Designing Information Technology for Emergency Response
Doctoral thesis, 2007
This thesis contributes to our understanding of information technology
use in emergency response work and how information technology could
be designed to provide support in emergency response work. The work domain
of operative emergency response has been studied by extensive ethnographic
fieldwork at several different fire and rescue services in Sweden.
Prototypes have been design and used by fire crews in field experiments in
order to probe for potential future use of information technology and to
study its consequences.
By using sensemaking as an analytical lens, new aspects in emergency response
work have been identified that influence the design of information
technology support. The results from the extensive fieldwork and the field
experiments presented in this thesis suggest a new conceptualization of response
work as patterns of practice where the collective efforts of making
sense is fundamental for successful response work. The conceptualization
makes visible the importance of carefully embedding the use of information
technology in the situated time-critical response work.
Based on the patterns of practice, two general design dimensions have
been formed, extending our current knowledge of how information
technology should be designed for emergency response work. Current
information technology has primarily been designed for a formal role or
specific task. The results presented in this thesis suggest that the design of
information technology should focus on the social interactions among the
response actors involved in time-critical response work. In the collective
efforts of making sense in emergency response, actors use a range of information
technology artifacts that produce a range of digital traces that say
something about the ongoing work. Future information technology should
be designed to make use of such traces of actions in order to improve the
visibility of the actors and their actions in ongoing the response work.
By designing for social interactions and designing for traces of actions,
new improved features of information technology could be materialized
that will make emergency responders better equipped for sensemaking
activities in emergency response work.