Sensemaking in emergency response command and control

McMaster, Richard Benjamin (2014). Sensemaking in emergency response command and control. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis presents an investigation of sensemaking within emergency response command and control (C2) systems. Sensemaking is considered from a novel perspective – that of sensemaking as distributed cognition – which proposes that sensemaking is a technologically mediated and socially distributed cognitive activity. This qualitative study adopted a multi-method approach and used two case studies to examine sensemaking in response to ‘routine emergencies’ and multi-agency major incidents. During routine emergencies, agents within the C2 network appear to function as a distributed Community of Practice, making use of rapid, highly compact, formalised communications – mediated by formal (designed) and informal (adapted) artefacts – in order to frame the problem. In contrast, whilst multi-agency major incidents display many of the features of Exploration Networks, the responding agencies were initially found to maintain their individual Communities of Practice, with inter-agency collaboration apparently hampered by the lack of shared artefacts to represent the ‘problem space’. In addition to presenting a comprehensive description of emergency response C2, the thesis supports the assertion that – in this domain at least – sensemaking is a systems-level activity that is supported by artefacts and collaborative processes. The thesis also suggests future directions for sensemaking, distributed cognition and C2 research.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Engineering & Physical Sciences
School or Department: School of Engineering, Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software


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