Examining the Role of Human and Technical Infrastructure during Emergency Response

John J. Robinson, Jim Maddock, Kate Starbird


Infrastructures—both technical and human—are critical components of emergency response, helping to facilitate and shape both formal work practices and the improvisational work that individuals and organizations take part in as they address emergent challenges during unpredictable events. This research explores the relationships between infrastructure and collaborative work in this context, at a time when the infrastructures themselves are rapidly changing and/or under pressure to change due to the introduction of new technology. We interviewed 17 emergency workers from region that had recently experienced a major emergency response. These interviews illuminate weaknesses in some of the systems designed to support the information and communication needs of emergency workers, and demonstrate emergency workers assembling their own ICT infrastructures using familiar off-the-shelf tools like social media platforms and shared Google documents. These findings also highlight the importance of human infrastructure in supporting improvisation and collaboration among emergency workers.

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