3 Reasons Why Disaster Information is SO Important

3 Reasons Why Disaster Information is SO Important

For all the talk about about how we need better information delivered in better ways, I am struck by how easily people lose sight of why it is needed in the first place.  After all, information that you don't need is really not helpful and can cause big problems.  You can experience information overload, be distracted from your goals or tasks, or be unduly influenced by extraneous information.  

Whether you are looking for information before, during or after disasters, there are three reasons why good information is important:

1) Situation Awareness - Information helps responders understand the situation

Information helps us identify operational gaps and enables us to effectively coordinate resources.  Knowing the gaps along with what is going on and who is doing what is the heart of situational awareness.  Without good awareness, though, it can feel like you are making a decision in a vacuum or hedging your bets on risky decisions more than you would like. 

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What are Decisions Makers' Needs in Sudden Onset Disasters?

One of the greatest problems we face in disaster management is understanding the type and breadth of decisions that we make during a disaster.

So much goes into decision making that we need to devote significant research and effort to putting this skill in a better perspective so that better tools and approaches can be developed. Long gone should be the days of making decision "off the cuff." Decisions, despite their impending urgency and seriousness, should be as purposeful, collaborative, and as science-based as possible.

Andrej Verity, a disaster responder and Information Management Officer for UN-OCHA just released a report from a workshop on Field-Based Decision Makers' Information Needs. Here is a link to the full report.  The main authors included leading researchers Erica Gralla (GWU), Jarrod Goentzel (MIT), and Bartel Van De Walle (Tilburg). Check out Andrej's great introductory post on Demystifying decisions makers' needs in sudden onset disasters.

The report focuses heavily on the decision-makers' perspective.  It asked what decisions are typically made and then separately, what are the information needs in sudden onset disasters? Ultimately, the decisions and information needs will be linked in future research.

One  goal  of  this  workshop  was  to  help  Volunteer  and  Technical  Communities  (VTC)  to  understand  the  information  field  decision-‐makers  require  to  make  the  best  possible  decisions.  These  results  lay  a  foundation  for  this  understanding,  by  providing  (1)  a  framework  and  set  of  information  required  by  field-‐based  decision-‐makers,  (2)  categories  and  types  of  decisions  made  by  decision-‐makers,  and  (3)  a  large  set  of  brainstormed  decisions  from  workshop  participants.  VTCs  and  others  seeking  to  support  humanitarian  action  by  providing  and  organizing  information  can  utilize  these  results  to  (a)  prioritize  their  efforts  toward  important  information,  and  (b)  organize  their  information  in  a  manner  intuitive  and  useful  to  humanitarian  decision-‐makers

Check out pages 7-8 for great pictorials of the following findings regarding decisions and information requirements:

Decision dimensions and categories are broken down by timeframe, scope, locus/authority of decision-making, criticality, frequency/duration of decision, information gap (confidence), and function.

Information requirements are broken down by context and scope, humanitarian needs, responder requirements, meta information, capacity and response planning, operational situation, coordination and institutional structures, and looking forward.

Does this resonate with your work?  Why or why not?