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Facilitators and barriers to effective information sharing during international disaster response

Sara Waring, PhD, PGCert L&T, MSc, BSc (Hons), Michael Humann, PhD, PGCert L&T, MSc, BSc (Hons), Natasha Dawson, MSc, BSc (Hons)


Effective information sharing is essential for the successful management of disasters. But as 30 years’ worth of UK public inquiries repeatedly highlight, differences in terminology and goals across agencies can make this difficult to achieve. The growing scale and intensity of disasters raises additional challenges, with emergency responders being required to work across regions and even countries. The following study focuses on identifying facilitators and barriers to information sharing in dynamic contexts, where interdisciplinary teams from across geographic regions form ad hoc to rapidly address challenges. This case study draws on 257 naturalistic observations made by subject-matter experts during the largest disaster management exercise to take place in Europe to date. The 4-day exercise, funded by the European Commission, involved over 5,000 emergency responders from the UK, Cyprus, Hungary, and Italy, providing a unique opportunity to examine information sharing practices across international boundaries. Results of a mixed-method analysis highlight that barriers within and between countries are particularly prevalent during periods of greater uncertainty. These barriers include language and technological difficulties, differences in roles and responsibilities, and failure to co-locate and coordinate activities. Developing shared frames of reference, including adopting common structures for presenting information and understanding roles and responsibilities, facilitates information sharing, potentially reducing cognitive load. Implications for developing evidence-based approaches to disaster response are discussed.


disaster response, information sharing, multiteam, communication, naturalistic observation

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