Illustrative Fictional Narratives of IT Use in Disaster Management
The Committee on Using Information Technology to Enhance Disaster Management developed three narratives describing fictional disasters illustrative of the current and potential use of information technology (IT) in disaster management practice. The purpose is to provide a realistic context for understanding and analyzing potential goals and capabilities for the use of IT to improve disaster management now and in the future. The committee constructed narratives representing different types of disasters with different proximate causes, varying lengths of warning, different geographic scope, and different levels of responder perspective (local/tactical, regional/strategic and tactical, national/strategic) in order to uncover both common and unique problems that they present. The narratives draw on the experiences of disaster management practitioners and researchers and highlight specific aspects of technology use. Each scenario shows elements of IT use across the goal areas identified in the report, though a scenario may naturally highlight the importance of some goals more than others. Some descriptions may seem more compelling because they are closer to the direct human impact of a disaster, but gaining an understanding of and improving on disaster management practice at all levels are critical to saving lives and reducing economic impacts. Taken together, the scenarios build a picture of the many moving parts that must be coordinated for an effective response.
For each scenario, an introductory paragraph describes the setting and the focus for analysis of IT use. Each scenario concludes with a summary analysis that highlights some of the challenges and opportunities
for potentially improving IT capabilities. The committee emphasizes that, although they are set in specific contexts, these scenarios are fictional and are not intended to reflect in detail the specific response capabilities of particular jurisdictions or agencies.
INITIAL RESPONSE TO A CHEMICAL ATTACK IN THE WASHINGTON, D.C., METRO
The first fictional narrative describes the exchange between responders during a chemical attack in the Washington, D.C., Metro system. It presents the use of information and communications technology from the perspective of local and tactical first responders during the onset and immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack. The focus of this scenario is on the use of communications and information infrastructure by the police, emergency medical personnel, other responding public safety personnel, and more generally by anyone (including individual private citizens) who can act as first responders. This scenario highlights a number of uses to which IT is currently put in responding to situations that occur with no warning and rapid onset. The response described here is entirely tactical, and the technology used is what has been predeployed and is on hand or can rapidly—in seconds and minutes—be brought to bear. The alert reader will identify a number of technologies used: video, chemical sensors, public safety radio, operational control systems (Metro system), commercial cellular telephone, commercial land telephone, and text messaging during the first few moments. Metro dispatch; firefighting, emergency medical, and hazardous materials personnel; Metro police; emergency managers; and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) units are all rapidly engaged and seeking information.
Metro Dispatch (Mary Williams—33 years old, 5 years’ experience as a dispatcher):
“Unit 332—Report of person down—lower level, Metro Center.”
Unit 332 (John Bison—26 years old, former military):
“I’m close. I’ll respond.” John finishes his coffee, drops the cup in the trash, and begins to walk quickly to the stairway leading to the lower level.
“Unit 332—We are getting multiple reports of multiple people down. Showing Blue line due in the next minute. Orange and Red line trains due into the station within the next 2 minutes. Rolling paramedics and additional units … all units responding to Metro Center lower level keep the air clear until at scene. Live feed video shows people running in all directions.”
“10-4—10 seconds out. Lots of people screaming and running toward me.”
Unit 337 (Billy Boyd, 53 years old, 29 years with Transit Police, 63 days from retirement):
“Unit 338 and I are close and responding.”
“Units 300S and 300L, are you monitoring this?” (Unit 300S is the sergeant and 300L is the lieutenant for the shift.)
“Unit 300L is with me and we are 5 minutes out.”
“Emergency—All units’ chemical sensors going off, lower level Metro Center. Unit 332, do you copy? Unit 332? Unit 332? Unit 337 or 338, do you copy?”
“Metro Dispatch, freeze all inbound trains.”
“Working on it. I’m unable to raise Units 332, 337, and 338.”
“I’m en route. I’ll check on the units—what was their last location?”
“Unit 340, that’s a negative—we have chemical sensors going off in the lower level Metro Center. I need you to begin full evacuation procedures for Metro Center. The last known locations of 332, 337, and 338 were…. Unit 300S—I’m getting emergency signals from 332’s and 337’s radios.”
