ArticlePDF Available

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to present reflections on the nature of information management (IM) and its role and function to support coordination in one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time, the Syria crisis. Starting from general principles for humanitarian information management, we analyze the challenges that information managers face in conflict situations, when information is – more than anywhere else – a source of power and influence. This work outlines the interdependence of advocacy and operational information management, the sensitivity of information, and barriers to information sharing. The results are complex and highly interlaced information and coordination structures that remain unpredictable for many partners. Contrarily, natural disasters – such as Typhoon Haiyan – are dominated by high levels of uncertainty; political interests are less pronounced. An initial comparison is made between the resulting IM challenges for natural and complex disasters.
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
ScienceDirect)
Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000
www.elsevier.com/locate/procedia
1877-7058 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of HumTech2015.
Humanitarian Technology: Science, Systems and Global Impact 2015, HumTech2015
On the Nature of Information Management
in Complex and Natural Disasters
Bartel Van de Walle a* and Tina Comes b
a Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands
b University of Agder, Norway
Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to present reflections on the nature of information management (IM) and its role and function to
support coordination in one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time, the Syria crisis. Starting from general principles for
humanitarian information management, we analyze the challenges that information managers face in conflict situations, when
information is more than anywhere else a source of power and influence. This work outlines the interdependence of advocacy
and operational information management, the sensitivity of information, and barriers to information sharing. The results are
complex and highly interlaced information and coordination structures that remain unpredictable for many partners. Contrarily,
natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan are dominated by high levels of uncertainty; political interests are less pronounced.
An initial comparison is made between the resulting IM challenges for natural and complex disasters.
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of HumTech2015.
Keywords: information management; complex disaster; Syria crisis
1. Introduction
Conflicts such as the on-going crises in the Middle East, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic
of Congo or South Sudan threaten the lives of millions of people. When conflict erupts, the affected population tries
to escape the disaster area in search of safety and shelter in temporary transit centers, IDP or refugee camps.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +32 471865354. Twitter: bvdwalle
E-mail address: bvdwalle@gmail.com
2 Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000
According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2014, an estimated number of 10.7 million people were
newly displaced by conflict or persecution in 2013 (vs. 7.6 million in 2012), although the exact numbers remain
unknown (Swithern, 2014). International humanitarian assistance to IDPs and refugees exceeded 10 billion US$ in
2010 not including the important contributions of the host countries and charities (IFRC, 2012). In such arduous
conditions, particularly cross-border or cross-line operations are highly sensitive (Tomasini & Van Wassenhove,
2009). Despite the human impact of conflict-driven or complex disasters, academic research on humanitarian
disasters however still mostly focuses on natural and sudden-onset disasters (Galindo & Batta, 2013; Kovács &
Spens, 2011; Kunz & Reiner, 2013).
In this paper, we contrast the information management challenges in humanitarian response operations for a
complex disaster to those during a natural sudden-onset disaster. Our discussion and findings are based on a research
visit in Amman, Jordan, in May 2014 to study the response to the Syria crisis, and we compare these to the findings
derived from earlier field work conducted during the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in December
2013 (Chan & Comes, 2014; van den Homberg, Meesters, & Van de Walle, 2014).
In the following Section, we provide a very concise introduction to the Syria crisis, and we describe the
supporting role of information management to the coordination of the response. Section 3 presents the humanitarian
information management principles as originally defined by UN OCHA, and our research approach. In Section 4, we
provide a more in-depth discussion of information sharing, and the possible risks that information sharing entails in
conflict situations, while Section 5 elaborates on the differences in humanitarian information management principles
in complex and natural disasters. This analysis is further discussed in Section 6, and conclusions are provided in the
final Section 7.
2. Background
The Syrian conflict that started in March 2011 was formally declared a Level 3 (or L3) humanitarian disaster in
January 2013. Later that year, and faced with the prospect of a worsening situation inside Syria and continuing
outflows of refugees in 2014, UN agencies and NGOs active in the region launched the largest appeal or funding
request for a single humanitarian crisis thus far, amounting to US$6.5 billion in funds. Despite this unprecedented
appeal, the worsening humanitarian conditions and the large-scale movement of the Syrian population within the
country and into the neighbouring countries create continuing spill-over effects that further escalate and deepen the
crisis across the region. The scale and complexity of the political, security, economic, and social consequences have
stretched resources of societies, governments and the international aid system. Additional humanitarian,
development and macro-economic challenges have emerged, affecting host communities and countries including the
latters’ economies, national resilience and social cohesion. Additionally, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL), now known as Islamic State or IS, has created a formidable additional challenge to the international
community and causes a further destabilisation of the wider region.
The Information & Analysis Unit (IAU) in Amman was officially established in December 2012 in order to assist
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its coordinating role for the international
humanitarian response to the Syria crisis. The IAU was an integral Information Management (IM) and analysis part
of the OCHA Syria office, meant to support the OCHA office in Damascus, OCHA offices in neighboring countries,
the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator (RHC), and other humanitarian stakeholders. With the appointment of Nigel
Fisher as Resident Humanitarian Coordinator (HRC) in fall of 2013, the IAU became an entity in the RHC Office,
performing a regional role.
