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Abstract

Various type of communication challenges in emergency response that has to be addressed for the development and operation of an effective disaster communication system, are discussed. These communication challenges can technological, sociological, or organizational, which can make inter-agency and inter-personnel communication difficult in response situations. Rapid deployment of communication system for first responders and disaster management workers present a major technical challenge that has to be addressed immediately. Dual-use technology can enable both normal and emergency operational modes, and these devices would work in a network-controlled fashion during crises. The software agent within the communication equipment takes control so that the users can get information updates and limited, controlled access to network bandwidth in an emergency. An understanding of human activity and communication behavior models should also be considered into communication system design.
56 March 2007/Vol. 50, No. 3 COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACMMarch 2007/Vol. 50, No. 3 51
A
COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES IN
EMERGENCY RESPONSE
primary challenge in
responding to both natural
and man-made disasters is
communication. This has
been highlighted by recent
disasters such as the 9/11
terrorist attacks and Hurri-
cane Katrina [2, 5, 6]. A
problem frequently cited by responders is the
lack of radio interoperability. Responding
organizations must work in concert to form a
cohesive plan of response. However, each
group—fire, police, SWAT, HazMat—com-
municates with radios set to orthogonal fre-
quencies, making inter-agency
communications extremely difficult. The
problem is compounded as more local, state,
and federal agencies become involved.
The communication challenges in emer-
gency response go far beyond simple interop-
erability issues. Based on our research,
practical observation of first responder exer-
cises and drills, and workshop discussions, we
have identified three categories of communica-
tion challenges: technological, sociological,
and organizational. These three major areas are
key to developing and maintaining healthy
and effective disaster communication systems.
The primary technological challenge after a
disaster is rapid deployment of communica-
tion systems for first responders and disaster
management workers. This is true regardless
of whether the communications network has
been completely destroyed (power, telephone,
and/or network connectivity infrastructure),
or, as in the case of some remote geographic
areas, the infrastructure was previously nonex-
istent. Deployment of a new system is more
complicated in areas where partial communi-
cation infrastructures remain, than where no
prior communication networks existed. This
can be due to several factors including inter-
ference from existing partial communication
networks and the dependency of people on
their prior systems.
Another important obstacle to overcome is
the multi-organizational radio interoperability
issue. To make future communication systems
capable of withstanding large- or medium-
scale disasters, two technological solutions can
be incorporated into the design: dual-use
technology and built-in architectural and pro-
tocol redundancy.
Dual-use technology would enable both
normal and emergency operational modes.
During crises, such devices would work in a
network-controlled fashion, achieved using
software agents within the communication
BY B.S. MANOJ AND ALEXANDRA HUBENKO BAKER
dimension. For example, there is a significant lack
of information about the scale of a disaster in the
immediate aftermath; this is followed by large
amounts of imprecise information. The chief chal-
lenge for the emergency response organization is
not the scarcity of information, but the glut: too
many resources and too much information strains
the capacity of the management system as well as
the communication system. Art Botterell observed
that while communication failures tend to propa-
gate downward (begin with culture, but ultimately
blame the technology for failing), the change
needed to address these failures must propagate
upward: given an enabling technology, new proce-
dures for use are required, human and organiza-
tional factors must be considered, and ultimately
the entire culture of an organization may need to
be changed.2
In conclusion, only a comprehensive approach
involving solutions for each of the three major
issues—technological, sociological, and organiza-
tional—can provide a reliable communication sys-
tem during crisis situations.
References
1. Braunstein, B. et al. Challenges in using distributed wireless mesh net-
works in emergency response. In Proceedings of the 3rd International
ISCRAM Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
2. Dwyer, J. The calls: 911 tapes echo grim struggle in towers. New York
Times (Apr. 1, 2006).
3. Farnham, S., Pedersen, E., and Kirkpatrick, R. Observation of Kat-
rina/Rita groove deployment. In Proceedings of the 3rd International
ISCRAM Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
4. Hegde, R., Manoj, B.S., Rao, B.D., and Rao, R.R. Emotion detection
from speech signals and its applications in supporting enhanced QoS
in emergency response. In Proceedings of the 3rd International ISCRAM
Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
5. Lueck, T.J. Grant to help city broaden radio network. New York Times
(Sept. 19, 2005).