“10-4—Let’s get everyone we can evacuate without entering and get the folks with Level A suits in to help the others. I’ll need an ETA on the chemical team.”
“Unit 300L—Orange and Red lines both frozen 1 minute out. It looks like the Blue line arrived and opened doors before realizing what was going on…. They appear to be stopped at the loading area.”
“Command Post will be on G St. between 11th and 12th. I need the next four units to cover the four entrances into Metro Center. Have the hazmat team meet me at the command post. I want all units in full MOP gear with their masks.”
“10-4. Fire should be pulling up now. Hazmat is 2 minutes out. We have alerted area hospitals and requested additional ambulances to your location. The chief has ordered the EOC [Emergency Operations Center] opened.”
“10-4. D.C. Metro is with us now, but we need as many more units as you can find in the area. We are trying to contain those exiting the Center, but are overwhelmed. Several have exited showing signs of chemical exposure. Possibility of off-gassing from those leaving the area—can the chief advise on procedure for those refusing to stay in the area?”
“Fire command is establishing the decontamination center at SW corner of 11th and G St. Have all units direct those leaving Metro Center to that location. Everyone … I repeat … everyone exiting Metro Center must go through the decontamination center and be cleared by hazmat.”
“10-4—FBI is asking for your location and EOC would like an update when you have a moment. Line into the EOC is 444-1234.”
“I’m standing at the corner of G St.—have FBI respond to this location. How about additional units? Can we get some help for Capital, D.C. Metro?”
As 300L makes this request, he is attempting to dial the EOC on his cell phone, a commercial network that is overloaded with traffic.
“Lots of units from different agencies are responding to your location, but many are reporting being stuck in gridlock.”
“Dispatch, can you call the EOC and have them come up on TAC Frequency 1—my cell is worthless down here right now—I’ll brief them over the radio.”
“10-4—Fire is requesting additional security at the decontamination area. They also said to let you know they are about 10 minutes from getting into Metro Center with Level A suits. They are suggesting that any of our personnel on the inner perimeter get into their MOP gear if they aren’t already.”
Meanwhile at the EOC
Unit 300C (Unit 300C is the captain):
“Where is 300L? How come he has not called in?”
Sally (staff member in EOC):
“Sir, communications is asking that we come up on TAC frequency
11—300L apparently can’t get out on his cell.”
“Thanks. Flip us over would you … and can you check on how we are doing evacuating those other trains?”
“I’m on it, boss.”
“300L, are you on TAC 1?”
“That’s affirm, boss.”
“How’s it going out there—what can we get you?”
“It’s a mess right now—not quite sure where everyone is … have not had a chance to do a roll call. Numerous people down—we have at least three units inside Metro Center that are not responding. Fire has decontamination set up and are washing down, but we can’t control everyone coming out and direct them to the decon area—I’m afraid we are going to get some off-gassing exposures. Here’s what I need. As many people with full MOP suits as you can get down here. I have
D.C. Metro with me, but I still need reps from FBI, fire, Red Cross, and medical services so we can coordinate our response … it looks like this is going to be real ugly…. The Blue line pulled up to the platform and has not moved … it had to be a full train at this time…. Hazmat is about 5 minutes from getting into the station in Level A suits. Another thing—can you get SWAT fired up just in case someone trips over a suspect?”
“We will do our best to get it to you—let us know if you need anything else, and be careful.”
“Sir, we are getting a report of another attack at L’Enfant Plaza— sounds like two trains in the station at the time, chemical sensors going off, and numerous people down.”
“Can you give me the video feed from there?”
“I can give you the picture, but I can’t give you control of the cameras—ops says they need it right now. Picture should be coming up momentarily.”
As the video of L’Enfant Plaza comes up, everyone stands motionless. As the camera moves, they see fellow Transit Authority workers motionless. They are dead—of that there is no doubt—along with hundreds of others.
Unit 300C (looking over to the Fire Battalion Chief):
“Is there anything you can do?”
