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Information and Communication Technology in Crisis and Disaster Management  

Deedee Bennett

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) cover a wide range of telecommunication devices and applications, which facilitate the flow of information. Within crisis and disaster management, these devices and applications may be used explicitly for hazards or crisis detection, information management, communication, situational awareness, search and rescue efforts, and decision support systems. Everything from cell phones and social media to unmanned aerial vehicles and weather stations are used to collect, disseminate, and monitor various types of information and data to provide a common operating picture. ICTs are continually evolving, with new features developed and deployed at a rapid pace. This development has had a unique impact on crisis and disaster management, allowing for real-time communication and situational awareness, as well as novel approaches to simulations and training. With the near-ubiquitous use of some devices, information is also no longer held solely by government or private sector officials; ordinary citizens are also able to contribute to and disseminate information during and after crises. For some segments of the population, this ability to meaningfully contribute is not only empowering but necessary to highlight unmet needs. Throughout the evolution of ICTs, new research and practical concerns have highlighted persistent unmet needs of more vulnerable populations due to growing interdependence and integration across jurisdictional boundaries worldwide. The continued expansion of ICTs will most likely have a profound impact on this field in the future.

Article

Disaster and Crisis Preparedness  

David Alexander

Preparedness involves initiatives designed to mitigate or reduce the impact of major risks and disasters and thus create resilience. It requires foresight and planning. One can distinguish between long-term and short-term preparedness activities. The former can be divided into structural, semi-structural, nonstructural, and environmental categories. Structural preparedness involves building defenses and strengthening buildings and infrastructure against the physical impact of disasters. Although widely used, it is expensive and usually does not provide complete protection against the effects of disaster. Semi-structural measures include flood barriers that can be dismantled and the designation of areas for the storage of floodwater. Nonstructural measures comprise land-use planning (including interdiction on settlement and other uses in areas of high hazard), insurance, and emergency planning. The last of these is designed to ensure that resource usage in crisis situations is optimized in favor of responding effectively to the impact. Nature-based or ecological measures involve enhancing the power of natural systems to amortize the impact of disaster. Emergency preparedness configures the “architecture” of response, including command centers, control systems, hazard monitoring networks, systems designed to warn the public, and plans to evacuate people. In parallel to emergency planning, business continuity management is a form of preparedness that is designed to ensure the continued functionality of organizations. It may include measures to protect their reputation among clients, customers, and suppliers, and their market position or stock market quotation. Preparedness for pandemics can be considered as a special case, in which medical and epidemiological preparations are accompanied by preparedness measures to deal with the profound socioeconomic changes that a pandemic brings to society. Preparedness is also important during the phase of recovery from disaster. This period involves a “window of opportunity” in which official and public sensitivity to the problem can be used to improve safety by reconstructing to higher standards than existed before the disaster and incorporating new safety measures. In terms of resilience, this is a “bounce-forward” strategy, sometimes known as “build back better,” rather than a “bounce-back” one that would risk restoring preexisting vulnerabilities. Disaster risk is particularly dynamic in the modern world, thanks to major changes in the magnitude and frequency of environmental hazards, large increases in the vulnerability of people and assets, and anthropogenic degradation of natural environments. Preparedness is thus a major imperative that is greatly needed if very large losses are to be avoided.

Article

Crisis Communication  

Matthew Seeger

Crisis communication may be understood as the process of creating and exchanging messages between interdependent stakeholders in conditions of high uncertainty, threats to high-priority goals, and the need for immediate response created by a crisis. This process occurs through established channels and networks of communication, using a variety of message forms. Feedback, message consistency, message tailoring, message reach, transparency and openness, immediacy, credibility, and coordination with key groups, among other factors, are related to effectiveness. Communication within the context of crisis is necessary for coordination, sense-making, effective response, recovery, renewal, learning, and the development of resilience. Processes of communication generally follow the developmental nature of crises from pre-crisis conditions where risks develop and incubate to post-crisis conditions where social and organizational structures, processes, and norms are reconstructed. Crisis communication is closely related to risk communication that concerns the ongoing process of exchanging messages to monitor, understand, and manage risks. Effective communication is essential to the successful management of crises, and communication functions should be included in crisis and risk policy formation and planning as well as response and recovery. Communication may also promote the development of resilience and contribute to system renewal.

Article

Social Media in Emergency Management  

Clayton Wukich

Social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter enable the rapid transmission of public warning messages in the event of a disaster. This augments traditional channels such as television and radio and may indeed save lives. The interactive nature of social media enables other types of information exchange beyond the one-way broadcast of warnings and guidance that has long characterized risk communication. Authorities monitor social media data for situational awareness, and they can solicit input from the public and engage in more deliberative conversations. In turn, the public initiates communication by asking questions, providing input, and requesting help. They expand the reach of official messages by sharing with friends and followers. Therefore, from an emergency management perspective, social media applications can disrupt the traditional one-way mode of communication and improve the efficacy of efforts to communicate risk. Research from across academic disciplines (e.g., computer science, communication, information systems, public administration, and sociology) illustrates: (a) the need for social media in emergency management; (b) the related benefits of use; and (c) the best practices used to attain those benefits. This offers a roadmap for authorities to effectively implement social media in their organizations while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Article

National Parliaments and the European Union  

Katrin Auel

The role and position of national parliaments in European Union (EU) affairs have undergone a long, slow, and sometimes rocky, but overall rather remarkable, development. Long regarded as the victims of the integration process, they have continuously strengthened their institutional prerogatives and have become more actively involved in EU affairs. Since the Lisbon Treaty, national parliaments even have a formal and direct role in the European legislative process, namely, as guardians of the EU’s subsidiarity principle via the so-called early warning system. To what extent institutional provisions at the national or the European level provide national parliaments with effective means of influencing EU politics is still a largely open question. On the one hand, national parliaments still differ with regard to their institutional prerogatives and actual engagement in EU politics. On the other hand, the complex decision-making system of the EU, with its multitude of actors involved, makes it difficult to trace outcomes back to the influence of specific actors. Yet it is precisely this opacity of the EU policymaking process that has led to an emphasis on the parliamentary communication function and the way national parliaments can contribute to the democratic legitimacy of the EU by making EU political decisions and processes more accessible and transparent for the citizens. This deliberative aspect is also often emphasized in approaches to the role of national parliaments in the EU that challenge the territorially defined, standard account of parliamentary representation. Taking the multilevel character of the EU as well as the high degree of political and economic interdependence between the member states into account, parliamentary representation is conceptualized as extending beyond the nation-state and as shared across the EU, with a strong emphasis on the links between parliaments through inter-parliamentary cooperation and communication as well as on the representation of other member states’ citizens interests and concerns in parliamentary debates. Empirical research is still scarce, but existing studies provide evidence for the development of an increasingly dense web of formal and informal interactions between parliaments and for changes in the way national parliamentarians represent citizens in EU affairs.