6. Thompson, C. Talking in the dark. New York Times Magazine (Sept.
18, 2005).
7. Tierney, K. and Sutton, J. Cost and culture: Barriers to the adoption
of technology in emergency management. RESCUE Research Highlights
(June 2005).
8. Zimmermann, H. Availability of technologies versus capabilities of
users. In Proceedings of the 3rd International ISCRAM Conference
(Newark, NJ, May 2006).
B.S. Manoj (bsmanoj@ucsd.edu) is a post-doctoral researcher at
the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information
Technology (Calit2) at the University of California-San Diego.
Alexandra Hubenko Baker (ahubenko@ucsd.edu) is a
program manager at the California Institute of Telecommunications
and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California-
San Diego.
© 2007 ACM 0001-0782/07/0300 $5.00
c
c
COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACMMarch 2007/Vol. 50, No. 3 5352 March 2007/Vol. 50, No. 3 COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM
equipment. In an emergency, the software agent
takes control such that the user gets information
updates and limited, controlled access to network
bandwidth.
Examples of architectural and protocol redun-
dancy solutions that need to be built into future
communication systems include devices with mul-
tiple network capabilities, such as cellular phones
with IEEE 802.11 (WLAN) or Bluetooth inter-
faces. In the event that base stations fail, these
phones could form local networks.1
Another potential solution for quickly restoring
a communications infrastructure is a hybrid wire-
less mesh network such as the CalMesh platform,
developed at the University of California-San
Diego’s Calit2 (see calmesh.calit2.net). However,
setting up such mesh networks is not without chal-
lenges. For example, Braunstein et al. [1] observed
that unexpected radio interference can inhibit net-
work performance; and concluded that infrastruc-
ture-less networking forms such as mobile ad-hoc
networks and wireless mesh networks need further
research in order to improve network scalability,
capacity, and efficiency.
The social challenges that arise with communi-
cations within and between ephemeral groups
must also be considered. An understanding of
human activity and communication behavior
models should be incorporated into communica-
tion system design. Important areas include
human behavioral models and their impact on
emergency communication and affordability,
availability, and applicability of emergency com-
munication solutions.
Sharing and dissemination of information is
both critical and problematic, beginning with
whom to trust in unfamiliar settings. Even after a
level of trust is established, security issues must still
be considered. Another important factor is the
emotional volatility of the victim population. Fear,
stress, and other emotions are aggravated by the
lack of information. Therefore, periodic informa-
tion updates are important. Hegde et al. [4] pre-
sented a technological solution that provides
differentiated services for an agitated caller by
detecting the emotional content in speech packets
over a wireless network.
Some technologies created to improve communi-
cations among and across responders and their
many agencies may not be willingly adopted. This
can be due to several factors, some of which involve
resource constraints that inhibit the purchasing or
upgrading of equipment and paying for training
costs (which can be prohibitive) to learn new tech-
nologies not used on a regular basis [7, 8].
At a higher level, the lack of a common vocabu-
lary between response organizations and between
organizations and citizens adds to the problems.
While the communication between organizations
has improved in terms of a common language, it
still lacks efficiency. Additional social science
research is needed to investigate common languages
and principles such as icon languages for use
between response organizations and the victim pop-
ulation. Above all, the emergency communication
tools for the general public must be affordable,
available, and applicable during their day-to-day life
in order
to ensure that they will be used during a
crisis.
Organizational challenges are prevalent in disas-
ter response, especially when groups that are
accustomed to hierarchy and hierarchical (central-
ized) decision making must suddenly work in a
flatter, more dynamic, ad-hoc organization that
emerges during post-disaster relief efforts. There
are advantages to both. Collaborative technologies
such as mobile applications, Web-based email, and
communications applications such as Groove can
aid in the effectiveness of cross-organizational
communication [3]. Hierarchical organization
leads to wider information gaps across organiza-
tions, but flat organizations are not scalable.
Therefore, a hybrid organizational model needs to
be developed to best utilize the two organizational
approaches.
The availability of information has a temporal
SHARING AND
DISSEMINATION OF
INFORMATION IS
BOTH CRITICAL AND
PROBLEMATIC,
BEGINNING WITH
WHOM TO TRUST IN
UNFAMILIAR SETTINGS.