Fire Battalion Chief:
“Not for them … most of my resources are at Metro Center. Capital hazmat is en route, but … we can’t even triage the people coming out and when we do the hospitals have to re-evaluate, as we can’t pass the vital info to them. How about you?”
“We are bringing in a number of people from Metro, Capital, and Arlington Police—so staffing should be OK in a little—but until we can get them in there we are stuck. Our comms are a mess—the two incidents are on the same frequency and we have not been able to break one off yet. Our patches are working with the other police agencies, but the feds don’t have the capabilities or won’t let us patch with them. Video is OK, but I don’t want anyone in the field seeing it. Cell is overloaded and connections are intermittent. I used my GETS card on
the hard-line a moment ago and that worked fine. I understand that text messaging is working on cells, but only our command staff has them. One of the sergeants used his own personal computer to log in and send an e-mail over an unsecured 802 wireless network—the Mobile Computer Terminals all have 802.x wireless capability but it’s turned off. Lastly, we are still having trouble tracking the people and resources responding into the area. We really need to get a handle on that….
An analysis of this scenario reveals a number of notable problems with and limitations of IT use. These include radio-frequency conflicts; the lack of means for communicating with victims (using either voice or text) or for obtaining information about them (through automatically transmitted sensor data from their devices); impaired video capability; limits of commercial cellular infrastructure; lack of access to redundant or alternate technologies (e.g., text messaging, wireless Internet); inability to disseminate and share information; reduced timeliness and limitations of sensor data; absence of dissemination of sensor data to responders, hazmat units, and hospitals; and inability to distinguish different information needs of various responders. The ability to interpret the data rapidly (either by getting it to the appropriate expert or through automated analysis) and then to issue appropriate and timely instructions to responders and affected individuals based on the analysis of the data is clearly critical. Some of these problems and limitations could be addressed with existing technology; others require technology advances.
A striking aspect of the response described is the need to gather and disseminate information rapidly in order to create sufficient situational awareness for making effective response decisions in a rapidly evolving situation. For instance, chemical sensors started going off only 40 seconds after the initial report of a casualty—and yet this was already too late to avoid dispatching responders when they could no longer provide effective aid and to keep doors from opening on entering trains. Detection of harmful agents might, for instance, trigger automated response systems to halt or reroute the entry of additional trains into the area. Automated analysis of sensor data could also alert the dispatcher to take appropriate measures to protect and direct responders—not just to avoid putting them in harm’s way but also to make sure that they could be effective if they were deployed. Other possibilities include automated control of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems based on previous plume modeling. Understanding what can be automated and striking a balance between what should be automated and what requires human decision makers are major challenges revealed by an analysis of this scenario. Finally, the scenario does not consider how the increasingly sophisticated
mobile consumer devices that Metro employees are likely to carry could be used to provide better information about the unfolding incident.
THE UNFOLDING RESPONSE TO A HURRICANE
The second fictional narrative describes the development and progression of a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and the corresponding disaster management response that is possible now with the current level of technology. It focuses on the use of information and communications technology from the perspective of the regional Emergency Operations Center. The scenario shows how emergency managers use IT during the pre-incident onset phase, through landfall, to the early stages of post-incident recovery. This scenario highlights a number of uses to which IT is currently put when responding to situations with considerable warning and slow onset. Situational awareness and a common operating picture are a particular focus. The substantial lead time and detailed knowledge now available prior to the onset of a hurricane are possible owing to great advances in IT and other scientific disciplines.
The response described here is a mix of tactical and strategic operations. Technologies highlighted in this scenario include computer modeling, simulation, weather sensors, satellites, WiFi and mobile networking, traffic cameras, and unmanned vehicles with onboard communications. For this scenario, information and communications flows are centered largely on the state Emergency Operations Center, with raw data flowing in, being processed, and analyzed; actions being formulated; and instructions flowing back out.
