hurricane-harvey-pol-ml-170830_4x3_992With the recent devastation left on Houston Texas by Hurricane Harvey , I want to focus this blog post on how Knowledge Management (KM) can be used to help our first responders in managing the response to emergencies and disaster preparedness.

During a time of crisis relevant information is usually not received in a timely manner by the individuals or groups of individuals that need it the most. The lack of timely and correct information increases the level of confusion, resulting in ineffectiveness that may cause a loss of life. The lack of timely and correct information also prevents First Responders, key leadership and the public from preparing for imminent danger, compromises the ability to make informed decisions and enact the proper emergency preparedness operations.

When I speak of information I also include the data that comprises the information and the decisions (knowledge) that is gained from and acted upon with the information.

Creating a Knowledge Management (KM) Strategy presents a holistic approach to leveraging knowledge and implementing technology to improve the access to correct and timely data, information and knowledge. The KM Strategy reflects several key aspects in delivering knowledge throughout an organization. The KM Strategy suitable for execution by first responders should align with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which “provides a consistent nationwide template to enable federal, state, tribal, local governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity”. The KM Strategy for first responders will specifically address disaster preparedness, response and recovery including the technology that must be leveraged to support this strategy.

In order for any technology initiative to be successful it must address a need for the organization. The KM Strategy will identify the knowledge needs of first responders and determine the communication needs between national, state, and local entities and their corresponding first responder organizations (such as, Fire, Police, EMS, National Guard, and Cost Guard). Our preliminary research has determined that establishing a national alert system is a high priority initiative for the Department of Homeland Security. This initial system will incorporate the knowledge needs identified in the KM Strategy as well as technologies that will enable federal, state, and local government to support first responders more effectively and efficiently.

In determining a suitable knowledge management strategy for First Responders a determination must be made on the way they serve their clients, the types of knowledge that must be shared, captured and available for reuse, and should align with the strategic direction of the organization.

First Responders must have a KM strategy that supports the following:

  • Quick and Decisive Decision Making
  • Knowledge Recognition, Needs Assessment and Allocation, Feedback and Evaluation
  • Expertise Coordination Practices
  • Command and Control Structure
  • Learning and Knowledge Transfer

Quick and Decisive Decision Making

To support quick and decisive decision making, collaborative communication, and situational analysis there has to be an incident command structure that disseminates integrated information and knowledge utilizing real-time communications (see the National Incident Management System – NIMS). During an emergency first responders are operating in an atmosphere of panic fear and confusion as well as being under pressure to absorb information rapidly, judge its meaning, relevance and reliability. This information and knowledge of the crisis event is being passed along from individual to individual, team to team and agency to agency. As this communication escalates there is a need to incorporate technology to facilitate the rapid flow of information and knowledge that will enable quick and decisive decision making and situational analysis.

Knowledge Recognition, Needs Assessment and Allocation Feedback and Evaluation

During an emergency event first responders have to know details about the event as it is happening, what is needed to address the event, who needs specific information and knowledge, and what action(s) have to be taken. The NIMS protocols, procedures, and policies as indicated by the Communications and Information Management, and the Command and Management components support the knowledge recognition, needs assessment and allocation feedback and evaluation mechanisms needed in a KM strategy for First Responders.

Expertise Coordination Practices (ECP)

During an emergency event, knowledge is being exchanged in a rapid nature. Expertise coordination will establish the process to enable the management of this knowledge and skill interdependencies. ECP as part of the First Responder KM strategy will support knowledge sharing and expertise vetting during emergency events.

The ECP protocols supported by the KM strategy as identified by Faraj and Xiao will be:

  • Protocols to streamline work and reduce process uncertainty
  • Plug-n-play teaming arrangements, which allow for flexibility of personnel
  • Communities of Practice (CoP) for operational responsibility and training
  • Knowledge externalization to increase knowledge sharing

Expertise coordination activities are supported by the NIMS Resource Management component, which includes protocols, procedures and policies to support the facilitation and coordination of resources throughout every phase of the emergency event. It also addresses the coordination of knowledge between individuals, teams and agencies.

Command and Control Structure

Command and control address the management of information and knowledge at the tactical level. At the tactical level the KM strategy will address functional (tacit) knowledge at the operation level which includes, task planning (what tasks to do, when and how to execute the task), event monitoring (monitoring the actions taken and executed during an emergency event), understanding the time and place of emergency events, location and nature of the emergency event, reasoning about the cause and effect of the incident and lessons learned. Command and control has been identified as an integral part of any knowledge management system and the First Responders KM strategy must establish the protocols, processes, and procedures to address command and control. The KM strategy should specifically establish protocols, processes, and procedures for, planning, monitoring and learning, distributed knowledge framework to support teams, and support critical decision making. The establishment command and control activities are supported by the NIMS Command and Management component, which includes protocols to support Incident Command, Multiagency Coordination, and Public Information.

Learning and Knowledge Transfer

Since data, information and knowledge of the crisis event is being passed along from individual to individual, team to team and agency to agency there is a need to incorporate policies, procedures and protocols to facilitate an atmosphere of learning and knowledge transfer. The learning and knowledge transfer must not only take place between the various factions during an emergency but also within the various organizations. Learning and knowledge transfer will be a key ingredient in the KM strategy for the First Responders as they react to emergency events.

I urge everyone to contribute what you can in support of the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts to assist the people of Houston Texas. Access the following websites for information on how you can contribute; American Red Cross, YouCaring Fund, World Relief.

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