The RHC/IAU office in Amman has a regional strategic role to coordination and IM, while the other OCHA
offices in the region serve different purposes. The OCHA Damascus office is responsible for humanitarian action
within Syria, although any humanitarian operations within Syria critically depend on government approval and are
enacted largely by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and a total of 25 local, obviously government approved,
NGOs. The Turkey and Jordan OCHA offices mainly deal with cross border issues. The OCHA office in Erbil and
2014Syrian Arab Republic Humanitarian Assistance Plan (SHARP). Available on reliefweb.int:
http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2014_Syria_SHARP.pdf
Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000 3
the Lebanon office mainly deal with the local domestic situation, which is obviously heavily influenced by the influx
of Syrian refugees
The context of the Syria conflict is clearly highly sensitive and as such advocacy and aid are often (too) closely
linked. The OCHA headquarters in New York are very involved in impelling the political dimension: the Secretary
General (SG) reports to the Security Council on a monthly basis. The Coordination and Response Division (CRD)
supports the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, in that respect. Given this politicized environment,
OCHA New York holds a tight grip on any events related to humanitarian action as well as their reporting within
and around Syria.
3. The Humanitarian Information Management Principles and our Research Approach
OCHA is the part of the United Nations Secretariat responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to
ensure a coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can
contribute to the overall response effort. OCHA's mission is to mobilize and coordinate effective and principled
humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in
disasters and emergencies; advocate the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and
facilitate sustainable solutions.
Recognizing this pivotal role of information management and analysis, UN OCHA proposed a set of principles
for humanitarian information management at the 2002 Symposium on Best Practices in Humanitarian Information
Management and Exchange, later refined and expanded at the 2007 Global Symposium +5 held in Geneva on 22-26
October 2007 (Van de Walle, Van Den Eede & Muhren, 2009). All principles are listed in Table 1, which also
presents a structuring into the three broad categories of information checking, sharing and using. The cycle of
information collection, driven by a specific use, evaluating the information and checking it with other sources, and
distributing, and sharing it with partners or the public is embedded into the principles listed. Across all categories
run the remaining Humanitarian Principles that set common standards for any use, verification and sharing of data.
Function
Principle
Check!
Reliability!
Verifiability!
Share!
Inter-
operability!
Accessibility!
Sustainability!
Use
Timeliness
4 Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000
Table 1: Principles for Humanitarian Information Management
Information, however, always is a source of influence and power. Therefore, the humanitarian principles are
often hard to comply with, in particular in conflict settings when sources may intentionally provide wrong
information, and confidentiality is needed to protect trustworthy sources (Van de Walle, Van Den Eede & Muhren,
2009). But even in natural disasters, there is growing competition among the aid organizations and scarce
information may be reluctantly shared, if at all (Thomas, & Kopczak, 2007; van Wassenhove 2006). The central
question of this paper is then whether the information management practices, in natural as well as in complex crises,
do support and fulfill those principles. For that purpose, we conducted research at the IAU office in Amman, Jordan,
and contrasted our findings with earlier results from field research in the Typhoon Haiyan response in the
Philippines.
In earlier work presented at this conference in 2014, we have described the field research approach as conducted
in the Philippines in the aftermath of Haiyan as well as initial results on the coordination and risk management
processed (Chan & Comes, 2014)(Van de Walle & Comes, 2014; van den Homberg et al., 2014). For the research in
Amman, the authors combined desktop research and background analyses with interviews that were conducted with
regional actors in Amman, Jordan. The interviewees were selected with the aim of getting the best possible
overview on information management processes, information sharing and coordination between organizations.
Organizations active in the Syria response were interviewed in sessions of typically 1 to 1.5 hours long, and were
held upon agreed terms of openness and confidentiality. The researchers recorded all interviews, and research notes
were taken. When requested, specific statements were not included in the notes and audio recording was paused.
The identity of the source of the citations given in this paper is not disclosed, and attribution is only given in generic
organizational terms. Interviews were conducted with donors, UN Agencies, and iNGOs.
Relevance
Humani-
tarian
Princi-
ples!
Inclusiveness!
Accountability!
Impartiality!
Humanity
Reciprocity
Confidentiality
Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000 5
4. Humanitarian Information Management: the dangers of sharing - and not sharing
Since Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos declared an L3 Humanitarian System-Wide Emergency for
Syria on January 15, 2013, the humanitarian community has scaled up its efforts and many organizations have since
run into their organizational limits. Despite the long history of conflicts in the Middle East, it is clear that the very
nature of the Syria crisis lead the humanitarian community into uncharted territories. Our findings indicated that
many organizations struggled to maintain their standards and stick to the humanitarian IM principles listed in Table
1 above. In Syria, it is impossible to separate operational from strategic or political information. “More than
anywhere else, information is power here”, one interviewee said. For humanitarian information management, this
complexity has consistently rendered the execution of even the most basic information processes a challenging task.
4.1. Advocacy-Driven Design of Information Products
The information tasks of the IAU Office are daunting: beyond the lack of confirmed or official statistics that can
be evaluated and verified concerning the actual situation within Syria, challenges with respect to the processing of
information are many: standard formats are lacking or the agreed upon formats change; information is variably sent
in Arabic or in English, and often information needs to be processed on a very short notice, and. templates, even
when available, are frequently not adhered to. These difficulties make the timely provision of information products
that support operational decision-making problematic.
Data must often be collected at the IAU office on a very short notice, driven by ad-hoc requests to support
advocacy and strategic decision-making at headquarter levels. As OCHA requests the needed data from its
humanitarian partners, a clear motivation for such requests can often not be provided because the IAU office itself
is often unaware of it. This clearly leads to frustration among the partners who don’t know why they have to provide
the information requested, and for which purpose. Several of our interviewees expressed their frustration with this
process, and felt that as the IAU Office is just feeding information up to New York they have information about
what is done with their data, let alone have control over it.
