Teresa Onorati, Alessio Malizia, Paloma Díaz and Ignacio Aedo
Computer Science Department, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Avda. de la Universidad 30, Leganés, Madrid, Spain
Keywords: Human-Computer Interaction, Emergency Information System, User Need, Computer Supported
Cooperative Work.
Abstract: The management of an emergency is a cooperative work that involves people from different areas and
different roles. In this paper, we describe an empirical study based on surveys and interviews that have been
done with users to study how to improve the collaborative functionalities of an existing system used for
cooperating and sharing resources among different Spanish Emergency Management governmental
agencies. The goal of the study was to understand how emergency workers cooperate in real emergencies
and the kind of tools they are actually using, as well as to identify potential strategies and technologies to
improve the level of computer-supported collaboration.
Emergency management is an example of
collaborative work where participants could be
geographically distributed. Governmental and non-
governmental agencies from various nations share
resources to manage a crisis in the most efficient
way. Emergency workers can be subdivided in
professionals or volunteers with a specific level of
responsibility or role in the solution process and a
specific kind of expertise and experience.
Computer Supported Cooperative Work
(CSCW) might play an important role to coordinate
all the people and the resources involved in an
emergency. The scope of the management of an
emergency is to obtain an efficient solution of the
crisis, where efficient is referred to an optimal
organization of the activities to perform and the
resources to employ. To do this, a collaboration
system is needed to support effective information
sharing, decision making and communication
(Waugh, 2006).
Beyond technical characteristics, it is important
to consider psychological issues. In an emergency,
feelings and behaviours of involved people can be
different with respect to a normal situation. They are
worried about the solution process and they need to
work in a real-time full operating environment. In
this scenario, the efficacy of the collaboration relies
greatly on the ability to cope with the different ways
of thinking and acting of participants. For these
reasons, it is useful to interview emergency workers
to collect information about the management of an
emergency (e.g. a full description of different
stages). In this article, we elaborate the information
gathering process on interviews and surveys with
emergency workers in different Spanish agencies.
Our objective is to analyse aspects about the
relation between collaboration and emergency, like
tools and communication devices used and how
shared resources are managed. In next sections, we
start describing related works and then we present
our study about a possible characterization of
collaboration in emergency management. We
conducted an experiment with real users involved in
an emergency situation to understand their needs.
From these results, we eventually identify useful
collaborative tools, adapting the time/space matrix
(Dix et al., 2003, pp. 664-665) to the emergency
management case.
In these last years, many disasters, like the
Hurricane Katrina, showed the limits of existing
Onorati T., Malizia A., Díaz P. and Aedo I. (2009).
In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - Human-Computer Interaction, pages 48-54
DOI: 10.5220/0001984200480054
emergency management systems. In (Waugh, 2006)
authors present an interesting analysis about phases
of the emergency management process. This
analysis is based on a real example in United States.
In general, a process to manage a crisis has: (1) to
prevent or mitigate the impact of the disaster; (2) to
prepare an emergency planning and training; (3) to
respond with some specific activities; (4) to restore
the situation with basic services.
In the past, all commands and controls were
structured in a hierarchical way with a top-down
approach, where few agencies were involved. Now,
authority is shared among many organizations,
responsibility is dispersed and resources are
scattered. This new scenario needs a more dynamic
and flexible network which could improve the
collaboration among emergency workers. The role
of collaboration is crucial to link all emergency
management agencies dealing with a crisis or a
potential catastrophic event. Moreover, all levels of
a management process require collaboration: for
example, local agencies need to create a trusted
relationship between volunteers and communities.
In literature, there are many contributions that
analyse how the collaboration can be improved in
case of emergency. Nevertheless, last disasters have
demonstrated that the most advanced information
systems are not enough to support the faster relief of
the affected populations. For this reason, researchers
in emergency management start to rethink the role
of information technology in emergency response.
The development of a system consists of the
following stages: design, development, usage and
evaluation (Van De Walle, 2007). Moreover, one
critical point for the emergency response is the time:
the access to the system must be very fast and
information must be always updated.
A relevant issue in emergency domain is that
individuals during an emergency situation are under
pressure: to absorb information rapidly, to judge its
meaning and relevance and to make effective
decisions about next actions. Based on these
considerations, in (Carver, 2007) authors presents
five important properties for emergency
management: people involved feels they are
exercising control; the focus of attention has to be
on the problem, ignoring all that is not relevant; the
improvisation is important to evaluate information
and to formulate decisions; senses of challenge,
curiosity, and enjoyment are important factors;
depending on the critical nature of the problem,
people feel more motivated to find a solution
without losing time.