A Category 4 hurricane is churning in the Gulf of Mexico, building strength. It is projected to be the worst storm surge ever experienced on the Florida west coast. The hurricane begins to make its way toward Cedar Key, a sparsely populated area near Ocala, with expected landfall on Saturday at midnight. Emergency managers develop an Incident Action Plan (IAP) for the response using previous plans and the results of a distributed simulation exercise. IAPs are specific to an event. At this point in an event, the communities’ and state’s emergency management plans form the framework of response. This approach allows each agency to see its role in the plan and identify possible bottlenecks. Alternative plans are developed for possible storm deviations.
The state emergency manager activates the plan for Cedar Key based on computerized weather models showing the highest probability of landfall occurring there. Local and state response teams (e.g., search and rescue, law enforcement) are prepositioned near Cedar Key, and federal teams are prepositioned along the path of the hurricane, which is project-
ed to cut across Florida and then up through the interior of Georgia and Tennessee.
The hurricane begins to be felt around 8 p.m. The entire area is under a hurricane warning issued by the National Weather Service. The Weather Service, taking advantage of a network of wind and wave sensors erected along the west coast, begins to see in real time that the port city of Tampa is unexpectedly bearing the brunt of the storm, indicating that the storm is not heading north but has turned slightly east, mirroring the behavior of Hurricane Charley. The state EOC dynamically switches to an alternative IAP previously developed for this area, using simulations and drawing on a cache of plans from previous responses.
Based on the alternative plan, the state EOC generates modifications to the existing response plan, notifying all critical agencies (i.e., those designated in the plans as key agencies for interagency emergency communications and operations), rerouting Coast Guard flyovers and prioritizing night flights. The broadcast media interrupts programming to saturate the airwaves with hurricane warnings, and the state communications office sets up a 511 number for information. Law enforcement officers are dispatched to close down entertainment areas, alert the areas most at risk, inform them of how to respond, and survey the status of voluntary evacuations, identifying specific high-risk targets such as nursing homes that have not been evacuated. The Department of Transportation (DOT), another designated critical agency, brings in crews and orange cones to help route traffic out of the popular bayside night club district. Traffic cameras show real-time traffic flows along designated evacuation routes, and DOT forwards assessments to the media for broadcast to the public.
The hurricane makes landfall at midnight, but stalls unexpectedly. The Weather Service projects 18 inches of rain in the Tampa Bay region by morning. The rainfall, coupled with the storm surge, could topple the levees surrounding toxic phosphate mine tailings. The state emergency manager calls for the deployment of pre-identified assets for the large-scale testing and monitoring of water quality and designated environmental mitigation teams. EOC staff work through the night with computer programs projecting damage to key areas, residential areas, and infrastructure; these become rapid reconnaissance plans. Intermittent reports from pre-positioned recon teams and law enforcement provide some indication of damage, but the winds and rain must die down before the Coast Guard can fly or reconnaissance teams can venture out. The governor and president are briefed about potential ecological and economic damage, based on models and the current storm path.
The hurricane finally passes in the early morning hours, and the wind and rain begin to subside. Electric power and cellular coverage were lost early on due to wind damage from the leading edge of the storm, and
satellite phones are waiting for the skies to clear. Recon and response teams are set to mobilize at 4 a.m. Teams have refined their plans throughout the night, generating search grids for the area, reviewing land use maps, and assigning teams and assets. As they begin to deploy to the field, they find it difficult to reach designated areas due to extensive damage to transportation infrastructure. Limited ability to communicate difficulties and receive updated damage information further hinders progress.
A large neighborhood near downtown is flooded, and survivors are on the roofs, while a major senior and assisted-living development in the suburbs previously identified as not having been evacuated is also damaged and flooded. Rescue teams deploy miniature unmanned helicopters to geolocate survivors on roofs, remotely talk with them, and also look around roofs and attics for signs of survivors trapped inside. The Coast Guard sends manned helicopters to the suburbs to lift survivors from the rooftops, while the rescue teams talk directly with the pilots and provide prioritization and data on rooftop conditions from a portable anemometer. The majority of the rescue teams focus on determining who in the urban area needs immediate evacuation. When the rescuers find a group of looters, they alert the police, who in turn dispatch the nearest law enforcement personnel. Boats are tasked to help the elderly and handle medical priorities, but routing them to appropriate care facilities is hampered by damage infrastructure making it impossible to regularly communicate information about the operational status of medical facilities.
