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.
Ryan Scott and Branda Nowell
Managing complexity requires appropriate governance structures and effective coordination, communication, and action within the incident response network. Governance structures serve as a framework to understand the interrelated relationships that exist during a crisis. Governance structures can be classified as either hierarchical and managed, autonomous and networked, or a hybrid of hierarchies and networks, and represent a continuum of crisis response systems. As such, effective crisis management is first a function of a leader’s ability to leverage hierarchical, hybrid, and network forms of crisis management governance to manage complex disasters. Second, it hinges on the proficiency of the disaster response network in managing distributed information, coordinating operations, and collaborating among jurisdictions. Combining these two points results in high-performing disaster response networks that operate fluidly between governing structures and across jurisdictions, thus increasing our national capacity to manage complex disasters.
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.
The politics of crisis terminology is rarely examined directly. Crisis is an “umbrella,” under which resides a multitude of terms such as accidents, emergencies, fiascos, disasters, and catastrophes, as well as variations such as natural disasters, transboundary crises, and mega-crises. Yet the sheer diversity and frequent ambiguity among terms reflects the “politics” of how societies and political actors seek to cope with and address extreme events, which often pose a mixture of threat and opportunity. Central to an understanding is how (a) different terms are means of framing issues such as the scale and causes of the crisis, (b) crisis terms are part of governing strategies, and (c) nongovernmental actors (opposition parties, media, lobby groups, social movements, and citizens) can seek to influence government. A pivotal point in developing an understanding of crisis terminology is that rather bemoaning the lack of singular meanings for crisis and associated terms, or criticizing actors for “abuse” of the terms, one should recognize and accept that complex and contested crisis language and definitions are in themselves manifestations of politics in political societies.