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Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions (2006)

Chapter: 8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application

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Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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8
Knowledge Dissemination and Application

As noted in previous chapters, much has been learned about the core topics of hazards and disaster research. This accumulated body of knowledge can serve as a foundation for science-based decision making by individuals and households, policy makers in the legislative and administrative branches of government, emergency managers at the community and state levels, and various stakeholders in the private sector. Before such knowledge can be applied by potential users, however, they must know of its existence and relevance for meeting the challenges they face in coping with low-probability, high-consequence risks posed by natural, technological, or willful hazards. Knowledge utilization is also furthered when the information is demonstrably relevant to stakeholders, when it is disseminated effectively, and when stakeholders are motivated to use it. The absence of any of these conditions can contribute to the underutilization of knowledge, the so-called implementation gap. More systematic research is needed on the dissemination and application of hazards and disaster information generated by the social sciences and other disciplines. This research will provide a clearer understanding of what can be done to further the implementation process, thereby advancing sound mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery practices.

In response to the committee’s statement of task, this chapter focuses on the challenges to increasing the application of social science research results on hazards and disasters. One of the most important challenges is the lack of systematic and recent research on this topic, resulting in an undue reliance on anecdotally derived insights. The chapter briefly discusses some

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

of the research on the knowledge utilization process in this field and the relevant literature on dissemination and utilization that has been produced by social scientists outside the field. This is followed by a discussion of several examples of knowledge diffusion and utilization efforts in hazards and disaster research that are at least anecdotally known to have experienced some degree of success. For analytical purposes, a simple matrix is used to categorize these efforts according to principles derived from the extant research utilization literature. The chapter concludes with a discussion on research needed to enhance future utilization in the hazards and disaster field.

As previously noted, social science hazards and disaster research emerged with a problem-focused orientation, which continues to this day even while researchers also give considerable attention to basic research and theoretical issues. Thus, much of the research described in Chapters 3 and 4, as well as elsewhere in this report, has been undertaken to advance social science theory and to further the reduction of disaster losses and social disruption, enhance emergency response, and speed disaster recovery. More specifically, much of the research conducted on hazards and disasters is geared toward providing a more informed basis for actions by policy makers and practitioners. Thus this body of work has implications for various types of applications, including disaster education and training, hazards reduction legislation and regulations, and emergency and recovery preparedness practices. Nevertheless, it is unclear to what extent stakeholders know about and use social science knowledge relevant to such applications and, when such knowledge is applied, what difference this actually makes. Research is therefore needed.

SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH ON THE UTILIZATION OF HAZARDS AND DISASTER INFORMATION

Very little research has been conducted on the utilization of social science knowledge of hazards and disasters. For example, prior research has not systematically addressed variations in utilization by different user communities. Most prior research, largely carried out in the 1980s, was qualitative in nature, and typically employed a case-study approach. Some of this work may not be as relevant today as it once was, especially given some of the societal changes discussed in Chapter 2. Anecdotal evidence about the way findings have been utilized by the practitioner community is fairly commonplace. Examples point to researchers who work with federal agencies to ensure that the results of their studies are incorporated into policies, planning guides, and training activities. Also noteworthy are examples of researchers who work with state and local governments to help translate research into practice. These and other examples of the promotion of knowledge application are discussed at length later in this chapter.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

The most extensive study of the utilization of research on natural hazards and disasters was conducted by Robert Yin and his colleagues in the 1980s (Yin and Moore, 1985; Yin and Andranovitch, 1987). They analyzed the utilization of research in a variety of disciplines, including the social sciences and engineering. One study (Yin and Andranovitch, 1987) focused on the role of nine professional associations, including the American Planning Association (APA), the Association of American Geographers (AAG), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), in stimulating the utilization of 14 innovations related to hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, and radon. A key finding from the research was that professional associations play the role of synthesizers of information from various sources. According to the researchers, these sources are not just limited to research projects, but also include insights derived from experience that represent “craft-based” knowledge. Part of the synthesizing role of professional associations involves the development of consensus among peers about how to tackle particular problems, and this consensus may result from insights derived from a combination of both research and experience.

Another research utilization investigation carried out by Yin and his colleagues involved case studies of nine applied projects in the hazards and disaster field dealing with earth science, engineering, and social science topics (Yin and Moore, 1985). One of the social science case studies concerned a project conducted by the National Academy of Sciences during 1974 and 1975 on the potential social, economic, political, behavioral, and legal consequences of earthquake prediction. The case study concluded that the project (1) influenced federal policy and federal agency research agendas, (2) helped shape federal legislation—the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act which created NEHRP—and the implementation plan for that legislation, and (3) fostered a concern for the social and economic aspects of earthquake prediction within NEHRP.

The importance of social interaction between researchers and potential users came through strongly in these case studies in explaining the extent of research utilization. This interaction was important regardless of whether the project dealt with engineering, physical science, or social science issues (Yin and Moore, 1985:vi).

The interactions led to a continued exchange of ideas, creating what might be called a “marketplace of ideas,” in which investigators learn more about users’ conditions, and users learn more about the ongoing array of research. In some cases, the exchange of ideas was facilitated by the activities sponsored by professional associations. In other cases, the exchange was the result of an active and communicative principal investigator. Overall, communications started earlier than and continued far beyond the ending of a specific project. Furthermore, the project design and conduct could be influenced by information from users, making the research more relevant to users’ needs.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

The above observations are consistent with comments made by practitioners at the committee’s two workshops and with findings from studies outside the hazards and disaster field.

In addition to the case studies by Yin and his colleagues, several other social science research projects have examined research utilization. A study by Lambright (1984) considered the policy role played by the Southern California Earthquake Preparedness Project (SCEPP), a regional organization that emerged with government support to play a leadership role in earthquake preparedness in California. Lambright analyzed SCEPP’s origins and development, and drew conclusions about the program’s success in stimulating preparedness measures, including those that were science based, for a predicted or unpredicted earthquake. He concluded that SCEPP’s mission was an extension of state and federal policy and that the organization, which no longer exists, had been successful in furthering research utilization. The reason for that success was straightforward. SCEPP was provided with necessary resources, had allies that championed its cause, and met with little external resistance.

Another example of studies carried out to better understand research utilization was part of the Second Assessment of Research on Natural Hazards. This involved a survey of 50 researchers and 28 practitioners (Mileti, 1999b; Fothergill, 2000). Researchers were asked how they disseminated their own work, the effectiveness of the different dissemination mechanisms they employed, and if their research was used. Practitioners were asked if they used research findings and, if so, how this came about. Findings from the survey indicated that:

  • Local governments most frequently receive information from information dissemination organizations, through personal relationships, and at conferences and meetings. None reported using mainstream or specialty academic journals. Local practitioners noted that findings simply do not get disseminated to them and that they do not know where to go to obtain information. They believe that the federal-to-community dissemination process is flawed and that current federal dissemination practices favor large communities.

  • State and federal practitioners reported using e-mail and Internet sources to obtain information. They also favored meetings and conferences as the most effective way of acquiring new research information.