Manoj and Hubenko-Baker in (Manoj, 2007)
identify and discuss technological, sociological, and
organizational challenges to establish an efficient
communication system during a crisis. The
communication is the first way to respond to a
disaster. Today, all local, state and federal agencies
use radios to share information: the usage of
orthogonal frequencies makes the communication
very difficult. Authors in their research identify
three categories of communication challenges:
technological, sociological and organizational.
These three factors guarantee an effective system to
communicate in case of emergency.
In this section, we describe the empirical study that
has been done with emergency workers, submitting
an on-line survey and a telephonic interview to a
group of emergency workers. Involved participants
have different profiles and roles in the emergency
management process. Moreover, collected
information is about: the usage of tools both in the
work place and at home, the individual worker
experience in the emergency management, the
collaboration among emergency workers and a real
participation to a crisis.
The information gathering process is organized
in two phases. In the first one, thirty-two emergency
workers and managers have been asked to fill a
questionnaire via web. Questionnaires were
anonymous and the privacy of collected information
was guaranteed. At the end of this first phase, we
have obtained eleven filled questionnaires. In the
second phase, the same questionnaire was used for
three telephonic interviews: in this case participants
had the possibility to give us additional comments to
questions proposed during the interview.
3.1 Participants
Participants to surveys and interviews were fourteen;
they were all emergency workers or managers of
agencies of Autonomous Communities and Cities
(governmental authorities of Spanish regions) and of
the central government.
We have chosen both professionals and
volunteers, grouped into two different categories: in
charge of Emergency and in charge of Command
Post. Five participants belonged to the first group
with different roles: area directors, responsible of
information systems and director of coordination
room. The second group had nine participants, as
coordinators of operations and services, technical
experts, trainers and directors of command post.
These two categories group together all kinds of
employment in emergency management. It is a
classification related to the location: at the office or
at the command post. The emergency management
experience of chosen participants is greater than five
years: however six of them had less than ten years of
3.2 The Survey
The survey is organized into five sections as
summarized in Table 1. In general, the entire
questionnaire is about the relationship between
technologies, collaboration and emergency. The
objective is described at the beginning of the survey:
to know and to understand users’ functions and
roles during the resolution of an emergency, as well
as the influence of these roles when determining the
information each user requires and her
collaboration needs. The completion is
approximately twenty-five minutes.
Table 1: Questionnaire sections.
I. Experience with tools
II. Experience in emergency management as
professional and volunteer
III. Kind of tasks performed according to her role and
the emergency phase she is working at
IV. Features of the working place (physical and
organizational) and of the collaboration
V. Description of tasks and technology used in the last
participation in a real emergency
The first section of the questionnaire was about
experience with tools: the frequency of use at the
work place and at home. Considered tools were web
browsing, electronic mail, video conference, audio
conference, interactive maps and collaborative
instruments (e.g. shared database).
In the second section users answered questions
about their personal experience in emergency
management: type of employment, years of
experience in emergency management as
professional or volunteer and the emergency stage
where they are employed.
The third section consisted of four questions
related to functions and tasks performed during
emergency management. In particular, users have to
indicate job functions during an emergency
situation, participation in the negotiation and in the
delivery of resources of others agencies, tasks
performed during the reception and the donation of
Working place and collaboration during
emergency management was the topic of the fourth
section. Required information was about devices and
tools used to perform users’ activities, like
collaboration and communication to manage the
delegation and the authorization process.
The last part of the survey was about the
description of a real emergency participation. Users
have to describe the type of participation (as affected
or as supplier), the management of resources and the
employed devices in a real scenario.
3.3 Results
After collecting information gathering process,
results both from on-line surveys and telephonic
interviews have been analysed and compared to
study how technology is employed in the emergency
management. In this section we present the data
analysis with the questionnaire results.
The first result we present is the use of internet
and communication tools. Web browsing, interactive
maps and GPS have higher frequency of use than e-
mail and audio conference. Comparing the
frequency of interactive maps and paper maps, the
second ones have a lower use than the first ones:
interviewed emergency workers consider interactive
maps more comfortable and useful. An example is
GoogleMaps that provides detailed maps of the
entire world.
Results from the second section of the survey
give a classification of participants, depending on
various factors. Considering the role in the
emergency management process, we individuate two
classes: back-end people and front-end people.