As operations transition slowly from response to recovery, law enforcement agencies attempt to separate curious bystanders from returning authorized responders, residents, and repair crews. But, due to limited means to make such distinctions, they tend to deny access to some appropriate personnel—slowing the repair and recovery process. Utility providers (e.g., electrical, water, communications) gather information about damage and determine how to re-establish services. Portable radio broadcast towers are erected and by 7 a.m., news and response directions are being transmitted to the public in the affected areas. While the EOC has a general picture of where resources have been dispatched and has pieced together an overall picture of damage from information coming from field operations, detailed situational awareness continues to be elusive.
Information and communications technology is obviously critical to managing the widely distributed and massive operations described in this scenario. Indeed, IT is used effectively from identification of the emerging situation through to the recovery phase. Lives are saved, damaged reduced, and steps toward recovery made rapidly by extensive use of IT. Yet, there are many opportunities to extend and improve the use of IT. A combination of existing technology, further technology advances,
and organizational innovations should be able to extend the excellent situational awareness that was available prior to onset into the response phase, and beyond to the recovery phase. Interagency communication and coordination are especially critical in this scenario, and the planning operations described stress this point.
However, the single global situational awareness developed at the EOC is inadequate for developing the task-specific situational awareness needed by different participants. For instance, a search-and-rescue team incident commander should see where search teams are, what they have searched, and what the results are. He or she would have the ability to report looting or unauthorized entry to law enforcement, using authorized access to directly input the information into the system managing the operational picture. The medical community should also see the progress and projections of injuries, heatstroke, local capacity for medical care, and so on—and be able to send information about its situation to other operational units for (automatic) inclusion into their operational picture. The EOC should receive continuously updated information that can then be used to revise its operational picture on an ongoing basis using adaptive planning tools.
While transportation officials are able to identify traffic congestion using cameras and to communicate problems that have already developed, use of traffic sensors that measure speed and volume of traffic could be incorporated with information about infrastructure damage and other situational variables into decision support systems to recommend alternate routes proactively before the transportation system bogs down. Civilian volunteers at homes and shelters, fire departments, and police stations could be pre-equipped with WiFi network capability and designated as an integral information source in emergency plans. Civilians in the damaged areas with functioning IT systems (e.g., cell phones) could have a channel for sending pictures and other information from areas to a designated repository that can be used to build situational awareness.
With technology available and on the horizon, it is possible to imagine rescue teams, as they drive into designated areas, receiving constant updates from DOT reconnaissance teams on road conditions and damage. A roadmap on a responder laptop could glow with red overlays on known or suspected damaged bridges. Navigation software could attempt to create directions for each of the teams that would get them to their assigned grid. Driving in, a team member could use infrared and laser cameras to videorecord the geolocated damage. As a team passed a WiFi hot spot, the laptop could download new information from flyovers, and the Weather Service could transmit video to the incident commander on a priority basis and then to the EOC. Decision support tools could begin combing emerging information, correlating and analyzing who needs
what kind of help and what the transportation conditions are. They could also identify areas where no information is available and target quick reconnaissance teams to check out those blind spots. As new and better information becomes available, adaptive planning tools could be used to change response activities to reflect the evolving situation. Visualization software could present task-specific views of the situation for each emergency support function, and provide an integrated view of the overall situation. Law enforcement could have access to centralized databases, with pre-identified authorization for efficient and accurate screening of affected areas.
NATIONAL RESPONSE TO AN EARTHQUAKE IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
The third fictional narrative describes the occurrence of a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area and the resulting response. The focus is on the use of information and communications technology from the perspective of the federal-level emergency manager as part of a national response. In this case onset is rapid, but such an incident has been anticipated, and detailed plans exist for responding to it. The blizzard of acronyms blanketing this scenario is a clue to the complexity involved in coordinating a response at this level and the degree and sophistication of interagency interaction required. Resource allocation, logistics, tracking, and mobilization are of particular concern in this scenario. Planning triggers, such as the declaration of an Incident of National Significance, also affect what IT resources are applied and when. Most of the technology employed in the two fictional scenarios above would also be applied in this scenario. However, technologies (and issues) highlighted here are those focused primarily on strategic response: for example, collaboration tools, modeling, information analysis and filtering tools, logistics and tracking, system scalability, and geographic information systems (GIS).
