Crisis informatics: interdisciplinary research opportunities


Published: November 20, 2012 by Dr. Chris Hagar

As this is my first CIRI blog, I would like to tell you about my primary research interest, crisis informatics. Crisis informatics is a term that I coined in 2006 in a paper entitled Using research to aid the design of a crisis information management course presented at the Association of Library & Information Science Educators (ALISE) conference Special Interest Group Multicultural, Ethnic & Humanistic Concerns. Crisis informatics is an emerging field of inquiry which explores the inter-connectedness of information, people, and technologies in *crises/disasters and examines the intersecting trajectories of social, technical and information perspectives in crises /disasters.

Historically, the field of disaster studies was largely owned by sociologists. Disaster researchers investigated a wide range of social phenomenon during pre- and post-phases of natural, human-induced, and technological hazard events (Perry, 2006). The Disaster Research Project at the University of Chicago in the 1950s was the first organization to systematically study human behavior in disasters (Solnit, 2009). Since then, crises/disasters have been studied from a risk management perspective, from a management perspective, systems perspective, and only more recently from an information science perspective.

Crisis informatics is a growing interdisciplinary field of inquiry and requires integrative and collaborative efforts from many disciplines in order to achieve effective and efficient crisis/ disaster preparedness and response. It is of interest to a variety of researchers and academics in computer science, public health, psychology, public administration, sociology, communications, urban planners, and to practitioners in government, state, local emergency management and planning, and non government organizations. Managing crises requires individuals and organizations to work together and requires joint decision-making. The many opportunities for collaborative work with practitioners and researchers from other fields make this an exciting area of study. One of my research goals is to highlight the critical information perspectives in crisis/disaster situations to researchers and practitioners from other fields.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to have two opportunities to become involved with major international, interdisciplinary crisis/disaster conferences. The first invitation was issued in the context of my research affiliation with the Disaster & Development Center (DDC) at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, a renowned disaster research center which manages many global projects concerning disaster reduction, sustainable development and resilience building. At the DDC’s November meeting, I was invited to become a member of the Program Committee for the “Dealing with Disasters International Conference (DDIC) 2013” which will be held in collaboration with the International Society for Integrated Disaster Risk Management Conference.

Two of the research themes of the DDC are “health centred disaster risk reduction” e.g. infectious disease risk management, and “wellbeing in disaster and development” e.g. community mental health and wellbeing. I will draw on these themes in LIBR 281 “Crisis/Disaster Health Informatics”, a new course which I will teach for the first time in spring 2013.

My second invitation came about through my membership of the Disaster, Conflict and Social Crisis Research Network (DSCRN), a section of the European Sociological Association (ESA). The DSCRN is a great forum for discussion, collaboration, debate and exchange of ideas. The coordinator of the DSCRN Professor Murat Balamir (Dept. of City and Regional Planning, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey) encouraged me to submit a proposal for a session at the ESA 2013 conference “Crisis, Critique and Change” on crisis informatics. I was delighted to hear that the proposal was accepted. This will be the first time that the Network has held a session on crisis information management. It will be interesting to see how many papers are submitted to the session and from whom. There are important information perspectives to explore in two of the key conference questions: What new methods of coping with crisis have emerged? What forms of social consolidation does the crisis context give rise to? If you are interested in the work of this group (it has many members from the US), take a look at the most recent issue of the DSCRN newsletter here.

I am pleased to share my involvement with these two organizations to demonstrate the many opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration in crisis informatics – there are many more to explore. In future CIRI blogs, I will give updates on these activities.

*Crisis/disaster = natural disasters e.g. earthquakes, hurricanes, major flooding, tornadoes, human-induced crises such as terrorist attacks, pandemics, nuclear crises, war.

Perry, R. (2006). What is a disaster? In H. Rodriguez, E. L. Quarantelli, and R. R. Dynes. (Eds.). Handbook of Disaster Research (pp.1-15). New York: Springer.

Solnit, R. (2009). A paradise built in hell: The extraordinary communities that arise in disaster. New York: Viking Penguin.


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