1Recent innovative networking products such as Qualcomm GSP1600 CDMA/Satel-
lite phone (www.qualcomm.com) and Telit SAT550 (www.globalstar.com)
GSM/Satellite phone are two examples of communication devices with multiple net-
work capabilities.
2Art Botterell is the community warning system manager for the Office of the Sheriff
of Contra Costa County, CA. His observations were taken from a panel discussion on
emergency response communications that took place during the Third International
ISCRAM conference in May 2006.
dimension. For example, there is a significant lack
of information about the scale of a disaster in the
immediate aftermath; this is followed by large
amounts of imprecise information. The chief chal-
lenge for the emergency response organization is
not the scarcity of information, but the glut: too
many resources and too much information strains
the capacity of the management system as well as
the communication system. Art Botterell observed
that while communication failures tend to propa-
gate downward (begin with culture, but ultimately
blame the technology for failing), the change
needed to address these failures must propagate
upward: given an enabling technology, new proce-
dures for use are required, human and organiza-
tional factors must be considered, and ultimately
the entire culture of an organization may need to
be changed.2
In conclusion, only a comprehensive approach
involving solutions for each of the three major
issues—technological, sociological, and organiza-
tional—can provide a reliable communication sys-
tem during crisis situations.
References
1. Braunstein, B. et al. Challenges in using distributed wireless mesh net-
works in emergency response. In Proceedings of the 3rd International
ISCRAM Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
2. Dwyer, J. The calls: 911 tapes echo grim struggle in towers. New York
Times (Apr. 1, 2006).
3. Farnham, S., Pedersen, E., and Kirkpatrick, R. Observation of Kat-
rina/Rita groove deployment. In Proceedings of the 3rd International
ISCRAM Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
4. Hegde, R., Manoj, B.S., Rao, B.D., and Rao, R.R. Emotion detection
from speech signals and its applications in supporting enhanced QoS
in emergency response. In Proceedings of the 3rd International ISCRAM
Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
5. Lueck, T.J. Grant to help city broaden radio network. New York Times
(Sept. 19, 2005).
6. Thompson, C. Talking in the dark. New York Times Magazine (Sept.
18, 2005).
7. Tierney, K. and Sutton, J. Cost and culture: Barriers to the adoption
of technology in emergency management. RESCUE Research Highlights
(June 2005).
8. Zimmermann, H. Availability of technologies versus capabilities of
users. In Proceedings of the 3rd International ISCRAM Conference
(Newark, NJ, May 2006).
B.S. Manoj (bsmanoj@ucsd.edu) is a post-doctoral researcher at
the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information
Technology (Calit2) at the University of California-San Diego.
Alexandra Hubenko Baker (ahubenko@ucsd.edu) is a
program manager at the California Institute of Telecommunications
and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California-
San Diego.
© 2007 ACM 0001-0782/07/0300 $5.00
c
c
COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACMMarch 2007/Vol. 50, No. 3 5352 March 2007/Vol. 50, No. 3 COMMUNICATIONSOF THE ACM
equipment. In an emergency, the software agent
takes control such that the user gets information
updates and limited, controlled access to network
bandwidth.
Examples of architectural and protocol redun-
dancy solutions that need to be built into future
communication systems include devices with mul-
tiple network capabilities, such as cellular phones
with IEEE 802.11 (WLAN) or Bluetooth inter-
faces. In the event that base stations fail, these
phones could form local networks.1
Another potential solution for quickly restoring
a communications infrastructure is a hybrid wire-
less mesh network such as the CalMesh platform,
developed at the University of California-San
Diegos Calit2 (see calmesh.calit2.net). However,
setting up such mesh networks is not without chal-
lenges. For example, Braunstein et al. [1] observed
that unexpected radio interference can inhibit net-
work performance; and concluded that infrastruc-
ture-less networking forms such as mobile ad-hoc
networks and wireless mesh networks need further
research in order to improve network scalability,
capacity, and efficiency.
The social challenges that arise with communi-
cations within and between ephemeral groups
must also be considered. An understanding of
human activity and communication behavior
models should be incorporated into communica-
tion system design. Important areas include
human behavioral models and their impact on
emergency communication and affordability,
availability, and applicability of emergency com-
munication solutions.
