Disaster Information Management is NOT a Technical Problem

On one of the email listservs I belong to, I am having a spirited conversation about why disaster information management is so hard.  I wrote the article (that sparked the conversation) nearly a month and a half ago to describe many of the non-technical challenges related to disaster information management and technological innovation, of which there are many.   

In short, the article gave an overview of challenges at the Community, Agency and Individual levels and highlighted information flow impediments such as:

  1. Inaccessibility
  2. Inconsistent Data and Information Formats
  3. Inadequate Stream of Information (Shortage/Overload)
  4. Low Information Priority
  5. Source Identification Difficulty
  6. Storage Media Mismanagement
  7. Unreliability
  8. Unwillingness

If you are thinking the above list are technical challenges, though, think again.  These are all challenges that can be overcome with the support of technology, but are really challenges with community and organizational policy and operations.  They have to do with how communities and organizations approach their disaster information workflows and processes and how they enact policies that enable the adoption and diffusion of new technological innovations.    

Much more research needs to be poured into this area to better understand the community and organizational factors and conditions leading to effective information management and technological innovation.   In fact, a whole line of research needs to dedicated solely to this issue.   

This issue is also deeper than anyone thinks.  If your community or organization is not set up with the proper information policies and operational workflows and processes, technology will continue to be more of a hindrance than help.  You will have significant cost overruns related to implementation and training and end up with sub-par products that don't quite meet your needs. 

The value proposition of technology will also continue to decline and everyone will suffer as the world gets more complex and the need for effective information sharing grows exponentially.  You will end up with yet another tool that works in a vacuum and is wildly insufficient for the highly interdependent world of disaster management that relies heavily on citizens and partners to formulate an effective and efficient response.  

Of course, what does it mean to have the "proper information policies and operational workflows and process?"  This is a very important question and one that everyone should start looking at very closely.  I am exploring this in my research, but the issue is far greater than one PhD student.  

So, I want to know from you...What do YOU think communities and organizations should do to solve this problem?  What steps should they take?  What is the roadmap to get there?  What else do we need to know about how we use disaster information?