To address the problem of lacking standards and automation, the IAU Office has introduced standardizing
technologies to facilitate collaboration among OCHA offices, most notably through the use of ARCGIS Online. This
has led to common data structures and data sets, yet a GIS Working Group was not in place during the time of our
visit and coordination for GIS was perceived as lacking.
The otherwise highly regarded and well known humanitarian websites Reliefweb and Humanitarian.info were
widely seen as useless in the Syria Crisis. The information was often found to be outdated, since Reliefweb
publishes only finalized reports. Several interviewees referred to the UNHCR portal as the only information portal
they check for up to date information.
The credibility and accuracy of sources is equally difficult. IM staff puts considerable effort into identifying the
most credible sources, and comparing information of different origins to avoid the perception of being inaccurate
or risking a conflict with other, officially stated information. Similar as for sensitive data, clear guidelines appeared
to be missing in order to educate IM staff to work with inaccurate data and, for instance, to introduce error bars or
margins on the fact sheets and maps that are being produced - rather than striving for absolute, and unrealistic,
accuracy.
4.2. Information sensitivity as a reality and as an excuse
Most interviewees seem utterly confused and increasingly frustrated by the sensitivity of information, and the
lack of guidance on how to handle it. Several interviewees stated that data was often lost in confidentiality concerns.
The resulting confusion was used as an excuse to hide information.
A key problem is that there is no information about interventions within Syria, although that is, in the words of
one of the interviewees, “the biggest piece of the cake”. Information is largely only available bilaterally and
informally. Information on planned interventions is not shared. Or rather, it is not shared officially, since the body of
knowledge on who delivers what and where (at least roughly) appears considerable among all interviewees.
6 Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000
During one of the interviews, one donor stated that the issues of confidentiality and security concerns are not
new, and they are common for all complex crises, and should definitely not come as a surprise in the Middle East.
The donor expressed its strong dismay that, in the fourth year of the crisis, no clear protocols and instructions has as
yet been set up. As a consequence, the humanitarian community must work in a very fragmented information
landscape, which is characterized by secrecy, mistrust and a strong role of individual networks.
4.3. Information Sharing Official Reporting vs. Under the Table
Information Management Officers (IMOs) are working in conditions characterized by high levels of sensitivity
and confidentiality of information. As there is no protocol on how IMOs should deal with such information, the
prevailing mode of official operation is to stick to secrecy unless explicitly told otherwise by their superiors. Some
of our interviewees, GIS experts, expressed their concern in making maps with possibly contentious information,
and hence they produced mostly basic, harmless and redundant maps.
The active presence and accumulation of global intelligence services in the region also created a strong belief that
all information sent out from any humanitarian office is intercepted and read. Under-cover intelligence officers were
assumed to be present in every public interaction. These beliefs have penetrated into the humanitarian organizations
own procedures. During our interviews, we were told several anecdotes that seem to be inspired by scenes from cold
war spy movies, ranging from anonymous email accounts set up by an office to spread information without formal
approval, to handing over maps in hotel rooms so that they could be secretly photographed.
This atmosphere of mistrust is ubiquitous, and hampers exchange even of such information that is common
knowledge between all actors. At the same time, trusted individual relations and networks for information sharing
have become ever more important. One of the most frequently heard expressions during our interviews was sharing
under the table”. This gives rise to two networks and channels of information sharing: the official reporting
network, communicating mostly upwards to headquarters, and a largely uncontrolled information sharing network
that support operational decision making, but make the official system almost obsolete. These networks are so
strong and important that they may undermine all attempts of structuring information flows or establishing protocols
for sharing in future.
The dominance of advocacy over operations clearly leads hampers operations (i) because it absorbs most IM
resources, and (ii) because the information collected is not shared at an operational level. Interviewees stated that
they only frequently did not see products created from their data until months later if at all. One interviewee stated,
however, that if there would be a sharing agreement with the UN agencies not to use information provided by
OCHA beyond operational level, then agencies would subscribe to this. In particular, it was clear that iNGOs
would not share their operational data in the absence of such an agreement, as they were deeply concerned that their
information would be processed, shared too widely and beyond their control.
As in other crises, IMOs and other humanitarian staff typically stay on their post between six and twelve months,
without any clear protocols or guidance that organizes handover, or supports parallel work. Regularly, information
and knowledge are therefore lost when people leave. It is always a challenge to maintain that knowledge. But
particularly in a crisis that is so difficult to manage as the situation in Syria, and in which information management
rely so much on individual social network, this comes down to an organizational form “designed to forget”
instead of the ideal of a learning organization. More time could be invested at the IAU office for training on the job,
supervision in the first weeks, and overlapping working cycles.
5. Discussion: Natural vs Complex Disasters
In both natural and complex disasters, IMOs work to collect relevant data and convert these into information
products such as situation reports or maps. One of the most important challenges is to create products that are useful
in dynamic and uncertain contexts. Here, we contrast our findings from Amman with previous research we have
conducted in the response to Typhoon Haiyan, where the main challenge and root of difficulty was widely perceived
as very short time, and the lack of infrastructure in the affected areas. In the case of Haiyan, time pressure favored
production of standardized products and formats that have been used for other sudden onset disasters. For instance
Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000 7
common operational data sets, including population data, geographic data, structural data, i.e. important in-
frastructures such as roads, or ports, are an example of UN OCHA standardized information products that were
present and described as highly relevant in both disasters.
