • Insufficient attention paid to education and training. One example of an initiative in this area, described by Avagene Moore, is the Emergency Information Infrastructure Partnership (EIIP). The EIIP has a virtual forum on the Internet to involve local, state, and federal emergency managers, along with private-sector emergency management people who have

OCR for page 48
Page 52 an interest in using Internet technologies. A goal of EIIP's activities is to provide education and hands-on experiences to demonstrate how emergency managers can benefit from use of information technology such as the Internet. The forum is intended to enable dynamic exchange of emergency management information and provide innovative solutions to emergency management challenges. To that end, EIIP conducted an online exercise, WEBEX, that drew participants from many different levels of emergency management. • Insufficient awareness. Though emergency managers may appreciate the potential of information technology to improve their professional capabilities, new tools must be demonstrably more effective and accurate and must be affordable for them to be embraced widely. • Limited resources. Resource constraints were pointed to as a fundamental issue, particularly at the local level. Although costs have been steadily decreasing, laptop computers, Global Positioning System units, and the like are frequently unaffordable. Also, costs include not only the purchase of systems but also other contributions to total cost of ownership, such as operational, training, and maintenance costs. Available emergency management resources may cover only basic elements of the emergency operations—salaries, utilities, and insurance. Given a fixed level of spending, local governments considering investment in new technology must make trade-offs, both with other elements of emergency operations and with spending on day-to-day operations. Before they will allocate additional resources for information technology, its advantages must be clearly demonstrated to them. • Obsolete technology base. Many local governments have little information technology in place. Offices may lack basic computer equipment and lack access to tools such as e-mail. Even where local governments have made some investment in information technology, it may be old and obsolete. • Information technology investments that are focused on normal operations, not crises. Workshop participant James Morentz characterized this issue as one of the most critical ones confronting crisis management information managers. Organizations focus their investments on the transactional information systems that support day-to-day operations rather than investing in the systems required to manage the unusual situation and thus underinvest in crisis management capabilities. One suggestion made in response to this challenge by workshop participants was that one might initially focus investment in innovative systems for crises that are likely to recur with relatively predictable frequency, such as hurricanes in the Gulf States or California wildfires. Information systems developed for these predictable events could then be transferred to the unpredictable. • Investment that focuses on distribution and tracking of emergency funds

OCR for page 48
Page 53 to victims. Jack Harrald, describing the allocation of emergency dollars to information technology, noted that crisis management places a premium on providing relief funds directly to victims—functioning much like an insurance company. Thus there is a reluctance to tap into the disaster response funding stream, which is much larger than day-to-day operating funds, for investment in information technology to improve crisis management capabilities. • Inadequate systemwide planning. James Morentz observed that the emergency management community does not always factor information technology considerations into overall planning. Although virtually all of the federal response agency organizations use software developed by Morentz's company, Essential Technologies, their decisions to purchase the software were made independently. No overall system plan existed that would facilitate integration of these individual software systems into a single system. Another problem was raised by Thomas O'Keefe, who observed that when emergency management structures are designed, they do not always incorporate technology that is close at hand or already in place. Nor are interfaces that are already familiar to crisis responders, such as the Web, always used. • Tendencies to ''reinvent" the same solutions in each organization. Henry Kelly observed that sharing information technology experience can be difficult for agencies so they tend to reinvent their own solutions using their own contractors. Thus, the government may reinvent a technology multiple times in different application contexts. Although this practice may have benefits in allowing an organization to select the technological best of breed, the resulting multiplicity of systems may not effectively interoperate or support upgrades. In addition, when underlying infrastructure such as the operating system changes, many parts of the whole system may have to be replaced or upgraded. This issue is a common one in many areas of systems integration and may be addressed through active reconsideration of architectural and design approaches.1 • Coping with multiple standards. Information systems depend on standards. Thomas O'Keefe pointed out, for example, that there are multiple standards for damage assessment after an incident such as a fire. To integrate and compare this information across different organizations, standards—or ways of reconciling multiple standards—must be established for every aspect of the information life cycle. In addition, identifying which standards to adopt poses a very real challenge for emergency managers purchasing hardware and software. 1One approach is to emphasize commercial standards and components that may be assembled into composable systems rather than relying on tight integration to provide particular solutions.