  • Practitioners and researchers described each other as having distinct cultures that preclude effective communication because of language barriers.

  • Institutional barriers prevent the dissemination of knowledge from researchers to practitioners because academia does not reward

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

research faculty for such efforts. In fact, such service can be an impediment to obtaining academic tenure.

  • There is a lack of formal means for bringing researchers and practitioners together. Not many practitioners have the opportunity and resources to attend conferences, even those who have research dissemination as a goal. There is a need to have better formal networks among the two groups that can act as translators of knowledge.

  • There is a lack of meaningful interaction between researchers and practitioners to define research agendas and to interact during the research design and implementation phases. The concepts of community-based action research, or participatory action research (Huizer, 1997), and researcher-practitioner coalitions (Buika and Comfort, 2004) are two methods that potentially can make interactions more meaningful.

The general point is worth repeating: Little systematic research on information dissemination and implementation has been conducted in the hazards and disaster field. But the examples cited above indicate clearly that research utilization does take place under certain conditions, particularly when researchers and potential users interact in meaningful ways. The research also shows that a proactive response is needed by both researchers and potential users to further science-based decision making. Fortunately, additional insights can be acquired from research conducted outside the hazards and disaster field.

GENERAL INSIGHTS ON KNOWLEDGE DISSEMINATION AND APPLICATION

Considerable research has been conducted in the social and management sciences generally on what has been variously described as research dissemination, knowledge utilization, research utilization, knowledge transfer, adoption of innovation, and technology transfer. A variety of such phrases have been used to characterize similar processes and the literature is filled with differing definitions and uses of them. At times the above phrases are carefully defined to characterize a narrow process, and at other times they are used interchangeably. The literature on dissemination and knowledge utilization spans a number of disciplines, including the fields of rehabilitation, education, sociology, psychology, and marketing. The committee concludes that the substance of this research is directly applicable to the transfer of social science knowledge on hazards and disasters. Some researchers have distinguished between a “push” process wherein providers of knowledge actively seek utilization versus a “pull” process wherein users

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

actively seek knowledge from the research community. Other dissemination research has identified four functional types of dissemination:

  1. Spread, which is defined as “the one-way diffusion or distribution of information;”

  2. Choice, a process that “actively helps users seek and acquire alternative sources of information and learn about their options;”

  3. Exchange, which “involves interactions between people and the multidirectional flow of information;” and

  4. Implementation, which “includes technical assistance, training, or interpersonal activities designed to increase the use of knowledge or R&D or to change attitudes or behavior of organizations or individuals” (Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 1996:5).

Much of the academic literature on knowledge dissemination concludes that lack of utilization results from fundamental differences in the world views of researchers and practitioners. Beyer and Trice (1982) concluded that “the most persistent observation … is that researchers and users belong to separate communities with very different values and ideologies and that these differences impede utilization.” Similarly, Shrivastava and Mitroff (1984) suggested that academics and practitioners have fundamentally different frames of reference with respect to such things as the types of information believed to constitute valid bases for action, the ways in which information is ordered and arranged to make sense, the past experiences used to evaluate the validity of knowledge claims, and the metaphors used to symbolically construct the world in meaningful ways.

Practitioners attending the committee’s workshops expressed similar perspectives on the dissemination problem, attributing the lack of use of research knowledge to factors such as the following:

  • Information is not easy to digest and understand.

  • Information is not relevant, or it takes too much time to sort the relevant from the irrelevant.

  • The knowledge is targeted to the wrong end-user or consumer.

  • Information is not concise, bulleted, and to the point.

In the hazards and disaster field, another major issue involves the saliency of emergency preparedness and disaster response to state and local political officials. Some years ago a national study found that disaster management is very low on the agenda of city officials (Rossi et al., 1982). Although natural, technological, and willful hazards are more prominent in the current political climate, the topic must still compete for attention in the face of a host of everyday concerns and scare resources.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

While no all-encompassing theory or explanation of knowledge utilization has been described and tested, the broader literature includes many insights that can help strengthen the dissemination and application of hazards and disaster findings. Within the varied perspectives about knowledge dissemination and utilization, some combinations of the following four elements are considered in the literature:

  • the dissemination source—that is, the agency, organization, or individual responsible for creating the new knowledge or product, and/or for conducting dissemination activities;

  • the content or message that is disseminated—that is, the new knowledge or product itself, as well as any supporting information or materials;

  • the dissemination medium—that is, the ways in which the knowledge or product is described, “packaged,” and transmitted; and

  • the user, or intended user, of the information or product to be disseminated (Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 1996:12).

On a more practical note, the broader research literature enables some generalizations about the circumstances underlying successful knowledge utilization. Six general principles or strategies have emerged from prior research that accounts for successful knowledge utilization (Backer et al., 1995).

  1. Interpersonal contact. For knowledge to be used in new settings there has to be direct, personal contact between those who will be using the knowledge and its developers or others with relevant scientific information. This principle was strongly confirmed by practitioners who participated in the committee’s workshops. They reported frequently turning to local colleges and universities for technical support or to trusted consultants.

  2. Planning and conceptual foresight. A well-developed strategic plan for how knowledge will be adopted in a new setting—including attention to implementation problems and how they will be addressed—is essential to meeting the challenges of adoption and sustained change. This approach has been institutionalized at the National Science Foundation (NSF) where proposals on disaster research and other topics must address how the work will provide societal benefits to potential user communities.

  3. Outside consultation on the change process. Consultation can provide conceptual and practical assistance in designing the adoption or change effort efficiently and can offer useful objectivity about

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

the likelihood of success, costs, possible side effects, and so forth. The city and county participants in the committee’s workshops reinforced this notion of outside consultant involvement to affect change; they commonly used expert consultants to bring the knowledge generated by researchers to bear on their issues.

  1. User-oriented transformation of information. What is known about scientific information needs to be translated into language that potential users can readily understand, abbreviated so that attention spans are not exceeded, and made to concentrate on the key issues: Does it work? How can it be replicated? A key conclusion that emerged from the committee’s workshops was the need to translate academic findings into understandable language and into products with practical application.

  2. Individual and organizational championship. Chances for successful adoption of knowledge are much greater if influential potential adopters (opinion leaders) and organizational or community leaders express enthusiasm for its adoption. Again, participants at the committee’s workshops affirmed the need for political support to implement new programs.

  3. Potential user involvement. Stakeholders who will have to live with the results of the adoption process need to be involved in planning for adoption, both to obtain suggestions for how to undertake the adoption effectively and to facilitate ownership of the new program or activity, thus decreasing resistance to change.