The assumed advantage of standardization is that it can result in highly efficient operations, because it is known
beforehand which information needs to be collected, and how it needs to be visualized. Hence, IM activities become
more predictable and potentially reliable, referring to a set of ‘standard’ products that can be updated on a regular
basis, and when shared openly can create a transparent information flow despite the potential ad-hoc craziness that is
typical for the early phases of disaster response. The aim of OCHA’s IM in Haiyan was in many cases related to
setting up and maintaining such a regular and reliable product cycle to facilitate communication with the clusters
space, and to enable better planning of information-related vs. operational response activities.
At the same time reacting on the numerous requests by providing standardized and well-known products did not
leave room for reflection on (i) how the purpose of a specific request can best be served; (ii) if the request is related
to products that have already been created; (iii) which format or visualization is best for the purpose. Standardization
provides a reliable structure but comes at the cost of flexibility, which may be a necessary in the acute phases of
humanitarian interventions. If information is missing or can’t be formatted to fit the standardized form, often, new
information collection efforts are initiated to fill the unintentional gap. For example, traditional agencies will
duplicate assessment efforts to fit standardize formats for their organization despite the fact that this information
may already be (partially) available at a local level, owned by other authorities or organizations, but often in
unfamiliar formats. This is particularly relevant concerning the interface with national, local authorities and the
population, but also play in the UN information management, where for example certain NGOs preferred to put their
scarce time in managing their own more granular data rather than to provide data to the headquarters in Manila.
Conversely, data from local actors in the field that did not meet the imposed data standards often could not easily be
included in the international humanitarian system reporting mechanisms.
Function!
Principle!
Observations!
Jordan / Syria Crisis
Philippines / Haiyan
Use !
Timeliness!
Products not timely because of long time
to collect, compare and process
information within the hierarchy
Standardized products available in
relatively short time, sometimes at the
cost of not answering to specific
information requests
Relevance!
Information dominated by advocacy and
strategic considerations; operationally
relevant information, even 3 or 4Ws in
many cases not available, particularly for
cross border, or cross line operations!
Information driven by requests from
headquarters, operational requests often
only answers within networks of peers!
Check!
Reliability!
Data about the situation within Syria in
many cases lacking or not available.!
Reliability varying with the access to the
regions affected; problematic particularly
in the early phases, or if data was only
evaluated remotely (Westrope, Banick, &
Levine, 2014); CODs and information
from the ministries said to be of
exceptional quality!
Verifiability!
Protection of sources hampers
verifiability, and required careful cross
checking, in many cases leading to
rumours and adding to the atmosphere of
mistrust
Hampered in the early phases by access
and lack of communication, particularly
in remote regions.
Share
Inter-
operability
Shifting formats in different languages,
however, attempts for standardisation
using ARCGIS and online tools.
Difficulty of ad-hoc alignment of local
actors, national government and military,
regional actors (ASEAN) and the UN
8 Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000
see http://www.comminit.com/media-development/content/radyo-bakdaw-rise
§ http://www.cebu.gov.ph/typhoon-yolanda-updates/
Difficulty to interact with charities,
particularly from the Gulf States that
follow their own norms and rules
(Cotterrell & Harmer, 2005)
System (van den Homberg et al., 2014)
Accessibility
Often, information was not available to
many humanitarian partners; particularly
operational information
Common Operational Datasets (CODs)
and other basic information needed to be
improved and completed during the
response. Because of the high pressure,
this happened often in parallel in
government agencies and by iNGOs
(Ebener, Castro, & Dimailig, 2014).
Sustainability
Shifting formats and lack of data sharing
and storage protocols makes it difficult to
analyse data about the first years of the
disaster.
Lessons learned in progress and
published by different agencies
(Alcantara, 2014; MEAL, 2013)!
Humani-
tarian
Princi-
ples
Inclusiveness
Information not shared with humanitarian
partners and the local population, driven
by protection concerns
Projects such as the Internews Project
Radyo Bakdaw (“rise”), and self-
organized community activities such as
paglig on§ in Cebu supporting the
communication with the local population!
Accountability
Perception of “losing control” once
information is reported to UN agencies or
headquarters; often unclear use of
information
Reporting and processing of information
perceived as slow, but transparent!!
Impartiality
Attempt to provide a well-balanced
picture hampered by mistrust and barriers
of information sharing; access is the
determinant, not balance
Aim to cover different vulnerable
groups, political parties etc.!!
Humanity
Ever present in the protection of refugees,
and the communications around cross-
border and cross line operations
!
Reciprocity
Not achieved, owing to the disconnect
among humanitarian actors, and the lack
of access to the population within Syria
In the early phases, hierarchical
communication structures were
dominating; later on in the transition to
recovery also more participatory
communication lines (DEC/HC, 2014)!
Confidential-
ity
Of paramount importance, and the
guiding principle to handle data from
refugees and IDPs; general assumption is
that all information is confidential,
leading to a lack of situational overview
and forestalling the possibility for joint
planning and strategy building
Not of major concern
Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000 9
6. Conclusions
Information management is fundamental for the coordination of international humanitarian response, yet at the
same time provides great challenges. The information that is being used for the purpose of coordination clearly is
intended to lead to improving the lives of those affected by the disaster. Yet, this very information can become a
threat endangering these very lives, if it is inaccurate, misleading or falls in the hands of malevolent groups. In the
past decade, so-called humanitarian information principles have been identified to guide the processes of collecting,
checking, sharing and using information. The information products that are produced to support the coordination
must take these principles into account, yet our findings from field research in a natural and complex disaster setting
indicate that in both disaster types this is extremely challenging. In natural disaster response, the processes leading
to information products are more ‘tried and tested’ and streamlined. The resulting automation of standard products,
however, may reduce the flexibility in tailoring to actual needs, or even prevent the actual verification altogether
whether the products meet the needs for which they were generated in the first place. In complex disaster response,
information sensitivity and a lack of adequate procedures to handle it may lead to an exaggerated concern for
security to a lowest denominator in information product quality as only that information of which one is absolutely
certain is being published. Future research should further investigate these observations that were, clearly, deduced
from a very small sample only. We hope that such further analysis will lead to a much needed better understanding
of humanitarian information management, whether in the context of natural or complex disasters.
