Environment Systems and Decisions

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 379–397 | Cite as

Improving communication resilience for effective disaster relief operations

  • Ekundayo Shittu
  • Geoffrey Parker
  • Nancy Mock


The objective of this paper is to identify strategies to improve the resilience of interagency communication between relief organizations and the community when dealing with an emergency. This research draws from frameworks including information theory, organization design, and how the private sector has learned and evolved from the challenges of information flow to provide guidance to disaster relief agencies. During times of emergency, private organizations as well as public authorities must coordinate in real time to create an effective response. When coordination is absent, failure results, as was seen after Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake. Using data that the authors collected immediately after these disasters, two case studies of systemic failure are presented to extract lessons that might be used to improve communication resilience through coordination between parties in humanitarian relief operations. Recent emergency response trends are identified, and the paper argues that the persistence of response failures is not surprising, in part because response organizations normally operate independently, and their operations evolve at different rates. As a result, the organizational interfaces that enable rapid integration during a disaster naturally degrade and may be weak or absent. Integrating the literature on information processing theory and organization design with the data from the two case studies, the paper proposes that increasing the resilience of disaster response systems can be achieved by (1) improving the interoperability and information flow across organizational boundaries; (2) increasing the synergies between organizations on adapting new technology such as social media for the coordination of structured and unstructured data for use in decision-making, and (3) increasing the flexibility of relief organizations to use external resources from areas not affected by disasters on an opportunistic basis. The paper concludes by discussing resilience enhancing solutions including boundary spanning investments and argues that effective emergency response does not result from sporadic or intermittent efforts but rather requires sustained investment, continuous monitoring, and data collection.


Information theory Organization design Social media Boundary spanning Coordination Emergency response Resilience Communication 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Engineering Management & Systems EngineeringThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  3. 3.Disaster Resilience Leadership AcademyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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