VIGNETTES FROM THE KNOWLEDGE DELIVERY SYSTEM

While much remains to be learned about research utilization in the social science hazards and disaster field, efforts to stimulate utilization have been carried out for many years by a variety of entities—especially in academia, government, and the nonprofit sector. The knowledge that they disseminate to spur science-based decision making and implementation cuts across all of the core topics of hazards and disaster research depicted in Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2. A subset of such efforts, both past and present, is described in this section. These activities or programs were selected by the committee mainly because they involve rather significant attempts to further the dissemination and application of knowledge developed by social scientists. Sometimes this is the principal type of knowledge disseminated by an entity, while in other instances, knowledge from other relevant disciplines is also promoted to further disaster reduction.

Information on these activities came from various sources. The committee had first-hand knowledge of many of them. This experience was supplemented by information provided directly by some of the entities and

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

by their public documents, including those on Web sites. Without systematic assessment data on the efforts and initiatives discussed here, it is not possible to be very precise about how successful many of them have been, which again reflects the great need for more research on knowledge utilization. In trying to understand how successful many of these programs and activities have been, the committee has had to rely principally on anecdotal or experiential insights and reputation, rather than on research-based evidence. In the future, it would be worthwhile not only to know the relative degree of success that such programs and activities have achieved over time, but also to determine such things as what core hazards and disaster research topics are the most challenging in terms of meeting research utilization goals, and the impact of new technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) and the Internet on effectiveness. It would also be useful to make comparisons across hazard types to determine the degree to which research dissemination and application efforts need to be tailored to particular natural, technological, and willful threats.

The matrix in Table 8.1 is used to organize the committee’s discussion of a set of 18 efforts and programs chosen because of their commitment to furthering the dissemination and application of social science knowledge on hazards and disasters. This list is not intended to be exhaustive; rather, it is a capsule of the larger knowledge delivery system in the hazards and disaster field. However, enough of these types of activities and programs have been selected to demonstrate the variability in the strategies employed to further research application.

The matrix combines the four approaches to knowledge dissemination and the six factors for success previously identified in the review of the broader research literature on knowledge utilization. Each of the 18 activities is placed in the cell that best characterizes it. Some of the cells remain blank, but certainly, examples of activities might exist for every cell. And some of the 18 selected activities included here can apply to more than one cell. In such cases, placement was decided on the basis of the major characteristics of the programs or activities. For example, while Thomas Drabek’s efforts are placed in only one cell, they actually spill over into several cells in the matrix.

This discussion is intended to illustrate the range of activities and programs that comprise the hazards and disasters research utilization infrastructure and to demonstrate the principles of information dissemination and application derived from the broader research literature. It also sets the stage for the discussion on needed research at the end of this chapter.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

TABLE 8.1 Examples of Knowledge Diffusion Efforts

Characteristics for Success

Approaches to Knowledge Dissemination

Spread

Choice

Exchange

Implementation

Interpersonal contact

Drabek’s dissemination efforts

State Attorney General’s Office

Boulder, CO Floodplain Management

 

Planning and conceptual foresight

Red Cross information brochures

Texas A&M Hurricane Planning

FEMA’s Higher Education Program

NEHRP

Outside consultation on the change process

FEMA’s planning and mitigation guides

University of South Carolina Hazards Research Lab

 

Indian Point Expert Task Force

User-oriented transformation of information

University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center

 

Latin America Vulnerability Project

NWS’s Warning Programs

Individual and organizational championship

 

 

Tulsa, Oklahoma Floodplain Management

 

Potential user involvement

FEMA’s EMI

FEMA’s CSEPP Training

Association of Bay Area Governments

Association of State Floodplain Managers

NOTE: CSEPP = Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program; EMI = Emergency Management Institute; FEMA = Federal Emergency Management Agency; NWS = National Weather Service.

INTERPERSONAL CONTACT

Spread: Thomas Drabek’s Dissemination Efforts

Thomas E. Drabek (John Evans Professor Emeritus, University of Denver) has conducted disaster research studies during the past four decades. Committed to the premise that research findings and conclusions should do more than gather dust in academic libraries, Drabek has employed a variety

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

of dissemination strategies that have brought his work to thousands of emergency management professionals. Many of his previous projects were guided by active advisory committees who performed six key functions: (1) facilitation of field work, (2) assistance with field site selection, (3) review of data collection instruments, (4) review of working papers, (5) review of drafts of project books, and (6) assistance with dissemination of project results by arranging for conference and workshop presentations, newsletter and journal publication suggestions, and informal contacts with key government agency officials. The expertise of committee members reflected both academic and practitioner experiences, and all members had high name recognition within their respective reference groups. Often, they began to use and distribute preliminary findings before project completion.

Like the relationships with his advisory committee members, Professor Drabek has developed bonds of trust with numerous practitioners. Reflecting his stated respect for those who do “the real work of emergency management,” he has maintained membership in the core organizations of both his discipline and the emergency management profession. He has spanned successfully boundaries that few others were willing to traverse. Upon the completion of each previous research project, he wrote a summary book that was distributed by the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center (NHRAIC). With the assistance of the center’s staff, he was able to state his findings and conclusions in a crisp and clear style that communicated well to both practitioners and academics. All of his books were distributed with purchase prices that reflected only NHRAIC production and printing costs. This facilitated their widespread circulation and frequent use in educational workshops.

While Drabek frequently presented his research conclusions at both professional sociological and social science association meetings, he also made presentations at national, regional and state emergency management conferences. Additionally, he accepted lecture invitations extended by emergency managers in Italy, Thailand, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Mexico. Many of these reflected his comprehensive inventory of the sociological literature, i.e., Human System Responses to Disaster (Drabek, 1986). While the specific content of his presentations varied so as to reflect his work at particular points in time, Drabek consistently carried a singular message: Emergency management can be practiced best if it reflects actions rooted in scientific knowledge rather than myth. This theme was brought into hundreds of classrooms where students have reviewed the conclusions summarized in Emergency Management: Principles and Practice for Local Government (1991). Drabek coedited this volume with Hoetmer, which was published by the International City Management Association in its distinguished Green Book series.

During the 1990s, Drabek conducted three major studies that docu-

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

mented a catastrophic vulnerability in the tourism industry. His projects underscored the wide gaps between the expectations of business managers and their customers regarding disaster preparedness, behavioral responses, and approaches to mitigation. Employees caught between the directives of their bosses and fears and desires of family members during numerous large-scale evacuations revealed portraits that required action. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff agreed and asked Drabek to tackle the problem. He recruited Chuck Gee, a former classmate from the University of Denver who had long held the post of dean at the School of Travel Industry Management (STIM), University of Hawaii at Manoa. Together, with the assistance of Ruth Drabek and two STIM staff, George Ikeda and Russell Uyeno, they prepared a guide for university faculty in departments of tourism, hospitality, and travel management. This resource, like the other FEMA-sponsored Instructor Guides, was made available free of charge through the Internet. It facilitated the rapid dissemination of research findings. As in the past, Drabek also published study results in academic journals, practitioner publications, and other outlets that are received routinely by both emergency managers and tourism executives and faculty.

Most recently Drabek has produced a revised edition of the Social Dimensions of Disaster (Drabek, 2004). This volume summarizes key findings and conclusions from sociological studies completed during the past 10 years. Like his many other efforts, this has brought the work of disaster sociologists to large audiences who might otherwise have never learned of them.