Acknowledgments
The authors thank the interviewees for sharing their experiences. We are particularly grateful to the IAU office in
Amman for its hospitality. Any contributions from our interviewees have been anonymized where requested or
deemed necessary by the authors to protect confidentiality.
References
Alcantara, P. (2014). Lessons learned from the Philippine government’s response to Typhoon Haiyan. Journal of
Business Continuity & Emergency Planning. Summer2014, 7(4), 335346.
Chan, J., & Comes, T. (2014). Innovative Research Design A Journey into the Information Typhoon. Procedia
Engineering, 78, 5258. doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2014.07.038
Cotterrell, L., & Harmer, A. (2005). Diversity in donorship: the changing landscape of official humanitarian aid.
Aid donorrship in the Gulf States. London.
DEC/HC. (2014). Philippines Typhoon Response Review (p. 20). London, UK. Retrieved from
http://humanitariancoalition.ca/sites/default/files/publication/dec_hc_haiyan_review_report_2014.pdf
Ebener, S., Castro, F., & Dimailig, L. A. (2014). Increasing Availability, Quality, and Accessibility of Common and
Fundamental Operational Datasets to Support Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Management in the
Philippines. Manila.
Galindo, G., & Batta, R. (2013). Review of recent developments in OR/MS research in disaster operations
management. European Journal of Operational Research, 230(2), 201211. 9
IFRC. (2012). World Disasters Report 2012 - Focus on forced migration and displacement. Geneva, Switzerland.
10 Author name / Procedia Engineering 00 (2015) 000000
Kovács, G., & Spens, K. M. (2011). Trends and developments in humanitarian logistics a gap analysis.
International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 41(1), 3245.
Kunz, N., & Reiner, G. (2013, April 12). A meta-analysis of humanitarian logistics research. Emerald Group
Publishing Limited.
MEAL. (2013). Key Lessons To Learn For Typhoon Haiyan Response, New York, Manila.
Swithern, S. (2014). Global Humanitarian Assitance Report. New York.
Tomasini, R. M., & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2009). From preparedness to partnerships: case study research on
humanitarian logistics. International Transactions in Operational Research, 16(5), 549559.
Van de Walle, B. and M. Turoff, “Decision Support for Emergency Situations”, International Journal of Information
Systems and e-Business Management 6:3 (2008), 295-316.
Van de Walle, B., G. Van Den Eede and W. Muhren, “Humanitarian Information Management and Systems”,
Lecture Notes Computer Science 5424 (Eds. J. Lofler and M. Klahn) (2009), pp. 12-21.
Van de Walle, B., & Comes, T. (2014). Risk Accelerators in Disasters. Insights from the Typhoon Haiyan Response
on Humanitarian Information Management and Decision Support. In M. Jarke, J. Mylopoulos, & C. Quix
(Eds.), CAiSE2014 (pp. 1223). Thessaloniki, Greece: Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.
Van den Homberg, M., Meesters, K., & Van de Walle, B. (2014). Coordination and Information Management in the
Haiyan Response: Observations from the Field. Procedia Engineering, 78, 4951.
doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2014.07.037
Westrope, C., Banick, R., & Levine, M. (2014). Groundtruthing OpenStreetMap Building Damage Assessment.
Procedia Engineering, 78, 2939.
... Nevertheless, with the expansion of social media, the formation of these spontaneous groups of helpers is happening more rapidly and with a wider reach. In the case of heavy rainfalls and subsequent flooding in Germany in 2013 and 2014, it was observed that the first spontaneous groups already became active during the acute hazard conditions (Fathi et al., 2017;Twigg and Mosel, 2017). Large group sizes of several thousands and their agility also created enormous challenges in integrating spontaneous volunteers in disaster management after floods (Sackmann et al., 2021) or earthquakes (Nissen et al., 2021). ...
... For example, motivational factors and participation barriers (Fathi et al., 2016) or knowledge and skills transmission in occupational health and safety (Brückner, 2018) were studied. Twigg and Mosel (2017) divide the variety of tasks into search and rescue operations, the transport and distribution of relief supplies, and the provision of food and beverages to victims and responders. Including spontaneous volunteers nevertheless poses considerable organizational challenges for EOCs (Sackmann et al., 2021) as the established operational structures currently do not allow for quick integration (Fathi et al., 2017). ...
Article
Full-text available
Virtual Operations Support Teams are groups of institutionalized digital volunteers in the field of disaster management who conduct Social Media Analytics tasks for decision-makers in Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs) during hazard situations such as floods. Through interagency integration into EOC structures, the volunteers provide analytical support using advanced tools and monitoring various social media platforms. The goal of VOSTs is to increase decision-makers' situational awareness through need-oriented analysis and to improve decision-making by providing actionable information in a time-critical work context. In this case study, the data collected during the 2021 flood in Wuppertal, Germany by 22 VOST analysts was processed and analyzed. It was found that information from eight social media platforms could be classified into 23 distinct categories. The analysts' prioritizations indicate differences in the formats of information and platforms. Disaster-related posts that pose a threat to the affected population's health and safety (e.g., requests for help or false information) were more commonly prioritized than other posts. Image-heavy content was also rated higher than text-heavy data. A subsequent survey of EOC decision-makers examined the impact of VOST information on situational awareness during this flood. It also asked how actionable information impacted decisions. We found that VOST information contributes to expanded situational awareness of decision-makers and ensures people-centered risk and crisis communication. Based on the results from this case study, we discuss the need for future research in the area of integrating VOST analysts in decision-making processes in the field of time-critical disaster management.