At 4:03 a.m. on a Monday in March, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake occurs on the Hayward fault, with an epicenter very near the University of California, Berkeley. The Hayward fault event is not unanticipated and has been studied by scientists and emergency managers for years. However, in the darkness and confusion surrounding the early hours, it is difficult to get an accurate picture about what has just occurred.
State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) officials in Sacramento and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials in Washington, D.C., get their initial situational awareness from prior modeling results: the Association of Bay Area Governments, FEMA, and the state of California have developed
loss-estimation models for this scenario. Initial estimates are that more than 100,000 dwelling units are severely damaged in the Bay area, primarily in Alameda and San Francisco counties. The models predict that almost 400,000 people will be displaced and will need food and water, and 110,000 will need emergency shelter. Oakland and San Francisco airports and the Port of Oakland are expected to be closed, as are major interstate highways (I-80, I-580, I-880, Highway 13, Highway 101) and bridges (Bay Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, Richmond–San Rafael Bridge). Models developed by the University of California, Berkeley, predict severe damage to that institution. Significant casualties are also expected.
The information from the models is enough for the secretary of DHS to declare an Incident of National Significance, to activate the Catastrophic Incident Annex of the National Response Plan, and to deploy specialized resources. Resources deployed include Rapid Needs Assessment Teams, FEMA Advance Teams, Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USART), National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) teams, and Disaster Mortuary Teams. The mobilization of government and Red Cross resources is also begun.
The common operating picture and situational awareness problems begin almost immediately. Due to bridge and highway failures and communications problems, the Bay area has been transformed into four or five disconnected “islands,” complicating coordinated response efforts. Initial communications with FEMA Region Nine are restricted to satellite phone. Although Travis Air Force Base is open, it is not clear to emergency managers where the greatest needs are and how to bring resources to bear to meet them.
Rain and fog impede overflights and generation of satellite imagery in the hours immediately following the incident. Scattered reports from citizens, media, and responders from the area are conflicting and vague. For example, reports have been received that the Bay Bridge is “down,” but no one in Washington, D.C., or Sacramento knows if that means that the bridge has collapsed, a section has collapsed (as occurred during the Loma Prieta earthquake), or an on-ramp is closed. Similarly, unconfirmed reports have been received from the media that there are “thousands” of casualties at the University of California, Berkeley, and that people are trapped in collapsed buildings in Oakland.
In Washington, D.C., the DHS Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC), the FEMA National Response Coordination Center (NRCC), and the White House Homeland Security Council (HSC) have delivered conflicting initial assessments to the president: FEMA NRCC’s assessment is based on HAZUS model output; DHS HSOC’s assessment is based on initial reports from the media, NORTHCOM, and the State of California OEM; HSC’s assessment is based on conversations with the governor of
California. The HSOC and the NRCC were operationally, but not physically, combined after Hurricane Katrina into the National Operations Center (NOC). The Berkeley earthquake is demonstrating that the two operations centers are still operating independently. The secretary of DHS has convened his interagency Incident Advisory Council (IAC) and is receiving information directly from senior officials in other cabinet offices. For instance, health and medical information, including the status of medical assets in the region, is processed through the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) EOC. The president’s homeland security advisor has convened the Domestic Readiness Group (DRG) to provide policy advice to the president and to the secretary of DHS.
Even after communications are established, the situational awareness problems persist. The Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), developed to provide uniform, richer, information-sharing capabilities and collaborative tools, has been overwhelmed. Information available through HSIN is not quality-checked and is inconsistent, inaccurate, and incomplete. The information available is changing rapidly, and it is difficult to determine the source or timeliness of the information. In particular, GIS imagery is available on HSIN from several sources (State of California, U.S. Geological Survey, FEMA), and different images convey different information. No process exists for updating and date-stamping situational information as reports from the field ground-truth initial estimates produced by models, media, and rapid needs assessment teams. In particular, the status of critical infrastructure (e.g., road closures, water availability, sanitation) is difficult to determine, since reports are using non-standard, non-technical, and inconsistent language.
