Organizing for the Big One – A Review of Case Studies on Multi-Agency Disaster Response and a Research Agenda

Norbert Steigenberger


Disaster response operations exceed the capacities of each single organization and thus require cooperation by at least two, often up to some hundred agencies who do seldom interact in their daily operations. The result is a complex problem of cognition, coordination, command and control. This paper presents a review of empirical studies on multi-agency coordination in disaster response operations in order to initiate and facilitate cross-case learning. The review covers 72 empirical studies and highlights the importance of themes such as plans and plan enactment, leadership or personal acquaintance of actors in emergent multi-agency response networks. The analysis also shows that while some themes received extensive coverage in scholarly publications (e.g. training, skills), various important topics have not been studied in sufficient depth (e.g. development of common operational pictures, plan enactment). Based on these insights, the review develops a research agenda and derives various recommendations for practical disaster response management.

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