... Previous literature identified several challenges to CIM that affect different functions (Van de Walle & Comes, 2015;Lauras et al., 2015) at different hierarchical levels (Bharosa et al., 2010). We argue that data and cognitive biases can emerge as consequences to these challenges and affect CIM by posing threats to digital resilience in terms of hampering the rapid recovery from crises. ...
... Especially in the Global South, the most vulnerable groups might not have access to mobile phones and therefore are not included in mobile phone data to track and trace population movements (IOM, 2021). Underrepresentation of geographic areas or social groups can lead to violations of the humanitarian imperative to 'leave no one behind' (Van de Walle & Comes, 2015). ...
Article
Full-text available
Humanitarian crises, such as the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic, challenge information management and thereby threaten the digital resilience of the responding organizations. Crisis information management (CIM) is characterised by the urgency to respond despite the uncertainty of the situation. Coupled with high stakes, limited resources and a high cognitive load, crises are prone to induce biases in the data and the cognitive processes of analysts and decision-makers. When biases remain undetected and untreated in CIM, they may lead to decisions based on biased information, increasing the risk of an inefficient response. Literature suggests that crisis response needs to address the initial uncertainty and possible biases by adapting to new and better information as it becomes available. However, we know little about whether adaptive approaches mitigate the interplay of data and cognitive biases. We investigated this question in an exploratory, three-stage experiment on epidemic response. Our participants were experienced practitioners in the fields of crisis decision-making and information analysis. We found that analysts fail to successfully debias data, even when biases are detected, and that this failure can be attributed to undervaluing debiasing efforts in favor of rapid results. This failure leads to the development of biased information products that are conveyed to decision-makers, who consequently make decisions based on biased information. Confirmation bias reinforces the reliance on conclusions reached with biased data, leading to a vicious cycle, in which biased assumptions remain uncorrected. We suggest mindful debiasing as a possible counter-strategy against these bias effects in CIM.
... Previous literature identified several challenges to CIM that affect different functions (Van de Walle and Comes, 2015;Lauras et al., 2015) at different hierarchical levels (Bharosa et al., 2010). We argue that data and cognitive biases can emerge as consequences to these challenges and affect CIM by posing threats to digital resilience in terms of hampering the rapid recovery from crises. ...
... Especially in the Global South, the most vulnerable groups might not have access to mobile phones and therefore are not included in mobile phone data to track and trace population movements (IOM, 2021). Underrepresentation of geographic areas or social groups can lead to violations of the humanitarian imperative to 'leave no one behind ' (Van de Walle and Comes, 2015). ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Humanitarian crises, such as the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic, challenge information management and thereby threaten the digital resilience of the responding organizations. Crisis information management (CIM) is characterised by the urgency to respond despite the uncertainty of the situation. Coupled with high stakes, limited resources and a high cognitive load, crises are prone to induce biases in the data and the cognitive processes of analysts and decision-makers. When biases remain undetected and untreated in CIM, they may lead to decisions based on biased information, increasing the risk of an inefficient response. Literature suggests that crisis response needs to address the initial uncertainty and possible biases by adapting to new and better information as it becomes available. However, we know little about whether adaptive approaches mitigate the interplay of data and cognitive biases. We investigated this question in an exploratory, three-stage experiment on epidemic response. Our participants were experienced practitioners in the fields of crisis decision-making and information analysis. We found that analysts fail to successfully debias data, even when biases are detected, and that this failure can be attributed to undervaluing debiasing efforts in favor of rapid results. This failure leads to the development of biased information products that are conveyed to decision-makers, who consequently make decisions based on biased information. Confirmation bias reinforces the reliance on conclusions reached with biased data, leading to a vicious cycle, in which biased assumptions remain uncorrected. We suggest mindful debiasing as a possible counter-strategy against these bias effects in CIM.
... The 2002 Symposium on Best Practices in Humanitarian Information Management and Exchange, and the 2007 Global Symposium +5, were two of the most influential fora for formulating the initial shape of a more universal governance system 151 . The principles that were developed can be grouped into four broad categories, covering the checking, sharing, using of data, and broad humanitarian values that underpin the sector's ethos 152 . ...
... When disasters such as floods and storms hit, both formal and informal organizations and communities need to adapt to the ever-changing and often unexpected conditions [7]. Their ability to self-organize, coordinate and respond to the situation strongly relies on the timeliness and quality of the information available [23,29]. At the same time, with the dynamically evolving situation, the roles and information needs of the actors continually change [20,27]. ...
Chapter
Agent-based models (ABM) for policy design need to be grounded in empirical data. While many ABMs rely on quantitative data such as surveys, much empirical research in the social sciences is based on qualitative research methods such as interviews or observations that are hard to translate into a set of quantitative rules, leading to a gap in the phenomena that ABM can explain. As such, there is a lack of a clear methodology to systematically develop ABMs for policy design on the basis of qualitative empirical research. In this paper, a two-stage methodology is proposed that takes an exploratory approach to the development of ABMs in socio-technical systems based on qualitative data. First, a conceptual framework centered on a particular policy design problem is developed based on empirical insights from one or more case studies. Second, the framework is used to guide the development of an ABM. This step is sensitive to the purpose of the model, which can be theoretical or empirical. The proposed methodology is illustrated by an application for disaster information management in Jakarta, resulting in an empirical descriptive ABM.