Choice: Warning Research Utilization by the New York State Attorney General

Interactions between researchers and policy makers can facilitate disaster management. While such interactions are common, they are rarely documented. Social science researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted studies of emergency warnings for hazardous materials incidents (Rogers and Sorensen, 1988). This work simulated the speed at which warnings could be disseminated to a population at risk. Researchers worked with the state attorney general’s office in connection with legislation on chemical hazard mitigation requirements for fixed facilities. Contact between the two groups was made at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Hazardous Material Spills Conference. The research presented at that conference showed that it would be extremely difficult to warn residents on the borders of facilities storing hazardous chemicals in a timely manner after an accidental release (Sorensen et al., 1988). The state attorney general’s office used the research to justify the need for legislation

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

that required facilities to systematically identify potential accidents and develop the means to prevent the accidents or mitigate their effects (Skinner et al., 1991).

Exchange: Floodplain Management in Boulder

Some communities can benefit from access to national experts who reside locally. The City of Boulder, Colorado has a major potential for serious flash flooding. It is also the location of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, founded by Gilbert White, one of the nation’s leading floodplain experts in the post-World War II era. Boulder has a flood problem similar to the Big Thompson Canyon below Estes Park, Colorado. White and one of his former students, Eve Gruntfest, have worked over the years with city officials to develop a comprehensive floodplain management plan for Boulder Creek and its tributaries. Many hours of professional community service were provided in meetings with various city and county officials. As part of the effort, a comprehensive survey was conducted for two populations living in the Boulder Creek 100-year floodplain. Population A included year-round, non-student residents, and population B included residents of the University of Colorado Student Family Housing. Residents were surveyed about their knowledge of the 100-year floodplain, flood risk awareness, preferred warning methods, perceived response, impacts of false alarms, and flood and weather information (Gruntfest et al., 2002). This survey provided an important database for city officials.

PLANNING AND CONCEPTUAL FORESIGHT

Spread: Red Cross Disaster Education

The Red Cross has been a major user of social science disaster research. The agency has reflected research in a series of public information brochures on disaster preparedness that are made available to the public through the Web and local Red Cross chapters. Brochures are available in English and 14 other languages. These brochures make recommendations on such topics as how to develop a family disaster plan, which is based on research findings from studies of evacuation behavior during disasters conducted by Perry and colleagues (1980). This application is significant because families with written emergency plans are more likely to engage in protective behaviors when confronted by a disaster. Other brochures developed on the basis of social science research include such topics as planning for special population groups such as the disabled, elderly, or children, and assembling an emergency supply kit.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

Choice: Hurricane Planning and Research in Texas

Several states actively engage social scientists while developing emergency planning strategies. The State of Texas has been developing hurricane evacuation plans based on social science research carried out by the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC), which was established at Texas A&M University in 1988. HRRC researchers focus on hazards analysis, emergency preparedness and response, disaster recovery, and hazards mitigation. Researchers study the full range of natural and technological hazards and disasters, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and chemical plant and transportation accidents. Two core missions of the center relate directly to knowledge transfer:

  1. To disseminate findings to the research community and to practitioners so they can use this knowledge to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

  2. To provide assistance and consultation to those state, national, and international agencies charged with responsibility for hazard analysis, emergency preparedness and response, disaster recovery, and hazard mitigation.

HRRC’s hurricane-related research has focused, first, on behavioral responses to hurricanes that have impacted Texas and, second, on coastal residents’ perceptions of disaster risk. One goal of this research is to examine the correlation between what people think they would do during a hurricane evacuation and what they actually do. This research has been used in predicting evacuation times and developing evacuation plans for coastal counties (see http://hrrc.tamu.edu/).

Exchange: FEMA’s Higher Education Program

FEMA has developed long-term programs to help professionalize emergency management. One of the goals of its Higher Education Program is to encourage and support the dissemination of information on hazards, disasters, and emergency management in colleges and universities across the United States. This goal is based on the anticipation that in the future more and more emergency managers in government as well as in business and industry will need to come to the job with a college degree in emergency management. Through the Higher Education Program, FEMA works closely with the research community to develop standardized curricula on hazards and disasters. At least four of the courses developed by the higher education program are social science related:

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×
  1. Social Dimensions of Disaster

  2. Sociology of Disaster

  3. Social Vulnerability Approach to Disasters

  4. Public Administration and Emergency Management

Three of these courses were developed by Thomas Drabek, who as noted above, has been actively engaged with professionals and practitioners in the emergency management field, including those at the local, state, and national levels. Much of Drabek’s research, including his work on emergency planning related to tourism, has been NEHRP supported. Drabek’s strategic information sharing activities have been supported by both NSF, such as his project advisory committees, and FEMA, including his work involving the development of courses for its Higher Education Program. In developing course material for this program, Drabek has relied not only upon his own disaster research results but also on those produced by a host of other NEHRP-funded researchers in the social sciences. This encyclopedic combining of research and training activities by social scientists has resulted in a more informed emergency management community, especially in the case of those emergency managers who graduate from university and college programs that offer courses based on the material prepared in collaboration with FEMA’s Higher Education Program.

An activity called the Practitioner’s Corner was launched as part of the Higher Education Program to create another way for emergency management practitioners to communicate their thoughts and ideas concerning college-level hazard, disaster, and emergency management courses and programs to the educators responsible for them (see http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/edu/practitioner.asp). Volunteers are solicited for papers on such subjects as competencies, knowledge, skills, and abilities that emergency management educators should develop or bring out in their students and philosophical perspectives on the different ways to look at or approach the emergency management position, for example,

  • the most appropriate organizational placement of emergency management responsibilities at the local government level;

  • lessons learned in disasters;

  • lessons learned in bureaucratic politics;

  • success stories, obstacles overcome, and challenges met; and

  • emergency management public policy issues.

Implementation: National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program

NEHRP pursues the objective of transferring knowledge, including that derived through the social sciences, on a sustained basis to reduce

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

risks to life and property from earthquakes. The four agencies in the program—National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is currently the lead agency, FEMA, the U.S. Geological Suryve (USGS), and NSF—are expected to work collaboratively with each other as well as with other stakeholders to achieve this objective. Underpinning earthquake risk-reduction efforts through NEHRP is the provision of technical assistance and research that develops new knowledge about (1) earthquake hazards; (2) the response of the natural, built, and social environments to those hazards; and (3) techniques to mitigate the hazards. A major challenge facing NEHRP is furthering the use by local, state, and private stakeholders of the science-based knowledge it generates. As discussed in other chapters of this report, NEHRP has fostered social science research on disasters and has championed the application of knowledge generated by this research.

