BOX 3.1
Summary of Crisis Management Characteristics and Needs

  1. Crises make large-scale demands, are unpredictable, and require an immediate response.
  • Large-scale demands. Crises require resources beyond those on hand—people, equipment, communications, information, and computing must be moved rapidly to the scene physically and/or virtually (over networks).
  • Unpredictable. It cannot be known in advance what resources will be needed or where, and what the specific needs will be (although there can be some degree of generalizing and pre-positioning).
  • Urgent. The response must be rapid, because lives and property are at stake.
  1. Crises require planning and coordination.
  • Crisis managers must develop and implement a response plan rapidly, despite information shortfalls (gaps, uncertainty, errors, deliberate falsification by a foe) and the lack of correspondence to any previous situations (i.e., standard operating procedures are not sufficient).
  • Diverse organizations and people respond to crises, including those that have not worked together before and did not know that they would have to do so. This creates challenges for collaboration, information sharing, and communication.
  • Crises are complex and multifaceted, and so decision makers must weigh multifaceted consequences. Trade-offs require not just tactical optimization, but judgment—the best tactical option may not be the best political option (e.g., in an international context where U.S. military and civilian agencies are operating in another country, perhaps in a tense situation).
  1. Operational needs include communications and networking.
  • A rapid initial assessment of the situation is necessary, requiring reports from the scene, augmented by sending assessment teams with tools and communications to report back quickly. Remote sensing may also be involved (e.g., satellite and aircraft imagery, ground-based weather monitors, and strain gauges predeployed within bridges and buildings).
  • Rapid deployment of communications capabilities is required—to expand the initial situation assessment, coordinate the response teams, and disseminate information to the public. It is necessary to (a) assess what is available (remote regions, less developed countries, and badly damaged areas may all have limited infrastructure) and (b) obtain needed capabilities by commandeering what is there (priority access), restoring networks, and augmenting with deployable capabilities (cellular telephones, wireless networks, sensors) as needed.
  • Required communications parameters must be defined and implemented rapidly. These include (a) reliability (crucial for life-critical communications, e.g., fire and rescue, telemedicine); and (b) security—to maintain confidentiality (especially if an active adversary is involved, but also to protect any private information that is communicated), maintain the integrity of information, and authenticate certain users to allow them priority access.
  • Crises require more than voice communications—text, all types of sensor outputs, images, full-motion video, and data files must also be communicated; all involve different technological requirements and trade-offs (e.g., latency, quality, bandwidth).
  • Crises demand integration across a wide, unpredictable scale of resources; thus, there must be flexibility about centralization versus distribution: (a) computing and communications that are available at or accessible to the crisis team include laptops and wireless at the scene, workstations and T-1 (1.5 megabits per second) data links at the command center, and fully distributed computing and communications (e.g., World Wide Web, remote supercomputers) outside the crisis zone; (b) flows of information throughout (into, out of, within) this architecture are unpredictable and may change during the crisis itself.
  • At the scene, computers and communications platforms must be mobile and untethered.
  1. Operational needs also include information resources and computation.
    • There is a need for multifaceted information—multiple modes (voice, video, images, text, sensors, geographic information system (GIS) data, relational databases, and so on).
    • It cannot be predicted in advance which multiple sources will be required. Sources (a) cannot be used if crisis managers cannot find them or do not know about them (discovery); (b) cannot be used unless they can be accessed and integrated into a crisis manager's information system (interoperability, composability, access rights—intellectual property, privacy); and (c) cannot be used if the crisis managers are flooded with information. Some kind of automated help is needed to sort information—not just filtering it, but also integrating the information to reduce the flow and detecting patterns that can help with interpretation.
    • Information systems must continually check and integrate new information coming in from the field.
    • There is a real-time demand: for example, simulation or model data (e.g., weather forecast) will not be useful if they arrive late.
  1. Crisis management in a broader context involves other needs as well.
  • Crisis management draws on other application domains, for example: (a) secure electronic commerce for locating, purchasing, and distributing relief supplies and services; (b) digital libraries as means for information discovery, integration, and presentation for crisis managers; (c) secure telemedicine and distributed medical records to facilitate the delivery of emergency care in the field; and (d) manufacturing and distributed design, which, although not applicable in real time (during a crisis), reflect common interests such as distributed modeling, simulation, shared databases, and virtual environments for collaboration.
  • Application needs for technology exist in a broader context as well: (a) solving crisis management problems is not just a computing or communications issue, given that it also involves political, managerial, social, and educational issues; (b) the political, economic, and marketplace context affects the availability of technology resources (hardware, software, information) for crisis management—thus, affordability is essential; and (c) the sociology of organizations affects how they use these technologies.
  • Complex systems must be tested in operational contexts to validate research and determine new research needs.

NOTE: See Chapter 1 for a detailed discussion of the crisis management characteristics and needs that create demands for computing and communications.

When disasters occur, the public deserves and demands a rapid response, and so the ability to anticipate events is at a premium. For example, when a hurricane approaches, relief agencies deploy mobile communications centers to places where sophisticated computer models predict the storm will strike land. Damage simulations help planners decide where to send food, medicine, shelters, blankets, and other basic necessities even before the damage has occurred. As the response to California's Northridge earthquake demonstrated, relief agencies can

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