Preprint
Full-text available
Novel data sensing and AI technologies are finding practical use in the analysis of crisis resilience, revealing the need to consider how responsible artificial intelligence (AI) practices can mitigate harmful outcomes and protect vulnerable populations. In this opinion paper, we present a responsible AI roadmap that is embedded in the Crisis Information Management Circle. This roadmap includes six propositions to highlight and address important challenges and considerations specifically related to responsible AI for crisis resilience management. We cover a wide spectrum of interwoven challenges and considerations pertaining to the responsible collection, analysis, sharing and use of information such as equity, fairness, biases, explainability and transparency, accountability, privacy, inter-organizational coordination, and public engagement. Through examining issues around AI systems for crisis resilience management, we dissect the inherent complexities of information management and decision-making in crises and highlight the urgency of responsible AI research and practice. The ideas laid out in this opinion paper are the first attempt in establishing a roadmap for researchers, practitioners, developers, emergency managers, humanitarian organizations, and public officials to address important considerations for responsible AI pertaining to crisis resilience management.
Article
This article explores the non-straightforward role of data about attacks on health in creating policy and normative change to safeguard access to healthcare and protect healthcare providers in conflict. Acknowledging the importance of data as a key component in the quest to reduce instances of attacks, we take this one step further, asking: what is the relationship between data, action, and change processes? While scholars have examined the efficacy of transnational advocacy, rarely has the specific role of data been the focus of analysis. Here we consider two pathways for creating change: operational change designed to prevent or mitigate the impact of attacks on health at the level of those affected by attacks, and normative change that leads to a reduction in the frequency of attacks, at the level of those perpetrating attacks. Drawing on research investigating the influence of data in humanitarian decision-making and security management and research on transnational advocacy, we discuss the lessons for responding to the problem of attacks on healthcare. We end by broadening the scope of our conclusions to highlight the non-straightforward role of data in operational and normative change processes more generally.
Chapter
Combining Games and Agent-Based Models (ABMs) in a single research design (i.e. GAM design) shows potential for investigating complex past, present, or future social phenomena. Games offer engaging environments that can help generating insights into social dynamics, perceptions, and behaviours, while ABMs support the representation and analysis of complexity. We present here the first attempt to “discipline” the interdisciplinary endeavour of developing a GAM design in which an ABM is transformed into a game, thus the two becoming intertwined in one application. When doing this, we use as a GAM design exemplar the process of developing Quantum Leaper, a proof-of-concept video game made in Unity software and based on the NetLogo implementation of the well known “Artificial Anasazi” ABM. This study aims to consolidate the methodology component of the GAM field by proposing the GAM Reflection Framework, a tool that can be used by GAM practitioners, ABM modellers, or game designers looking for methodological guidance with developing an agent-based model that is a game (i.e. an agent-based game).
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Modern societies are increasingly threatened by disasters that require rapid response through ad-hoc collaboration among a variety of actors and organizations. The complexity within and across today’s societal, economic and environmental systems defies accurate predictions and assessments of damages, humanitarian needs, and the impact of aid. Yet, decision-makers need to plan, manage and execute aid response under conditions of high uncertainty while being prepared for further disruptions and failures. This paper argues that these challenges require a paradigm shift: instead of seeking optimality and full efficiency of procedures and plans, strategies should be developed that enable an acceptable level of aid under all foreseeable eventualities. We propose a decision- and goal-oriented approach that uses scenarios to systematically explore future developments that may have a major impact on the outcome of a decision. We discuss to what extent this approach supports robust decision-making, particularly if time is short and the availability of experts is limited. We interlace our theoretical findings with insights from experienced humanitarian decision makers we interviewed during a field research trip to the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
Article
Full-text available
The response to the Level 3 disaster of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines involved a large number of organizations providing assistance and support. Coordination structures between a large variety of international and national organizations, the government and the military were established at the national, provincial and local levels. These coordination efforts were accompanied by a significant information management effort, including the needs assessment of the affected population and monitoring and evaluation regarding the response and assistance provided. This paper presents preliminary findings from a research field trip conducted in the aftermath of the Typhoon response by the authors. Interviews were conducted with a broad range of decision makers in various functions in the disaster response organizations and with varying responsibilities. These interviews were complemented with in-field observations and secondary data collection. Preliminary findings show a decreasing complexity and rigidity of coordination structures from the headquarters to the (deep) field, and a corresponding decreasing sophistication of information management. While information management at the headquarters seemed to be targeted in large part towards international advocacy and policy, information management in the field focused on very concrete response actions.
Article
Full-text available
Disasters are often characterized by their sudden onset and complex nature. The need for innovative and trans-disciplinary research that starts from the practice of disaster response is uncontested. Yet, the realities of field research require a rework of research design and processes. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in November 2013, a small team of researchers with different backgrounds came together in an innovative setting to investigate information management for decision support and sensemaking in the field. We combined the research in the field with remote support for logistics, communication and spot analyses. This letter describes our findings in working this setting, and discusses key methodological questions in the transformation of research from desk to field … and back.
