Work Streams

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Summary, aims and objectives of the seminar series:

Major Catastrophic Incidents can involve thousands of people and/or require a mass and/or prolonged combined response from Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs) often from a range of neighbouring regions due to the size of an incident. For such events in the UK, Government set policies and targets for emergency responsiveness which EMAs work to achieve, but policy-makers need to be well informed, allowing them to set a response target that is proportionate to the anticipated need. Since the need to respond to a major catastrophic incident is rare and unexpected (in that advanced warning is usually limited), EMA operational preparedness for such incidents often centres on building predictive models based on operational assumptions to evaluate the effect of different operational configurations on the ability to meet these targets. Thus responsiveness partially depends on the accuracy and utility of the predictive models which influence decision makers' operational commitments.
Also due to their rarity, the public are not naturally conditioned to respond to major catastrophic incidents and their lack of preparedness can hinder their responsiveness. On this, some Governments have taken to public preparedness campaigns e.g. through the media. However, the reaction of the UK’s public is still largely unknown as little emphasis has been placed on researching this essential component of responding to major incidents. For example, the recent inquiry into the response to major flooding in Gloucestershire especially underlined limited public preparedness in situations where EMAs are unable to respond to all individual emergency calls (Garnham, 2007).
This is a global issue as witnessed by the United Nations declaring the 1990s to be the “International Decade for Disaster Reduction” and launched the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction which emphasises areas for improvement in this area globally but places the responsibility with national governments to make better provisions for disasters. Our aims for this seminar series therefore focus at a national level on strengthening the research foundations which can help to prepare UK EMAs, government officials and the public to better respond to major catastrophic events by working with researchers to address key questions in preparedness. To achieve this aim, we have the following research questions centred on our two main streams of analyses, to which we add a third stream which combines the two:
1. Preparedness of the EMAs for Major Catastrophic Incidents

  • What research and policy questions need to be answered to inform preparedness?
  • What research models and modelling techniques can help to address these questions?
  • Which models are available but not being deployed at present?
  • What data and assumptions are needed to build these models?

2. Preparedness of the public for Major Catastrophic Incidents

  • How prepared are the public across the UK?
  • What approaches are used to ensure good awareness and preparedness of the public?
  • How can public preparedness be measured?
  • What is the likely effectiveness of the approaches for preparing the public?
  • How should the public be best prepared?

3. Combining EMAs’ responses with the public’s response

  • How can EMA models or those emerging from academic work be used to predict the optimal public response?
  • How can EMAs and regions work towards achieving this response through public preparedness?

Through answering these questions our seminars will identify the key research gaps by comparing practitioners’ needs with the existing research base to identify fruitful opportunities to inform evidence-based emergency preparedness. The range of subjects which need to be harnessed to respond to such research questions is extremely broad. For example, Operational Research (OR) modellers can bring techniques for analysing EMA performance; psychologists help understand how the public may be researched (and these two skill sets are available through the proposal investigators). Equally as critical are specialists in, for example: emergency management; policing and security; risk management; public perception of risk; public communication; public policy; health care provision.
The seminar series will identify the major unanswered research questions through the collaboration of a multi-disciplinary group of emergency management researchers and practitioner experts. We will aim to unite researchers, EMAs and government analysts around these research questions to: ensure the practical relevance of a meaningful research agenda; strengthen working relationships to match research skills with access to research contexts; solve operational problems. The overall result will be to strengthen the UK’s academic research community on emergency responsiveness and preparedness partly by building bridges with practitioners and by providing a research identity for this fragmented community.
It is important to note that this proposal continues our efforts of strengthening national capability though improving the modelling capacity of analysts and would facilitate a much broader multi-disciplinary debate of these important issues with academic and practitioner communities.
Seminar Proposal:
The seminar series proposes to link practitioners in the field with academics from a number of specialisations with the aim of focusing on methods to “produce well tested plans which can be used … should an incident occur” (Pidd et al, 1996). These methods will combine the expertise of practitioners with the modeling and other expertise of academics. The over-arching aim is to improve research that will support the planning/preparation of an adequate response to major catastrophic incidents using models and approaches to inform optimal preparedness. The seminars will start the process of creating a central knowledge repository for preparedness of the public and Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs), and initiating UK wide collaboration across academics and practitioners. A portal & workshops will facilitate knowledge sharing on (1) scope & utility of academic and practitioner decision making models that inform EMA preparedness (2) scope & utility of academic and practitioner approaches for preparing the public (3) using models to inform policy on public preparedness.
Disaster management has been separated into four distinct phases (Coppola, 2007): mitigation (prevention of the disaster happening in the first place; preparedness (being ready to respond); response (taking action to attenuate the impact of disaster); recovery (re-establishment of normalcy). Our focus is on the preparedness phase since it is on the one hand the most generic and therefore where most impact might be made and on the other hand where little research has been carried out to date. These seminars will explore the support which researchers can provide to analysts as they prepare an emergency response plan in advance of any emergency incident. We will not focus on the avoidance of the incident, for that is outside the knowledge of the invitees and an area which is researched in its own right and is already the focus of conferences and journals. Nor will we focus on systems which provided incident managers with operational guidance during/following an incident (Perry, 2003). Our focus will be on the models and approaches which are used before any incident occurs, aiming to support analysts, policy-advisors and policy-makers in setting policy targets for operational response performance. We will also focus on the models which EMAs might use in advance of any incident happening to support their preparedness to respond to an incident if it should happen. Furthermore, we will simultaneously explore the methods for public preparedness and integrate these with the predictive models. In this, our seminars focuses on government ‘preparedness’ (Gillespie & Streeter, 1987) in a way that is akin to Godchalk’s (1991) definition of “actions taken in advance of an emergency to develop operational capabilities and to facilitate response in the event that an emergency occurs” (p.136). Behind these seminars sits the rationale that “effective preparedness and response activities help save lives, reduce injuries, limit property damage, and minimize all sorts of disruptions that disaster cause” (Mileti, 1991, p.239) as well as ensure a more economical use of limited resources.
Evidence of the benefits of links between EMA practitioners and academics have been established on emergency preparedness through the Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) bi-annual conference. Through this conference research into emergency response has been gathered with that of military and aviation (Flin et al, 1998; Klein & Zsambok, 1997; Montgomery et al, 2004; Salas & Klein, 2001) which has usefully resulted in EMA incident commanders expecting appropriate training for the response to incidents. However, in the UK collaboration is more based on personal contacts than on a professional society level as the academic community is very fragmented with no academic conference and only disparate pockets of activity being reported in individual streams across a wide range of conferences, meaning cross disciplinary debate is restricted.
To encourage this debate we propose a series of 5 inter-related seminars with the following themes:

  • Seminar 1 - Typology of models for supporting EMA preparedness
  • Seminar 2 - Using models for EMA preparedness
  • Seminar 3 - Typology of approaches for supporting public preparedness
  • Seminar 4 - Using approaches for public preparedness
  • Seminar 5 - A framework for measuring EMA and public preparedness