A Typology to facilitate Multi-Agency Coordination


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Steven Curnin and Christine Owen on "A Typology to facilitate Multi-Agency Coordination" at ISCRAM 2013 in Baden-Baden.

10th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management
12-15 May 2013, Baden-Baden, Germany

Published in: Technology, Business
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  • Disasters often necessitate the collaboration of numerous organizations which rely on effective multi-agency coordination. I am sure that many of you have seen situations like this where there are multiple agencies drawn together in a temporary supra-organization to address the emergency event.These temporary supra-organizations can comprise of multiple agencies like in this picture of the State Control centre in Victoria there are 19 different agencies.To identify the challenges of multi-agency coordination we had 2 guiding questions.
  • Thispaper is primarily based upon data extracted from the literature.However, we have used some of the preliminary findings from our empirical research to confirm the findings. The empirical research included 39 in depth semi-structured interviews with senior emergency management practitioner’s from agencies that currently fulfil a role in an event requiring a multi-agency approach.It also includes 34 hours of observations conducted at state emergency operations centres. Of this 12 hours of observations were conducted during multi-agency exercises and the remaining 22 hours were conducted during actual bushfire events in the 2012/2013 bushfire season.Importantly, since submitting this paper to the conference we have had the opportunity to engage a number of senior emergency management stakeholders and with their input we have since refined our findings.From this we propose a typology based on four dimensions for facilitating multi-agency coordination in emergency management. The proposed typology and its potential application is intended for use by emergency management practitioners to identify and support the requirements necessary for successful multi-agency coordination and will now be discussed.
  • We identified 4 dimensions for facilitating multi-agency coordination in emergency management. System enablersHuman capabilitiesOrganizational linkagesCommunication mechanismsWithin these dimensions we identified a total of 16 indicators. I shall now describe each dimension individually with each of the corresponding indicators aligned to that dimension.
  • The first dimension is termed system enablers and focuses upon the technological requirements.This dimension incorporated the 6 indicators…1. The technological systems in use facilitate the ability to gain situation awarenessA critical aspect of any information system is that technology can act as a key enabler for stakeholders.Software that can enable multi-agency stakeholders to acquire and share a broad context of information and knowledge is important.Information technology used in disaster management needs to be sufficiently flexible and able to ensure that relevant information reaches the appropriate agencies in a valid format and in a timely manner that facilitates effective action.2. Resource accessibility Ability to access suitable and sufficient resources, appropriately monitor resource tracking, and perform timely resource reallocationThe resources available in an emergency event need to be transparent. This is particularly significant in managing resourcing requirements during a disaster when multiple agencies pool assets and there is an obligation to access, track and allocate resources appropriately.3. Operational accessibility The system is operator friendly allowing stakeholders to access the required information.Disaster management information systems also require a central data base that is accessible to all agencies and promotes free exchange of information and is operator friendly.4. Guarding Ability to overcome privacy and security barriers as deemed appropriatePrivacy and security barriers have been identified as obstacles to the adoption of a collaborative approach to technology in emergency management.In particular there are often challenges surrounding access to law enforcement information systems due to security constraints.5. Crisis memory A suitable memory timeline structure with feed forward/feedback modelling is in place allowing the reassessment of the ongoing situation thus giving meaning for alternate actions6. RedundancyAlternative back-up systems are in place in the event of technology and communication failureRecent disasters have identified that critical infrastructures are highly dependent on each other and the catastrophic failure of an electricity infrastructure would most likely render technological networks inoperable .
  • The second dimension entitled human capabilities highlights the human components. Within this dimension we identified 4 indicators. 1. AwarenessCrucial to achieving multi-agency coordination is the stakeholders ability to gain situation awareness of the emergency event.Ability to pool situational awareness to support rapid collective decision making and the obligation to push/pull information 2. ClarificationClarity of intent so the objectives for managing the event are explained and the role responsibilities are defined and understoodStakeholders from multiple agencies need to understand other agencies requirements and what they can contribute to the situation. This is often a challenge with agencies that do not have a history of working together. 3. Boundary spanningAbility to network and mediate with internal and external stakeholders in order to facilitate information and communication channels across organizational boundaries During multi-agency coordination it falls upon the role of the boundary spanner to facilitate linkages between agencies to collate and disseminate information to gain an adequate situation awareness of the event.Stakeholders fulfilling a boundary spanning role need to have the ability to fulfil an ambassadorial capacity requiring diplomacy and skills in brokering relationships to ensure the effective exchange of information.They also need to be proficient in networking and bridging information and communication asymmetries to achieve a common goal.4. Training systemsAbility to participate in multi-agency exercising with the ability to incorporate the information systems used in an emergency eventSimulation training with the technology used in an event needs to occur in the pre-event phase enabling increased familiarity not only with information systems but with other agencies goals and objectives.
  • The third dimension of organizational linkages incorporates the technological and human aspects required to enable multi-agency coordination.This dimension comprises of 4 indicators.1. InteroperabilityInterorganizational compatibility of common information systems Effective coordination necessitates the synchronised efforts of multiple stakeholders from a diverse collection of public and private agencies with specialised skills and knowledge.These stakeholders have to transition from being autonomous entities in non-crisis situations into interdependent decision-making teams providing organizational linkages in an emergency event.These linkages are dependent on personnel and the technology and systems they use. Disaster management information systems that support multi-agency coordination to achieve group goals have to be interoperable between agencies.A lack of information system incompatibility was highlighted in our recent empirical research conducted during the last bushfire season.2. DisseminationThere is a necessity to ensure that relevant information reaches the appropriate agencies in a valid format and in a timely manner that facilitates effective actionThis is important to avoid delayed and disrupted coordination between agencies and ensure the exchange of information that is appropriately disseminated to the suitable personnel.3. LegitimacyEnsure that external organizations have legitimacy and are assimilated in the multi-agency coordination structure facilitating the linkages between agenciesParamount to the success of any organizational linkages is the legitimacy placed upon the stakeholders operating in a multi-agency environment. If stakeholders are not afforded the legitimacy from stakeholders in other organizations it has the ability to impede the boundary spanning role and their ability to gain situation awareness4. Preparedness arrangementsMemorandums of understanding, mutual aid agreements and relevant political communication channels are in place in the pre event phaseA lack of standardised procedures can be associated with problems in multi-agency coordination.Organizational linkages need to be formalized during pre-disaster activities.
  • The fourth and final dimension is communication mechanisms and also incorporates the technological and human aspects required to enable multi-agency coordination.The development of technology and in particular the internet has greatly improved communication between agencies in a disaster. Nevertheless, this can create an over reliance on communication technologies that cannot always be guaranteed during a disaster. During extreme events there will be a greater density of communication to multiple agencies.This increased flow of communication can cause failures in telecommunications.Compounding these challenges is the incompatibility of some communication equipment between agencies.This dimension comprises of the following 2 indicators. 1.SuitabilityThe type and level of communication density are appropriate to the emergency event and suitable for the organizational levels involved Communication systems need to be suitable to the organizations involved and the environment they are operating in.As observed in some of our empirical research, it is no good giving an agency the latest tablet with the most up to date resourcing software installed on it if they are only used to using VHF radios.2. ConfirmationClosed loop communication practices are established The need for the receipt of the information is an important aspect of communication in crisis events regardless of the communication channel used.
  • As the overarching research project is investigating human factors in multi-agency coordination it is anticipated that the typology will contribute to crisis information systems in two ways. Firstly, understanding the capabilities of the stakeholders involved in multi-agency coordination may reveal facets of this role that need improving. These stakeholders performing this boundary spanning role in these temporary supra-organizations are instrumental in providing linkages between agencies and ensuring the successful exchange of information.However, these stakeholders are reliant on a number of organizational supports that are technical and systems based.Therefore secondly, exploring the systems that enables stakeholders to fulfil their role may identify insufficiencies in emergency operations centres information systems that can be addressed.While the typology will be a valuable tool in its own right, it is anticipated that used in conjunction with a rating tool it will provide emergency management practitioners an opportunity to identify what critical elements are necessary for achieving multi-agency coordination. So the next stage in this research is to apply the typology and an appropriate rating tool in an emergency management multi-agency simulation training exercise.
  • A Typology to facilitate Multi-Agency Coordination