OUTSIDE CONSULTATION ON THE CHANGE PROCESS

Spread: FEMA Planning Guides

Federal agencies have incorporated social science knowledge, albeit not always systematically, into guidance documents for local emergency management agencies and, in doing so, have engaged social scientists to help prepare these guides. FEMA produces some planning guides that are knowledge based and rooted in social science research, such as its planning guidance for the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP). For example, the guide’s recommendation for planning community shelter capacities were based on social science research on shelter use in emergencies (Mileti et al., 1992). FEMA’s mitigation planning guide series also contains good examples of research-based guidance.

Choice: Hazards Research Lab

The Hazards Research Lab (HRL) at the University of South Carolina (USC) was established in 1995. The HRL specializes in the application of geographic information science to environmental hazards analysis and management. In addition to its basic research and training mission, the HRL facilitates federal, state, and local efforts to improve emergency preparedness, planning, and response through its outreach activities. For example, the HRL maintains the most comprehensive database in the nation on hazard events and losses in the United States (http://sheldus.org). In partnership with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the HRL provided the methodology and baseline information for conducting hazard vulnerability assessments under the Disaster Mitigation Act (DMA

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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2000) through its South Carolina Hazards Mapping Interface (a Web-based interactive product). The HRL also conducts post-disaster studies (e.g., on Hurricane Floyd and the Graniteville, South Carolina, train derailment and chlorine release) and these findings are given to the state and local emergency responders to help improve disaster preparedness. The partnership between the academic and practitioner communities is realized in all the activities of the HRL. As noted by John Knight, director of risk assessment for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (University of South Carolina Research, 2005):

It’s been helpful to have a reliable source like USC for so much of the information we use,” Knight said. “The natural hazards mapping and analysis has been a very useful tool for us at the state level, and we continue to work very closely with Susan Cutter (HRL director) and her colleagues.

Implementation: Indian Point Expert Task Force

Social scientists have worked with the private sector to improve their implementation of regulatory requirements. In the fall of 2002, the governor of New York hired the consulting firm James Lee Witt Associates to review the status of emergency planning at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, located in Westchester County. The draft Witt report was very critical of the status of planning at the plant and surrounding communities. As a result, Entergy, the company that operates both of the reactors at the site, formed an advisory group called the Indian Point Expert Task Force to advise on which of the Witt report’s criticisms were valid and what to do to improve emergency systems and plans. The nine-member team consisted of nuclear engineers, health specialists, planners, and social scientists. The goal of Entergy was to develop the best emergency plans and response in the nuclear industry. The task force reviewed the Witt report and dismissed some of its findings as scientifically invalid, endorsing others. The task force also had access to plant and community personnel, and it observed and evaluated exercises and drills. One of the drills evaluated was the functioning of the joint news center located at Westchester County airport. The social science evaluators noted that the effectiveness of the operation was hampered by the physical layout of the building, which interfered with social interactions, and also by the reliance on out-of-date communications protocols and equipment. Based on the unanimous recommendations of task force observers, Entergy committed to opening a new joint news facility that would be co-located with the county 911 center and to develop a new concept of operations that would improve interactions and communications. Other functional areas that have been influenced by social scientists at Indian Point include revisions of strategies for providing public informa-

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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tion, implementing emergency communications, and issuing warning messages.

USER-ORIENTED TRANSFORMATION OF INFORMATION

Spread: Natural Hazards Center

The Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center (NHRAIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder was founded in 1976 by Gilbert White and J. Eugene Haas as a direct outgrowth of the First Assessment of Research on Natural Hazards. NHRAIC is funded by grants from NSF and annual contributions from other agencies, including FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USGS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Forest Service, National Weather Service, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NHRAIC is affiliated with the University of Colorado’s Institute of Behavioral Science and the Institute’s Environment and Behavior Program. NHRAIC’s mission is to disseminate information on the societal dimensions of hazards and disasters and to foster linkages between the research community and public and private sector users of research. The center also sponsors quick-response research following disasters, conducts research projects, and engages in activities aimed at enhancing the hazards research workforce.

As part of its information dissemination program, NHRAIC maintains a library totaling approximately 28,000 items, which is available to students, visiting scholars, and practitioners. Hazlit, the library database, can be searched on the Web, and the library staff is also available to conduct customized searches. NHRAIC’s newsletter, the Natural Hazards Observer, is published six times a year and distributed to approximately 15,000 readers in the United States and abroad. Typically 28 pages in length, the Observer features invited comments from disaster experts and practitioners, as well as timely information on meetings, conferences, web resources, pending legislation, research and government reports, and grant awards. A shorter publication, the Natural Hazards Informer, contains research-based guidance geared specifically to practitioners. NHRAIC maintains two listservs: Disaster Research, which provides a forum for research-related queries and discussions, and Disaster Grads, which is tailored to the needs of graduate students and young professionals.

NHRAIC also organizes and conducts an invitational workshop on hazards, disasters, and, more recently, homeland security, which has been held annually in July since 1976. The goal of the workshop is to bring

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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together researchers, public and private sector practitioners, agency officials, and students for discussions of research, educational, and policy issues. The workshop program is designed to be less formal than a professional conference and is intentionally organized to span research-practitioner boundaries and to encourage networking and information sharing. Over the years, workshop attendance has grown to well over 300 participants.

NHRAIC approves small grant proposals for quick-response research on an annual basis. This pre-approval process enables researchers to go into the field rapidly if a disaster event occurs that falls within the parameters of their proposals. Grantees are required to prepare reports based on their quick-response studies, which are then disseminated by the center. NHRAIC also publishes monographs and special reports based on social science research on hazards and disasters, including many NEHRP-sponsored studies. Its most recent special report Beyond September 11 (NHRAIC, 2003) consists of a compilation of quick-response studies that were carried out following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Faculty affiliated with the center also carry out their own research projects, funded by agencies such as NSF and FEMA, which provide training and educational opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

The NHRAIC Website, http://www.colorado.edu/hazards, is among the most visited sites in the hazards and disasters field. Users of the site can search the Hazlit database, find links to other information sources, and gain access to online versions of the Observer, quick-response reports, and other center publications, as well as programs and session summaries from past workshops, a directory of academic centers and government programs focusing on hazards and disasters, and other relevant information. Popkins and Rubin (2000) assessed user views of the Natural Hazards Center and concluded that it has been a vital information resource to both academic researchers and practitioners in the emergency management field, making information easily accessible to them.

Exchange: Latin America Vulnerability Project

Some social science researchers have actively pursued participatory action research to help reduce disaster vulnerability. One such project produced Working with Women at Risk—Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk (Enarson et al., 2003). This project is an example of social science researchers working together internationally to develop new ways of studying community vulnerability and improving local capabilities for response to hazards and disasters in rural areas. The approach builds on local women’s knowledge and understanding of risk and vulnerability developed from their social roles, economic activities, and family and community networks. The research led to a step-by step guide developed by the

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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researchers based on an integrated gender-based model. The guide suggests methods to (1) identify women’s groups who might take on a vulnerability project, (2) train the women to be community researchers, (3) develop strategies for collecting information about hazards, and (4) utilize resulting knowledge to reduce risk through sharing of the work with community members, officials, and the media. The guide takes into consideration both the social and the behavioral context of the lives of those at risk. It was developed over a two-year period during which the research team worked with villages in rural El Salvador, St. Lucia, Dominica, and the Dominican Republic.

