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Mitigating Disaster: Improvising Information Technology in Response to Extreme Events



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Journal of Information System Security
Volume 5, Number 1 (2009)
Pages 331
ISSN 1551-0123
John C. Borne — Louisiana State University, USA
Suzanne D. Pawlowski — Louisiana State University, USA
Information Institute Publishing, Washington DC, USA




In the wake of extreme events, communities immediately adjacent to disaster areas have a unique and important role in mitigating the effects of the resulting hazards to human life and property. This paper reports on an exploratory, qualitative case study to examine the use of information technology in conjunction with disaster mitigation activities in an area adjacent to a large disaster. The experiences, thoughts and beliefs of ten individuals involved in mitigation activities at Louisiana State University immediately following Hurricane Katrina and the resulting large scale evacuation of New Orleans were captured through interviews and cognitive mapping. Collective maps of the experiences of three key groups — Implementers, Decision Makers and Vendors — provide insights into the challenges encountered and strategies employed during the response effort. The results of the study highlight the importance of creating an environment that enables improvisational processes, including: "bricolage," or making do with the materials at hand; organizational openness to improvisation; creating a culture that promotes improvisation; the importance of timing in improvisation; and emergent leadership roles. The study findings contribute to our understandings of the ways that information technology resources can be mobilized in times of emergency, whether this is the result of an extreme event or a business crisis.




Disaster Response, Information Technology, Improvisation Theory, Cognitive Mapping




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