IS researchers should consider studying disasters in the light of information and communication systems theory, collective information processing (Appendix D), knowledge management, decision-making and chaos theory. Chaos theory would provide a fitting foundation for the study of information flow in disasters. Disasters appear chaotic, yet chaos theory argues that there is order in chaos—the order is just not apparent because it is so complex.
Researchers might also consider more ethnographic studies of disaster information flow at the scene of real disasters. Field studies could greatly enhance the information behavior theory of emergent groups, information sharing among first, second and third responders, and governmental agencies at all levels.
Developing and testing information sharing network structures for disaster management would be instrumental in helping all involved in EM understand the routes of disaster information. EM could learn from whom, to whom, and how members can change those routes to enhance and expedite their important interactions. A sensitive information exchange technology that allows the display of information on heterogeneous networks across the world could eventually enable EM to send disaster information to all personal digital assistants or cell phones. Information sharing technology has the potential to make people safer, healthier, and more knowledgeable—chief rationales for expanding IT.
More technology, however, would bring more work to EM teams. Learning new systems and software and being better connected means more communication—all time-consuming activities to implement programs that may or may not be more efficient. “The vulnerability of complex networked systems, together with potential ways of using data resources to speed up recovery almost certainly will increasingly preoccupy emergency planning staff in some areas." (Stephenson and Anderson, 1997).
IS should therefore more aggressively address the possible negative impacts of the IT on disaster planning and research. Joy’s speculations that humans may fall victim to their own technology (2000) is worthy of deeper investigation, as is Mesthene’s opinion that human’s “technical prowess always seems to run ahead of his ability to deal with and profit from it.” EM researcher, Quarantelli (1997) raises provocative questions addressing the implementation of IT without preliminary, robust testing. He asserts that the information/communication revolution has at least ten inadvertent liabilities for disaster planning and management. These areas warrant intensive attention. How can we claim to mitigate disasters if the very methods we use exacerbate them? Quarantelli inspires many information-related suspicions.
If IT provides all persons possible with IT that connects them to disasters, will they be helpful or, as untrained professionals, become additional hazards preventing the trained professionals from doing their jobs?
Will the new IT provide too many choices for technology? or
too much information? or
lose information or be so dynamic that the information is outdated the second it is transferred?
Will the hackers and cyber-terrorists be as updated as the legitimate IT providers?
Will messages lose the richness only found in face-to-face communication?
Will the addition of Web-like platforms impede typically hierarchical information flow?
Will fad-like methods for dealing with disasters spread across the Internet before they can be tested?
Will safety and ergonomic guidelines be realized before possibly hazardous IT is implemented?
These questions emphasize the need for more research regarding new technology use with information disasters and disaster information. Studies should focus on disaster warning communication systems, disaster mitigation for information systems, and knowledge management for information disaster preparedness.
9/11 left many businesses devoid of information that was critical to their daily operations. Massive destruction obliterated electronic and hard copy client lists, sales records, billing information, and contracts. Neither sophisticated IT nor well-developed disaster recovery plans could prepare organizations for the permanent loss of knowledge—knowledge recorded on paper, electronically, and in the minds of the victims who lost their lives. IS/EM collaboration should thus focus on several aspects of disaster information flow including EM team problem-solving and decision-making; communications interoperability—both humanly and artificially produced at the local, state, national, and international levels; sensitive and/or vital information sharing among governmental entities, and the “problematic aspects of the information/communication revolution” as introduced by Quarantelli (1997). Also imperative is the convergence of disciplines in the research of the elusive concept of vulnerability (McEntire, David A., 2004). Theoretical integration of IS and EM in these and other areas can only serve to improve all phases of disaster management from preparedness to response to recovery to mitigation.
Two distinct problems are evident in both IS and EM research—information disasters and the flow of disaster information. The impact of these problems demands extensive studies, however, the duality of the problems—information and disasters—demands integrated studies.
Vannevar Bush emphasized the need for integration among disciplines when he bemoaned the “growing mountain of research…” as studies became more diverse. He also felt that investigators were “staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers…” with no time “…to grasp, much less to remember…” other researchers’ contributions.
The events of 9/11 instigated a revival of Vannevar Bush’s challenge to launch the “massive task of making more accessible a bewildering store of knowledge” (Bush, V., 1945a). Bush’s 60-year-old recommendation is surprisingly similar to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission in its 2004 report to the nation.
The U.S. government has access to a vast amount of information. But it has a weak system for processing and using what it has. The system of need to know should be replaced by a system of need to share" (The 9/11 Commission, 2004).
The need to share information among disciplines and governments cannot be met by IS or EM alone. Integrated research is vital to minimize the vulnerabilities to information disasters and consequently diminish disaster’s inherent disruptions to life. Integrated research is also vital to maximize the effectiveness of disaster information flow among EM organizations and thereby facilitate the preservation of life. Possible repercussions from information disasters and ineffective disaster information flow necessitate the integration of IS and EM. The stability and survival of lives may depend on it.