First responders and infrastructure managers, engaged in critical life safety and lifeline repair tasks, cannot provide consistent or complete information. Managers in the NOC are suffering from information overload and are beginning to narrow their focus to one or two sources of situational information (often CNN and one source from the field), a typical human response. HSOC is relying on reports from the state OEM, and the NRCC is relying on the FEMA Advance Emergency Response Team. The predesignated Federal Coordinating Officer has been briefed by the NRCC and has been deployed to Travis, as have the pre-designated Primary Federal Official (after briefings from DHS HSOC) and the pre-designated Defense Coordinating Officer (after briefings from NORTHCOM).
The White House DRG is collecting information from all available sources. On Day 2, as a Joint Field Office (JFO) and unified federal/state command is established in Sacramento, it is apparent that the operating picture of the president, the secretary of DHS, the governor, the PFO, the FCO, and responders on the ground in the Bay area is not yet a common one. It is also clear that even where there is a common understanding of
situational information, substantial differences exist in meaning attributed to that information depending upon the background, experience, and organizational responsibilities of the manager/decision maker.
For FEMA, the American Red Cross, NORTHCOM, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this is the largest mobilization and deployment of people and resources since Hurricane Katrina. The Corps has activated its contracts with vendors and has ordered hundreds of truckloads of bottled water and ice. New radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems will track the relief commodities from the point of manufacture, to federal warehouse sites, and to state and local distribution sites. Attempts will be made by the Corps to ensure that DHS and FEMA have access to this logistics information to enable them to assess the gap between needs and supply. FEMA has activated pre-scripted mission assignments with the National Communication System (for cell on wheels and switches on wheels to restore cell phone communication systems) and with DOD (for Navy vessels for shelter and command support, for Army and Air Force logistics, and for troops to assist the California National Guard).
The American Red Cross is mobilizing 50,000 volunteers using its Disaster Services Human Resource system, and FEMA has mobilized and deployed its disaster reserve corps. NORTHCOM has established Joint Task Force California to manage the influx of Department of Defense resources. FEMA has activated its National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS) and its call centers to create the ability to register disaster victims for individual assistance. NEMIS has been dramatically expanded since it collapsed during Hurricane Katrina, but it has not been tested. As Day 3 progresses, DHS, FEMA, and White House managers continue struggling to determine both what the situation is on the ground and to assess the adequacy of the response resources on scene and resources in the pipeline.
The scenario above exposes the complexity involved in coordinating numerous agencies at all levels, with often widely overlapping and conflicting responsibilities but different perspectives. Those perspectives as well as organizational culture and instincts affect how information is interpreted, what information is trusted, and even where information is sought. This has profound implications for decision support tools, logistics, and resource allocation systems. One specific implication is how IT systems deal with incomplete or uncertain information and how such information is presented to disaster managers. Another is integration of and coordination with civilians and ad hoc groups in this environment. How can the volunteer groups that stand up be integrated and coordinated? The scenario illustrates the extent to which hierarchical command and control are assumed in organizational structures and how that is
reflected in the implementation of IT systems. Introducing distributed networks and applications—and the organizational and cultural innovations necessary to leverage them—constitutes a major challenge for making use of advances in IT.
The dependence on models for rapid initial deployment is an especially striking aspect of this scenario. Aggregating the status information from FEMA, DHS, the Red Cross, DHHS, and DOD logistics and human resource systems is particularly difficult. Without a significant level of confidence in status information, managers cannot be sure that they know what impacts have occurred, what resources are needed, or what resources are responding. Models could also be valuable to responders and other on-the-scene personnel whose perspective might lead to insights not necessarily accessible to more distant emergency managers. However, this level of sharing is not typical. Also, modeling results are not often shared with lower-level personnel, who might be able to act more efficiently if they were. Finding ways to give more people access to modeling systems could yield significant benefits.