    1. 1. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013A TYPOLOGY TO FACILITATE MULTI-AGENCYCOORDINATIONSteven CurninUniversity of Tasmania, AustraliaChristine OwenUniversity of Tasmania, Australia
    2. 2. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONMultiple challenges
    3. 3. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONQuestions to guide this paper:1. What critical elements are necessary forachieving multi-agency coordination?2. What are the factors that enable this?
    4. 4. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONMethods:1. Data from a literature review2. Preliminary findings from empirical researchto confirm the findings3. Stakeholder input to consolidate the findingsfor the typology
    5. 5. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONTypologyDimensions1. System enablers2. Human capabilities3. Organizational linkages4. Communication mechanisms
    6. 6. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONDimensionSystem enablersTechnological affordancesResource accessibilityOperational accessibilityGuardingCrisis memoryRedundancy
    7. 7. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONDimensionHuman capabilitiesAwarenessClarificationBoundary spanningTraining systems
    8. 8. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONDimensionOrganizational linkagesInteroperabilityDisseminationLegitimacyPreparedness arrangements
    9. 9. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONDimensionCommunication mechanismsSuitabilityConfirmation
    10. 10. © BUSHFIRE CRC LTD 2013MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATIONConclusion1. Multi-agency coordination in emergencymanagement is complex and challenging2. Reliant on a number of organizational supports thatare technical and systems based3. Requires the interaction of multiple elements