Article
Full-text available
To gauge the accuracy of the crowd-sourced damage assessments in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, REACH and the American Red Cross conducted a study comparing enumerated field damage assessments with the remote damage assessments conducted by the OpenStreetMap community. The potential utility of remote sensing imagery and rapid GIS-based mapping in humanitarian responses relies on the accuracy of these techniques. Recent studies from other emergencies have questioned the current capacity of these tools to deliver the levels of accuracy needed, but have acknowledged that these levels can be improved with further research, development and standardization for the humanitarian context. This assessment sought to address some of these questions of accuracy by comparing remote damage assessment findings with field-level damage assessments and to identify any differences in accuracy. The assessment also aimed to assess the ability of crowd-sourced platforms to go beyond providing only base data by creating information about building-level damage. The conclusions and recommendations are intended to inform contributors and developers of crowd-source platforms as well as the humanitarian community at large, contributing to a dialogue about the how to capitalize on the present tools and improve the way in which they are used in humanitarian settings.
Article
Full-text available
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to give an up-to-date and structured insight into the most recent literature on humanitarian logistics, and suggest trends for future research based on the gaps identified through structured content analysis. Design/methodology/approach – The authors use a quantitative and qualitative content analysis process to analyse the characteristics of the existing literature, identifying the most studied topics in six structural dimensions, and presenting gaps and recommendations for further research. Findings – It was found that existing humanitarian logistics research shows too little interest in continuous humanitarian aid operations, in slow onset disasters and man-made catastrophes. While several papers address different phases of disasters, very few focus particularly on the reconstruction following a disaster. Empirical research is underrepresented in the existing literature as well. Research limitations/implications – While five of the authors’ structural dimensions are inspired by previous reviews, the sixth dimension (situational factors) is derived from a theoretical framework which the authors developed and which has never been tested before. The validity of the study could therefore be increased by testing this framework. Originality/value – The authors analyse the broadest set of papers (174) ever covered in previous literature reviews on humanitarian logistics. A quantitative analysis of the papers was conducted in order to analyse the situational factors which have mostly been studied so far in literature. This paper is also the first in humanitarian logistics to use content analysis as the main methodology to analyse literature in a structured way, which is of particular value to the academic community as well as practitioners. Winner of Outstanding Paper Award 2013
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In times of major disasters such as hurricane Katrina or the Sichuan earthquake, the need for accurate and timely information is as crucial as is rapid and coherent coordination among the responding humanitarian community. Effective humanitarian information systems that provide timely access to comprehensive, relevant, and reliable information are critical to humanitarian operations. The faster the humanitarian community is able to collect, analyze, disseminate and act on key information, the more effective the response will be, the better needs will be met, and the greater the benefit to the affected populations. This paper presents fundamental principles of humanitarian information management as endorsed by the international humanitarian community, introduces generic systems design premises and presents two recent collaborative efforts in humanitarian information systems development.
Article
Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest tropical cyclone to have ever hit land and provides an opportunity to analyse the application of emergency management principles in disaster response. In this case study, the author seeks to objectively assess the Philippine government's response before, during and after Typhoon Haiyan according to these principles. The study refers to the Philippine legislative and institutional framework as well as the government's overall response in relation to these principles. This study hopes to provide a resource for emergency management professionals, especially in the public administration and defence sector, in dealing with similar disasters and adopting potentially life-saving interventions.
Article
Potential consequences of disasters involve overwhelming economic losses, large affected populations and serious environmental damages. Given these devastating effects, there is an increasing interest in developing measures in order to diminish the possible impact of disasters, which gave rise to the field of disaster operations management (DOM). In this paper we review recent OR/MS research in DOM. Our work is a continuation of a previous review from Altay and Green (2006). Our purpose is to evaluate how OR/MS research in DOM has evolved in the last years and to what extent the gaps identified by Altay and Green (2006) have been covered. Our findings show no drastic changes or developments in the field of OR/MS in DOM since the publication of Altay and Green (2006). Additionally to our comparative analysis, we present an original evaluation about the most common assumptions in recent OR/MS literature in DOM. Based on our findings we provide future research directions in order to make improvements in the areas where lack of research is detected.
Purpose – The aim of this paper is to present current trends and developments in humanitarian logistics (HL) practice, research, and education, and analyze the gaps between these. The article serves as an update on previous literature reviews in HL. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is primarily conceptual and develops a framework for analyzing trends and gaps between HL research, education, and practice. Data are compiled through keyword searches, publicly available bibliographies, and web sites of educational institutions, as well as drawing on material from practitioner workshops, tutorials, conference presentations, and personal communication with practitioners and educators. Findings – Gaps are revealed in HL practice, research, education, as well as between these. Few education programs to date consider the skill needs of humanitarian logisticians, but future trends in practice and research can be used to develop them further. More empirical and practice-near research is called for at the same time as there is a need for comparative analyses, generic models, and theory building in HL. Research limitations/implications – Any attempt to grasp current trends in a field is delimited by a lack of overview of the activities of an abundance of HL and fragmented research communities. The article advocates a broader view and openness across organizations and disciplines. Practical implications – The gap analysis indicates not only trends but also gaps in HL practice and highlights the need to consider new societal pressures such as climate change and urbanization. Social implications – HL is concerned with serving beneficiaries; thus, their welfare is at the core of the discipline. Originality/value – Several articles have reviewed HL research before, but gaps between practice, research, and education have not yet been addressed.
Article
Disasters are on the rise, more complex, and donor support is increasingly unpredictable. In response to this trend humanitarian agencies are looking for more efficient and effective solutions. This paper discusses the evolution of supply chain management in disaster relief and the role of new players like the private sector. It is based on research conducted by the Humanitarian Research Group at INSEAD.