Implementation: National Weather Service (NWS) Warning Programs

As other examples have shown, federal agencies sometimes actively engage social science researchers when developing disaster reduction programs. An early example of the direct utilization of social science input by the National Weather Service (NWS) involved its Southern Region Headquarters initiating an emphasis on calls to action (CTAs) as part of its warning process in the early 1970s (Troutman et al., 2001). Benjamin McLuckie of the Disaster Research Center was asked to study how to improve the effectiveness of written warnings. McLuckie (1974) developed a workbook and self-study course titled “Warning—A Call to Action,” which became an important tool for forecasters to improve the effectiveness of their warnings. The goal of this effort was to convey specific information as concisely as possible. Individual weather offices were therefore encouraged to develop a set of CTA statements that were specific to their local regimes.

The NWS has continued to utilize social science research on warnings in designing and implementing warning systems. In the early 1990s the NWS adopted a systems approach to issuing warnings based on the work of social scientists which involved addressing four aspects of the problem: (1) detection and forecasting; (2) developing the warning message; (3) disseminating the warning; (4) and getting people to respond. This approach is disseminated to communities through the NWS Storm Ready Program. To become “storm ready,” a community or county must

  • establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center,

  • have more than one way to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts and to alert the public,

  • create a system that monitors weather conditions locally,

  • promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars, and

  • develop a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe-weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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A frequently cited example of the success of this program comes from the experience of Van Wert County, Ohio, which experienced an outbreak of tornadoes in 2002. As part of the program, the county placed a series of warning alert systems in public locations, including retail stores and movie theaters. During the outbreak, the Van Wert County emergency operations center received a NWS Tornado Warning via a NOAA Weather Radio receiver. The Van Wert County emergency manager immediately activated the City of Van Wert’s siren warning system and broadcasted the NWS tornado warning and action statement live. Quick action by the manager of Van Wert Cinemas and his staff got more than 50 adults and children out of theaters in the multiplex and into safer conditions in a hallway and restrooms. Minutes later, a tornado tore off the building’s roof and tossed cars into the screen and front seats where minutes earlier children and their parents had been watching a popular holiday movie.

INDIVIDUAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Exchange: Tulsa, Oklahoma, Floodplain Management

Persistent efforts by individuals can result in the adoption of programs that involve the application of hazards and disaster research knowledge. Through the leadership of resident and mitigation champion Ann Patton, Tulsa, Oklahoma, developed one of the premier floodplain management programs in the country. Tulsa’s frequent flooding led to recurring losses and hardship. The ultimate response of Tulsa’s local authorities was to create a flood mitigation regulatory climate that encouraged private participation. Ann Patton worked to convince people to understand that “everyone contributes to flooding in Tulsa, so everyone should pay something to prevent it.” To do so, she brought in two eminent social scientists to convince the city’s leadership to use nonstructural measures to reduce flood losses (Meo et al., 2004). The two were planner Ian McHarg and floodplain expert Gilbert White. Based on their encouragement and leadership, Tulsa developed a floodplain management strategy that would win recognition as one of the leading hazard reduction efforts in the country. One of the innovative features of the program is that Tulsa charged a $4 per month drainage fee, collected with water bills, to support land management and maintenance of the stormwater drainage system for land acquired by the city. Once the city owns the land, it is used for a wide range of flood-compatible activities and thus taken off the market for potential development.

Public participation was a major component in Tulsa’s planning efforts. Citizen advocates, including Ann Patton, played a critical role in pressing for tough flood mitigation actions. For example, flood channel and river

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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bank cleanups became commonplace. Properties highly vulnerable to flooding were bought out or donated in an effort to eliminate structures in flood hazard zones. Experts in policy, planning, and mitigation stepped forward and volunteered in the flood mitigation effort. Open space adjacent to rivers and streams was preserved for public parks, recreation sites, and gardens. Detention basins, which are now local amenities and instruments of flood management, were built and old ones cleaned up. Frequent flooding of the Arkansas River prompted Tulsa officials to develop a system of river parks to minimize the effects of recurring floods. The area now boasts 50 miles of scenic trails along the banks of the Arkansas River. Today floods pose fewer dangers to citizens of the City of Tulsa because of these mitigation activities (NRC, 2004a).

Spread: FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute

Through its courses and programs, FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) serves as the national focal point for the development and delivery of emergency management training to enhance the capabilities of federal, state, local, and tribal government officials, volunteer organizations, and private sector organizations. EMI’s curricula are structured to meet the needs of this diverse audience with an emphasis on how the various stakeholders can work together to save lives and protect property. Instruction focuses on four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. EMI develops courses and administers resident and nonresident training programs on coping with natural hazards, technological hazards, and terrorist threats. EMI has regularly engaged social science hazards and disaster researchers to help develop curricula and serve on its advisory board. The library at EMI, with more than 100,000 publications, represents one of the major repositories of disaster research documents. The Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware and the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado are the other two major repositories of social science hazards and disaster research publications in the country. Approximately 5,500 participants attend resident EMI courses each year, while 100,000 individuals participate in nonresident programs sponsored by EMI and conducted by state emergency management agencies under cooperative agreements with FEMA. Another 150,000 individuals participate in EMI-supported exercises, and approximately 1,000 individuals participate in the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP). Additionally, hundreds of thousands of individuals use EMI distance learning programs, such as the Independent Study Program.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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USER INVOLVEMENT

Choice: FEMA’s CSEPP Training

FEMA’s CSEEP develops training for planners and first responders at sites that store dangerous chemical weapons. When a state in the program identifies a training need, FEMA assembles a training development team consisting of a user from local government, a state emergency management representative, a FEMA representative, subject matter experts, a social science disaster research expert, and a production expert. This team works together over the course of training development. The role of the social scientist is to ensure that the training material applies relevant social science knowledge on hazards and disasters and that this is done accurately. The final product is expected to meet user’s needs. CSEPP training products, because of the social science involvement, reflect current knowledge derived from social science research. For example, much of the information presented in a CSEPP training course on “Public Information and Education” was develop from social science research on disaster education and warning. Likewise, a training course on “Command and Control” reflects the extensive research on organizational behavior in disasters carried out by the Disaster Research Center.