Back-end people are ones directly in charge of
emergency that work in the back office. Front-end
people are the ones that work in the command post
and are in charge of managing the emergency in the
field. Depending on the number of years of
experience, five different groups have been
individuated. The most numerous one is composed
by people with twenty or more years of emergency
experience as professionals or volunteers. As shown
in (Waugh, 2006), the emergency management
stages are mitigation, planning, response and
recuperation. Depending on the stage of the
emergency management process, interviewed
emergency workers are mainly involved in the third
one: the emergency response.
From the third section of the questionnaire we
did not get any relevant results.
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Concerning the collaboration during the
emergency management, we obtained an interesting
result from the fourth part of the survey. Three
different kinds of communications have been
considered: face-to-face, by traditional devices and
by electronic devices. The Figure 1 is a graphic with
on the y axis the number of users that had chosen the
kind of communication on the x axis. Represented
values on the x axis are No to indicate users that do
not use the selected kind of communication, Yes for
ones that had not given a preference between to one
and to many, to one for collaboration between two
people and to many for collaboration among many
people. Looking at this graphic we can conclude that
multi-directional communications are mainly done
face-to-face. Traditional devices are used both
among two or more people. The use of electronic
devices is in any case rare limited to sending e-mails
to multiple users. Combining this information, we
can conclude that collaboration among many people
uses a face-to-face communication, instead
communication one to one uses traditional devices.
People: kind of communication
Face to Face By tradicional devices By electronic devices
to one
to many
Figure 1: Kind of Communication during Collaboration.
Tool experience for each emergency stage
Undefined Mitigation Planification Response Recuperation
web browsing
electronic mail
audio conference
interactive maps
collaborative tools
Figure 2: Combing Tool experience and Emergency stage.
In the second phase of the analysis we combined
the tool experience with the emergency management
phases. In Figure 2 there is the relative graphic. In
this case on the y axis there is the mean frequency of
use for each tool and on the x axis the emergency
stage (mitigation, planning, response and
recuperation). The entry Undefined represents users
that do not indicate the stage. It is interesting to note
that web browsing and electronic mail are the most
used in each stage, but in mitigation and
recuperation they have the same frequency of GPS.
Collaborative tools are in particular used during
recuperation to coordinate all necessary operations.
Moreover, video conference is the least used tool in
all stages.
Table 2: Variance for results in Figure 2.
mitigation plan response recuperation
0 0,15 0,14 0
email 0 0,08 0,08 0
0 0,33 0,56 0
1 2,06 2,10 0
1 1,71 1,73 0
GPS 0 2,81 2,75 0
3 2,45 2,27 0
The Table 2 presents variances for means in
Figure 2 (the combination of tool experience with
the emergency management phases). This further
information is a way to capture the distribution
degree of the presented data set. In this particular
case, the lowest values are for web browsing,
electronic mail and videoconference. This means
that all interviewed users gave a similar evaluation
to these tools: high frequency for web browsing and
electronic mail, low frequency for videoconference.
In case of audio conference, interactive maps, GPS
and collaborative tools, there is a large gap among
users’ evaluation. The reason is that they are used by
a small group of participants with a high frequency,
in particular for GPS and collaborative tools.
Looking at the variance, we can deduce that these
tools can be useful in all emergency stages;
nevertheless further investigation is needed in order
to complete data analysis.
At the end of the combining analysis, some
conclusions can be drawn. Video conference and
collaborative tools have low frequency of use, due to
the age of users and not to the emergency stage.
Presumably, in the future people would be more
available to use advanced tools in domain like the
emergency management. At the same time, from a
technical point view, advanced technology for
collaboration system (e.g. video conference,
interactive maps and shared database) needs an
improvement to be most usable and easy to use.
A collaborative system can be categorized in several
ways. One of these, presented in (Dix, 2003), uses
information about where and when users collaborate.
To describe this approach a Time/Space matrix is
used (Table 3). The time axis is the y (rows) and the
space axis is the x (columns). For example, in case
of users available to collaborate at the same time and
geographically distributed (synchronous, remote),
they can use devices, like a telephone or a system
with an instant communication, like chat or video
Table 3: Time/space matrix.
Co-located Remote
Synchronous meeting rooms video conference
Asynchronous argumentation tool email
Results of the information gathering process
presented in the third section have shown a set of
useful tools in emergency management: combining
this information with the collaboration time/space
matrix, we have obtained the time/space matrix for
the domain of collaboration in emergency
management (see the table in Table 4).
