First Responders Participatory Design and Social Network Analysis Literature Review (2014)

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First Responders lit review

[1] Margit Kristensen, Morten Kyng & Leysia Palen. “Participatory Design in Emergency Medical Service: Designing for Future Practice” (April 22-27, 2006) - This paper describes a particular case where participatory design was utilized to come up with solutions for EMS first responders in Denmark. They describe their full process for identifying the issues, finding solutions, and starting to test them, which could be helpful for outlining a procedure utilizing stakeholders once they have been identified. There are also a few principles that the researchers describe which we may be able to generalize: 1) importance of “listening in”/”partylines” in collaborative communication; 2) the idea of designing for major incidents and “practicing” new technologies/techniques in minor incidents - this gives first responders familiarity with the new things, while also ensuring that the new things have been designed with higher complexity in mind rather than having to take it into account on-the-fly in the event that they need to be “scaled up” for a larger incident; 3) victims as “production function” in the emergency response - essentially, the status/safety/health of victims is the primary motivator of actions taken by first responders in an emergency situation. Other important things: they did their participatory design session in person. One of the points the researchers made is that any new technology for first responders should be designed for the big event, but used for the small event. They discuss that it is way easier to design big than to design small and scale up for large events, but using a tool for small, routine events builds up a familiarity for the responder so that he or she thinks of it immediately and knows how to use it in a more dire crisis. With these reasons in mind, it seems like it makes the most sense to do tests of prototype devices and technology in person, with staged “emergency” events. I also thought it was interesting that some of the researchers had technology designers participate actively in the sessions as well, alongside the first responders.

[2] Steve Sawyer, Andrea Tapia, Leonard Pesheck, John Davenport. “Mobility and the First Responder” - Another example of a problem-solving study that describes a particular methodology of field testing. The main thrust of this paper deals specifically with giving 3G access and PDA’s to criminal justice first responders, as an exploration of the finest technology 2004 had to offer; this is not inherently relevant to us, but I think the concrete description of a methodology could help us. They also bring up some general observations about their experience with the field trials, focusing primarily on the implications and concerns of the first responders with technology in general - such as a definite interest in new technology, but a willingness to wait until it is sufficiently refined that they can be sure no bugs will harm the safety of the responders or those they are trying to help.

[3] Leysia Palen & Sophia B. Liu. “Citizen Communications in Crisis: Anticipating a future of ICT-Supported Public Participation” - One of the problems I’ve had in searching for literature is that there is a lot of research into citizen participation in emergency situations via social media, but not a lot about the first responders themselves. This paper definitely covers more of the former category, but the authors also discuss specific points of interaction with professionals, and brings up the point that it could benefit both parties to facilitate information exchange. Another interesting bit I took away from this paper is that their definition of “first responder” actually includes volunteers from the disaster area and surrounding communities who participate particularly in the early stages of crisis management. Is NIST interested in these groups, at all? They could make up an interesting aspect of our “latent stakeholder networks”, too, potentially? However they would also be difficult to identify or pin down, since the authors say these groups seem to spontaneously appear and self-organize when they are needed. This article was also critical of the US government’s NIMS system, stating it looked like a “quasi-military response” that focuses on restoration of law and order rather than on restoring public health and welfare? NIMS establishes a “command and control” system that governs response organization, which this paper (and the previous one) both agree was a structure that first responders cannot/are reluctant to deviate from.

[4] Connie White, Linda Plotnick, Jane Kushma, Starr Roxanne Hiltz, Murray Turoff. “An Online Social Network for Emergency Management” - This paper describes an idea to create a social network exclusively for first responders. They surveyed a bunch of students in first response fields and also examined some social networks (LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo). I think this will have somewhat limited utility for us since they were looking at networks that are pretty different from Twitter. They took up a bunch of time reinforcing the idea that social networks are important; this may be a result of the paper being a few years old (2009), as well as having been presented at an ISCRAM (Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management) conference, rather than a conference that has its primary focus on research of online communities. They describe a survey-based action research methodology, which could be useful, though. And the authors describe social network profiles as a way to verify someone’s credentials? Overall, though, I think we had already decided that we needed to go to where the responders were already interacting, rather than building them a sandbox and hoping that they would come play in it. And, based on the previous paper in particular, seamless interaction with nonprofessional first responders and other concerned citizens might also be really important to what we are doing. Katie's comments on "ad hoc" first responders...

[5] Masamichi Takahashi, Masakazu Fujimoto, Nobuhiro Yamasaki. "The Active Lurker: Influence of an In-house Online Community on its Outside Environment"[a] - Not sure this will be relevant. It’s from (I think) around 2002, so a bit old - it focuses on a message board community, which is very different from Twitter and most social media platforms used today. They make some interesting points about lurkers in an online community transmitting information to others outside, it, however the case study the authors performed was on a company’s online community. In other words, the members of the online community were also localized to the same physical space, too. I feel like this also sort of imposed a base level of common knowledge between users that was very similar (one company’s products and procedures), too, and so it was therefore not as diverse as the community Twitter allows: lurkers on Twitter may know nothing whatsoever about first responders, but could potentially follow a relevant user for other reasons (eg, firehouse posts pictures of firehouse puppies, etc). I will try to find some of the sources cited by this paper to see if they are of help, and I will try to find newer articles, too. Apparently lurker research is a thing, though, and this could be really helpful in our “latent stakeholder networks” idea.

[6] Jon M. Kleinberg. “Hubs, Authorities, and Communities”. Suggests applying citation analysis techniques to web pages. Identifies “authorities” as good sources of information, and “hubs” as good sources of links to authorities. “A large ‘community’ of thematically related information sources can be characterized by the way in which it links and refers to its most central, prominent members”.

  • NOTE: This is a classic, but ancient paper…
  • I know. I want to check out some of the things that cite it that are more recent and related to Twitter, too

[7] FEMA Emergency Management Institute. “The Four Phases of Emergency Management”. Provides some helpful definitions from an authoritative source.

Other Resources:

  • Why N.H. firefighters replaced Toughbooks with iPads and PublicEye's emergency response app
  • PublicEye
  • Sort of like a case study of how existing technology was applied to emergency management and information management in a crisis. Also brings up the point that ubiquity of social media led to the Japanese turning to it immediately after the earthquake - they used it because they were familiar with it.


  • Some great information on actual participatory design sessions conducted with actual first responders.
  • Hands-on, in-person seems to be the trend
  • Building familiarity and trust with new technology seems to be extremely important to first responders.
  • NIMS dictates first responders’ “command and control” response procedure
  • However, it appears that social media is recognized as a thing that has made its own place in emergency management in the last few years, and I am not sure if everyone knows yet how to handle this.
  • Therefore, perhaps a question for our colleagues at NIST:
  • Say there is a man who works in landscaping and yard work in the Northeast US. He has no training in any traditional “first responder” sense, but he has the knowledge required for his job, and this includes knowing how to safely cut down large hanging tree branches. Say that, during one of the winter storms in recent years, he coordinated on Twitter with neighbors and with the local power company to do some quick tree cutting to enable the power company to perform emergency repairs.
  • If NIST decides to use tools such as those developed by the RPI team to gather people to do some participatory design to help first responders and local electric companies better respond to winter storms in the Northeast...would they want to see this guy show up as a potential stakeholder? Or are they primarily interested in the first responders in the traditional sense of police, fire, EMT, etc?

[a]probably not as helpful for us