Sharing and dissemination of information is
both critical and problematic, beginning with
whom to trust in unfamiliar settings. Even after a
level of trust is established, security issues must still
be considered. Another important factor is the
emotional volatility of the victim population. Fear,
stress, and other emotions are aggravated by the
lack of information. Therefore, periodic informa-
tion updates are important. Hegde et al. [4] pre-
sented a technological solution that provides
differentiated services for an agitated caller by
detecting the emotional content in speech packets
over a wireless network.
Some technologies created to improve communi-
cations among and across responders and their
many agencies may not be willingly adopted. This
can be due to several factors, some of which involve
resource constraints that inhibit the purchasing or
upgrading of equipment and paying for training
costs (which can be prohibitive) to learn new tech-
nologies not used on a regular basis [7, 8].
At a higher level, the lack of a common vocabu-
lary between response organizations and between
organizations and citizens adds to the problems.
While the communication between organizations
has improved in terms of a common language, it
still lacks efficiency. Additional social science
research is needed to investigate common languages
and principles such as icon languages for use
between response organizations and the victim pop-
ulation. Above all, the emergency communication
tools for the general public must be affordable,
available, and applicable during their day-to-day life
in order
to ensure that they will be used during a
crisis.
Organizational challenges are prevalent in disas-
ter response, especially when groups that are
accustomed to hierarchy and hierarchical (central-
ized) decision making must suddenly work in a
flatter, more dynamic, ad-hoc organization that
emerges during post-disaster relief efforts. There
are advantages to both. Collaborative technologies
such as mobile applications, Web-based email, and
communications applications such as Groove can
aid in the effectiveness of cross-organizational
communication [3]. Hierarchical organization
leads to wider information gaps across organiza-
tions, but flat organizations are not scalable.
Therefore, a hybrid organizational model needs to
be developed to best utilize the two organizational
approaches.
The availability of information has a temporal
SHARING AND
DISSEMINATION OF
INFORMATION IS
BOTH CRITICAL AND
PROBLEMATIC,
BEGINNING WITH
WHOM TO TRUST IN
UNFAMILIAR SETTINGS.
1Recent innovative networking products such as Qualcomm GSP1600 CDMA/Satel-
lite phone (www.qualcomm.com) and Telit SAT550 (www.globalstar.com)
GSM/Satellite phone are two examples of communication devices with multiple net-
work capabilities.
2Art Botterell is the community warning system manager for the Office of the Sheriff
of Contra Costa County, CA. His observations were taken from a panel discussion on
emergency response communications that took place during the Third International
ISCRAM conference in May 2006.
... Effective crisis communication is said to benefit the public, government, industry partners and tourism players (Fischer, Posegga, & Fischbach, 2016). Such communication is often restricted due to certain barriers to communication which are broadly classified into: technological barriers which include non-acceptance of technology and usage of different modes of technology; organisational barriers which consider the barriers to communication due to organisational culture and background; social barriers which discuss the societal hindrances to communication like diversity, lack of trust in the source of information and so forth (Allen, Karanasios, & Norman, 2014;Manoj & Baker, 2007;Pan et al., 2012). An emerging trend in crisis communication is with the optimum use of social media platforms and web 2.0 technology. ...
Chapter
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The calls: 911 tapes echo grim struggle in towers
  • J Dwyer
Dwyer, J. The calls: 911 tapes echo grim struggle in towers. New York Times (Apr. 1, 2006).
Cost and culture: Barriers to the adoption of technology in emergency management
  • K Tierney
  • J Sutton
Tierney, K. and Sutton, J. Cost and culture: Barriers to the adoption of technology in emergency management. RESCUE Research Highlights (June 2005).
Observation of Katrina/Rita groove deployment
  • S Farnham
  • E Pedersen
  • R Kirkpatrick
Farnham, S., Pedersen, E., and Kirkpatrick, R. Observation of Katrina/Rita groove deployment. In Proceedings of the 3rd International ISCRAM Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
Grant to help city broaden radio network
  • T J Lueck
Lueck, T.J. Grant to help city broaden radio network. New York Times (Sept. 19, 2005).
Challenges in using distributed wireless mesh networks in emergency response
  • B Braunstein
Braunstein, B. et al. Challenges in using distributed wireless mesh networks in emergency response. In Proceedings of the 3rd International ISCRAM Conference (Newark, NJ, May 2006).
Dwyer J. The calls: 911 tapes echo grim struggle in towers
  • J Dwyer