Table 4: Time/space matrix in the emergency
Co-located Remote
(multiple users)
Traditional Device (one
to one, multiple users)
Electronic Device
(multiple users)
Looking at the time/space matrix for the
emergency management domain and at users needs,
it is possible to propose improvements to
collaboration for an emergency management
system. In particular, we proceeded analysing how
to improve both synchronous and asynchronous
In synchronous communication, users prefer
traditional devices: they do not feel comfortable
using new technologies, they are afraid and they do
not trust these devices. In (Van De Walle, 2007), the
importance of electronic devices is pinpointed: users
can take advantage of these technologies by using
advanced services, like video conference to
communicate remotely or interactive maps to find
out geographical information. The solution is to
design new devices easy to use and similar to
traditional ones but that can augment the capacity of
response. Depending on the kind of communication,
face-to-face or remote, we can identify possible
If the communication is co-located and people
share the same environment, an interactive
whiteboard can be useful due to various aspects. An
interactive whiteboard allows workers interact with
a big display where all available information is
visualized and touch substitutes the mouse so that
interaction might be more natural. Let’s imagine a
flight having problems and calling the control tower
to communicate the kind of emergency; this fact
will raise a procedure for managing this specific
crisis. The crisis procedure will include an
emergency meeting involving all the crucial
professional figures collaborating in a control room
to solve the crisis. The control room could be
equipped with the whiteboard continuously
displaying the status of the emergency, the map of
the airport, aggregation points (for fire-fighters and
first aids), etc. Furthermore the possibility of
interacting with a touch sensitive board will help in
immediately manipulating the placement of
resources and aids over the airport map.
In the case of a remote and synchronous
communication, an interesting idea could be to use
an IP phone (integrated into a system using Voice
over IP technology). An IP phone is based on IP
technologies and it allows telephone calls to be
made over the internet (Figure 5). It has several
advantages, such as the high level of integration into
digital systems and the usage of Ids like e-mail ones.
An interesting utility in case of emergency
management systems could be the storing of calls to
extract various information with a voice recognizer
(intelligent logging). By intelligent logging we
mean the possibility of using data mining and
natural language processing techniques to
automatically analyse transcription of critical phone
calls and extract relevant information.
Figure 3: The Facial Expression Recognizer.
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The facial expression recognition system can
provide information about the emotional state of the
workers. In Figure 3 there is the output of the facial
expression recognizer, presented in (Cohen et al.,
2003). The output is a 7-components vector: each
value is a probability for the related emotion (happy,
sad, neutral, surprise, angry, disgust, fear). As shown
in (Carver, 2007), the feelings of each emergency
worker could influence the activities performed to
solve the crisis: we propose the use of facial
recognition to provide non conventional and
intelligent interfaces.
For example, in a normal situation, we could
assume that a manager in charge of first aids in case
of big disaster (e.g. a Civil Protection Manager),
would have to monitor many information. Thus, a
system operating in normal status will provide her
with many data about logistics (hospitals,
ambulances availabilities, fire-fighters), equipments
(units equipped for chemical crisis, nuclear crisis,
etc), communications (governmental phonebook,
faxes and relevant points of contact), etc. When a
crisis occurs, all this information could overload the
manager abilities. By using a face and emotion
recognition module, the system could adapt the
information presentation and functions to the
manager’s level of stress; in this way, the system
could present a map locating the relevant resources
(ambulances, hospitals, etc) providing a synthesised
The relation between collaboration and emergency
management is a very interesting research area that
combines principles from Computer Supported
Cooperative Work (CSCW) and the domain of
emergency. In these last years, the emergency
management is gaining importance and relevance: in
fact, big crisis like Katrina, have highlighted the lack
of an effective system to prevent, manage and solve
this kind of situation. For this reason, the
collaboration in the emergency management is
fundamental both for communication between users
and for shared information and resources.
We have studied various approaches present in
literature on the domain of emergency management
systems that also provide information about
organization of emergency processes. To obtain
additional information about these main points, we
have analysed the involvement of real users. The
proposed questionnaire was, in particular, about the
communication tools used by emergency worker to
collaborate during the solution of an emergency.
From results of the conducted experiment and
considering the theory of the Computer Supported
Cooperative Work, we have adapted the time/space
matrix at the domain of emergency management.
Moreover and we have proposed possible solutions
to improve the collaboration in emergency
management system. Examples are the IP phone and
the whiteboard as devices, the facial expression
recognizer as an add-on of the system.
In conclusion, this work provides a proposal for
different technologies that an emergency
management system could provide to help the
collaboration between its users. Future works will be
to study the use of the proposed technologies in the
different phases of emergency management;
furthermore we believe that studying the use of non-
conventional interfaces could be of great help in the
systems supporting emergency control rooms.
This work has been partly funded by the UIA4SIGE
project (Ministry of Science and Innovation
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