Improving emergency and disaster response management performance : A problem-solving perspective

Abstract: The purpose of this doctoral thesis is to investigate how collective emergency and disaster response management performance can be further improved. Based on four studies, this research contributes with knowledge in two areas.First, collective processes that might improve response management are investigated. In this regard, collective improvisation as a concept is found limited in its usefulness and it is suggested to adopt problem solving as a broader analytical concept. In specific, collective problem representation is argued as potentially useful for investigating how response management performance can be improved. One interview study and one document study explore collective problem representation in response management. Based on interviews with response management professionals, three factors are found to impact the process of achieving a collective problem representation: formal hierarchical structures, legislation and regulations, and, relationships. How problems are represented in common operational pictures, which are widely used for sharing information about problems and solutions in responsemanagement is investigated in an empirical study of a wildfire response. Problems were found to be mainly represented in terms of geographic references and the status of the present wildfires, statements regarding resources, and, in terms of risks or potential consequences, relating to anticipated or future problems. Understandinghow problems are represented in common operational pictures enables an investigation into how these can be improved to better inform the handling of various events. The second area of contribution concerns how we can identify measures that actually improve response management performance. A complementary approach to traditional response management research is suggested: that of combining descriptive and experimental research. Descriptive studies constitute a basis for understandingresponse management problems and suggesting possible solutions. Experiments can thereafter test and evaluate the suggested solutions to see whether these should be further developed. The suggested research approach is exemplified with an experimental study testing a recommended measure in response management practice, namely goal alignment. Even though the findings indicate that goal alignment might not be an effective solution to improve response management performance, further inquiry is warranted. This thesis nevertheless calls for caution whenattributing causal explanation for successful performance to concepts without thoroughly investigating cause and effect between the two, which is supported by the findings related to collective improvisation and goal alignment. A useful way forward can be that of developing articulated models, which should describe the essential performance of the concept in question and have clear, falsifiable, connections between the concept and the outcome.