Exchange: Association of Bay Area Governments

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) serves the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay area through a variety of preparedness and mitigation projects focusing on earthquakes and a host of other environmental risks. Its Earthquake Program is a major activity at ABAG. For many years the program has been managed by planner Jeanne Perkins. With funding from and collaboration with such NEHRP agencies as NSF, USGS, and FEMA, Perkins has over the years carried out many research and related projects on such subjects as the legal aspects of earthquake management and housing vulnerability, in the process building a science-based approach for helping stakeholders reduce disaster risks in the region. An aggressive strategy has been used to communicate the results of these efforts to potential local users in the public and private sectors based on an understanding of what motivates them to take the needed action. The strategy has included the dissemination of important hazard-related information to potential users through such means as workshops and conferences, the organization’s Web site, and various publications.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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Implementation: Association of State Floodplain Managers

The Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), a member organization representing flood hazards specialists in government, academe, and the private sector, is heavily engaged in the transfer of knowledge to potential users and has the reputation of doing it successfully. The floodplain management and policy issues that come under its purview include flood mitigation, preparedness, warning, and recovery, with particular attention given to the National Flood Insurance Program administered by FEMA (www.floods.org). One of the organization’s most significant contributions has been the development of the No Adverse Impact campaign, designed to promote an approach to community development in which the actions of one property owner or of the community do not adversely affect the flood risk of another property owner or community. Instead of structural approaches to floodplain development, the No Adverse Impact campaign attempts to promote what ASFPM considers to be more sustainable strategies involving such nonstructural measures as land-use planning long advocated by such social scientists as Gilbert White (Larson and Plascencia, 2001).

NONADOPTION OF SOCIAL SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE

The activities and programs discussed in the previous section exemplify a commitment to using social science knowledge to improve decisions and actions related to disaster management. However, as discussed earlier, many barriers must be overcome before relevant knowledge from the social sciences as well as other disciplines becomes an important factor in what individuals and organizations do about the risks they face or are responsible for managing in cooperation with others, including the public. It is not surprising then when some responsible organizations are late or nonadopters of extant social science knowledge relevant to disaster management. Two such examples are briefly discussed below as a contrast to the more successful examples noted earlier. It is unclear why progress has not been made in these two cases, which again point to the need for more studies of research utilization. If the principles of research utilization are to be fully elaborated, research on negative cases is just as important as research on the more successful ones.

Homeland Security Threat Advisory System

The Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) was designed to provide a comprehensive means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to federal, state, and local authorities and to the American

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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people. This system provides warnings in the form of a set of graduated “threat conditions” that increase as the risk of the threat advances. At each threat condition, the intention is for federal departments and agencies to implement a set of protective measures to reduce the nation’s vulnerability during the heightened alert. Although the HSAS is binding on the executive branch, it is voluntary to other levels of government and the private sector. There are five threat conditions, each identified by a description and corresponding color (see Figure 8.1).

The higher the threat condition, the greater is the assumed risk of a terrorist attack. Risk includes both the probability of an attack occurring and its potential gravity. Threat conditions are assigned by the attorney general in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security. Threat conditions may be assigned for the entire nation, or they may be set for a particular geographic area or industrial sector. Assigned threat conditions are reviewed at regular intervals to determine whether adjustments are warranted.

The usefulness of the scale has been criticized by many media personalities and journalists. Even government investigators have indirectly criticized the design and implementation of the scale. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) (2004) notes that the development of the scale largely fails to reflect the expertise derived from risk communications and disaster warning research. While most disaster researchers would agree that the scale is not a warning system, much of what has been learned by disaster researchers on effective risk communication practices is largely ignored in the development of the system (NRC, 2002a). As Aquirre (2004:13) has observed:

Summarizing some of the most important problems with HSAS, the hazards it addresses are unspecific as to their origin, the nature of the threats, their time and place configurations, and what to do about them; the likely victims are unknown; the local government and emergency management response networks as well as the local and state political systems do not participate in preparing and mitigating their effects, although they are liable for the costs of reacting to the warnings; and it lacks an accurate understanding of the social psychology of people’s response to warnings, assuming an undifferentiated public that automatically behaves as it is told by the authorities. Moreover, it confuses warnings with mitigation and public relations and is too closely linked to partisan political processes.

National Incident Management System

In Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5 (HSPD-5), the president called on the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop a single incident management system to provide a consistent nationwide approach for fed-

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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FIGURE 8.1 Homeland Security Advisory System (available at http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=29).

eral, state, tribal, and local governments to work together to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity. This resulted in the establishment of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The basis for NIMS centers around the Incident Command System (ICS). One of the first steps in becoming compliant with NIMS requires states and local governments to institutionalize the use of ICS (as taught by DHS) across the entire response system. This means that ICS training must be consistent with the concepts, principles and characteristics of the ICS training offered by various DHS training entities.

The concept of ICS was developed more than 30 years ago in the

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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aftermath of a devastating wildfire in California. During 13 days in 1970, 16 lives were lost, 700 structures were destroyed and more than a half million acres burned. The overall cost and losses associated with these fires totaled $18 million per day. Although all of the responding agencies cooperated to the best of their ability, numerous problems with communication and coordination hampered their effectiveness. Consequently, Congress mandated the creation of a system by the U.S. Forest Service that would “make a quantum jump in the capabilities of Southern California wild land fire protection agencies to effectively coordinate interagency action and to allocate suppression resources in dynamic, multiple-fire situations” (NIMS, 2004). The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection; the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services; the Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara County fire departments; and the Los Angeles City Fire department joined with the U.S. Forest Service to develop the system. This system became known as FIRESCOPE (Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies).

Organizations are crucial in planning for, managing, responding to, and recovering from emergencies. Disaster research has given major attention to the behavior of organizations. Researchers have identified a number of key factors in promoting organizational effectiveness during the immediate emergency period of disasters. These include a flexible structure suited to activity coordination, good interpersonal relationships, frequent and open communication, adaptability, and shared responsibilities. One general finding is that civilian organizations in the United States do not function well under military models of command and control. However, much of this research dates back to the 1950s-1970s era and needs to be updated because of the changes that have taken place in emergency management as well as the broader range of threats that must now be confronted. Currently, for example, little research exists on the effectiveness of emergency operations centers (EOCs), let alone ICS operations.

Disaster researchers have long argued for the utilization of a different management model that sees the emergency manager more as a “broker” or “emergency resource manager” than as an “incident commander.” As opposed to the hierarchical, top-down, command-and-control management model inherent in ICS, researchers suggest that effective emergency management is decentralized, organizationally flexible, adaptable, and resilient. Future research in this area should address the strengths, weaknesses, and overall effectiveness of command-and-control versus resource management models.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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DISASTER RESEARCH AND APPLICATION AND HURRICANE KATRINA

In 2004, the Natural Hazard Observer, published by the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado, featured a series of articles that examined Disasters Waiting to Happen with the intent of generating a discussion about creative approaches to mitigation. In one of the articles, sociologist Shirley Laska (2004) discussed the impact of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. The article suggested that:

  • flooding of New Orleans to depths as great as 20 feet would occur;

  • that up to 80 percent of the structures in flooded areas would be severely damaged;

  • there is a need to develop a plan to evacuate the estimated 120,000 residents without the means of evacuation;

  • early evacuation of the city is needed due to limited routes of egress;

  • all modes of transportation should be utilized in an evacuation;

  • there is a lack of mass care centers to house those not evacuating;

  • problems will occur with search and rescue due to hazardous conditions;

  • it would take an estimated 10 days to complete search and rescue;

  • there will be a need to house hundreds of thousands of displaced citizens unable to return to their residences; and

  • that survivors would have to endure conditions never before experienced in a disaster in the United States.

These predictions became reality when flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Researchers have understood the consequences of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans, not just in a broad sense, but in a fairly detailed understanding of planning and response needs. So why was this knowledge ignored at all levels of government? While many have speculated on the answer to this question, it will take careful investigation to determine the root causes of why the country was not prepared for this event.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Previous chapters of this report have documented the contributions that social scientists have made to understanding hazards and disasters of various types. Such knowledge is important not only because it sheds light on human behavior in very challenging and dynamic situations, but also because it provides a foundation for science-based decision making by at-

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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risk populations seeking to manage willful, natural, and technological hazards and disasters. The utilization of social science information on hazards and disasters, when combined with relevant knowledge derived through the efforts of researchers in other disciplines, has the potential to significantly reduce the societal impacts of disasters. As noted in this chapter, however, there are many barriers that must be overcome before potential users will adopt information produced by social scientists and other researchers.

Evaluations of disaster related policies and programs are rare. The few case studies that were conducted many years ago may have limited application today; thus, much work needs to be done. More studies are needed on the utilization of research results in the hazards and disaster field, an area of investigation that has suffered from major neglect in recent years. Such studies could provide a basis for overcoming barriers to more effective dissemination and application of extant knowledge. While much anecdotal information, including that on the 18 dissemination activities discussed above, conforms to general theories about successful knowledge dissemination and utilization, there is a clear need to proceed with studies that use rigorous research methods to determine where and how improvements should be made.

Recommendation 8.1: Renewed attention should be given by the social science hazards and disaster research community to the need for formal evaluation research on knowledge utilization in the field. New research should be carried out using all of the relevant methodologies and technologies available to the social sciences today.

As part of its NEHRP role, NSF supported early social science studies on research utilization in the hazards and disasters field. As noted, Yin and his colleagues (Yin and Moore, 1985; Yin and Andranovitch, 1987) carried out their important work on research utilization in the 1980s. However, much has changed since that time. The knowledge base generated by the social sciences on hazards and disasters has grown significantly, as discussed in previous chapters of this report. This increased output has important implications for what practitioners such as urban and regional planners and emergency managers can conceivably do to decrease society’s vulnerability and to enhance its capacity to mitigate, prepare for, and respond to disasters. Furthermore, as illustrated in Table 8.1, there are now numerous brokers of social science hazards and disaster information, including individual researchers as well as outreach and dissemination programs in government, academia and civil society. Many of these brokers did not exist when Yin and other researchers (Yin and Moore, 1985; Yin and Andranovitch, 1987) conducted their studies. Their existence now offers a real opportunity to

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

better understand the research utilization process. Given these and other important societal changes, this is an opportune time to revisit the issue of hazards and disaster research utilization after so many years of neglect. And unlike the earlier era of research utilization studies, the next round of studies should see social scientists taking advantage of the full arsenal of methodologies and tools now available to them (see Chapter 7). Future evaluation studies should augment the case study and qualitative approaches favored by Yin and his colleagues (Yin and Moore, 1985; Yin and Andranovitch, 1987) with those approaches that allow for quantitative and other kinds of analyses. Moreover, statistical and computational modeling of the research utilization process could lead to greater theoretical understanding and provide a firmer basis for improving future efforts.

Table 8.1 suggests a number of areas in which research on knowledge utilization might address important issues from a comparative standpoint. One topic would be to document variations in the accuracy of the information being provided by different types of information brokers. Accuracy is obviously important because the information disseminated should be based on valid social science input if users are to become positioned to make the most effective risk adjustments. Another comparison that Table 8.1 suggests involves determining if some approaches work better than others with different users, such as land-use planners, emergency managers, and public health officials. For example, are strategies such as participatory action research and FEMA’s training program effective with different potential user groups? Finally, some of the 18 activities and programs shown in the matrix use new technologies such as GIS and the Internet as part of their strategies for disseminating information. These tools did not exist when earlier research utilization studies were conducted. A fruitful line of research would be to compare the use of such technologies among information providers and to measure their value in stimulating research utilization.

Finally, future research utilization studies should focus not only on the ways information is introduced to potential users, (i.e., process issues), but also on the actual results of such efforts. This requires a “soup-to-nuts” research strategy. For example, it is crucial to have an understanding of just how much practitioners such as urban planners, emergency managers, and public health officials know about social science knowledge on hazards and disasters, the source of their information, and whether or not they ever apply it when making decisions about risk reduction. Here is perhaps the most challenging part of the process: In those documented cases where stakeholders have actually applied such knowledge, research should be focused on determining the extent to which this knowledge has made a difference. More than anecdotal information is needed about this outcome if social scientists are to be in the best position to help practitioners.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
×

Recommendation 8.2: Building on earlier practice, social scientists should conduct research utilization studies involving knowledge on hazards and disasters produced by other research disciplines.

In their 1980s studies, Yin and his colleagues (Yin and Moore, 1985; Yin and Andranovitch, 1987) examined the utilization not only of social science knowledge on hazards and disasters, but also knowledge generated by physical scientists and engineers. The committee feels that it is essential for social scientists to continue this practice. First, social scientists have the methodological tools to carry out such research, perhaps even more so now than a generation ago. Second, more can be understood about the challenges of social science research utilization when they can be compared with the challenges facing disciplines such as earthquake engineering and earth science. Third, this practice could create opportunities for social scientists to engage in fruitful multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, as discussed in Chapter 5 of this report.

Recommendation 8.3: Cross-cultural research utilization studies should be pursued by social scientists. Such research could contribute to global understanding of knowledge dissemination and application.

As discussed in Chapter 6, disasters impact developed and developing countries alike. Stakeholders in all nations exposed to natural, technological, and willful hazards must make decisions about how to manage them. As in the United States, some of the decisions made in other countries are science based, while others are not.

With so many nations having variations in exposure to disaster risks, cross-cultural research on knowledge utilization is a promising area of inquiry, one that social scientists in the United States should pursue aggressively. Such research would provide an opportunity to test cross-culturally the principles of research utilization discussed earlier, determining their degree of universality. Also, through comparative analyses, approaches to research utilization in one country might be identified as relevant for consideration in another. Finally, cross-cultural studies on research utilization, involving social science or other kinds of knowledge related to hazards and disasters, would provide an opportunity for the collaborative international research called for in Chapter 6.

Suggested Citation:"8 Knowledge Dissemination and Application." National Research Council. 2006. Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11671.
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Social science research conducted since the late 1970's has contributed greatly to society's ability to mitigate and adapt to natural, technological, and willful disasters. However, as evidenced by Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and other recent events, hazards and disaster research and its application could be improved greatly. In particular, more studies should be pursued that compare how the characteristics of different types of events--including predictability, forewarning, magnitude, and duration of impact--affect societal vulnerability and response. This book includes more than thirty recommendations for the hazards and disaster community.

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