What Disaster Response Management Can Learn From Chaos Theory

Conference Proceedings
May 18-19, 1995

Edited by
Gus A. Koehler, PhD.

Return to table of contents

by Thomas Drabek

It was a Halloween night. It was raining throughout the Indianapolis area. Inside the Coliseum, 4327 people were enjoying the final moments of the "Holiday on Ice" show. Without warning at 11:06 p.m. to be exact, a massive explosion rocked the building. This Coliseum is situated inside the Indiana state fairgrounds, about two hundred yards from the main entrance. Some spectators were blown from their seats onto the ice rink. Others dropped down into a newly opened cavern that seconds earlier had been a small commissary area where popcorn was being prepared for the next day's performance. The explosion killed fifty-four outright; twenty-seven more died shortly thereafter; nearly four hundred others were injured. The Indianapolis emergency response network mobilized quickly. Within twenty-four hours local and state officials had things under control, more or less. By then, they realized they were in the process of recovering from the worst disaster in the state's history (see Drabek 1968).

During the afternoon following the explosion, relatives of victims continued the process of identifying their loved ones' bodies and belongings. It was then that a four-person field team from the Ohio State University Disaster Research center (DRC) arrived on the scene and began conducting interviews with representatives from the twelve organizations most heavily involved in the response. DRC had been established about six weeks prior to the explosion, and initially the fieldwork had been viewed as a training exercise for the research team. Because of the richness of the materials obtained and the high level of cooperation provided by local officials who supplemented in-depth interviews with numerous organizational documents and records, the field experience was transformed into a detailed case study. One year later, a two-person team from the DRC returned to Indianapolis to confirm observations made initially and to collect information regarding subsequent policy changes. Publication of results was delayed for several years, in part because of resistance by one of the agencies that funded the DRC, and also because of administrative difficulties in establishing a monograph series. In the fall of 1968, nearly five years after the Coliseum explosion, Disaster in Aisle 13 was released.

In this essay I use this work --the first monograph published by the DRC, which was relocated to the University of Delaware in 1985--as a vehicle to review selected aspects of the evolution of social science research on human responses to disaster. Following a brief discussion of the study conclusions, three contrasts are made. First, subsequent developments in three aspects of organizational theory are discussed, that is, interorganizational coordination, organizational environment, and blame assignation. Second, several issues in research methodology are summarized, especially the concept of disaster taxonomy. Third, developments in the application of research results, including changes in the state of readiness within the Indianapolis area, are reviewed. Collectively, these three discussions illustrate how disaster research and our understanding of community preparedness have progressed during the past three decades.

Study Conclusions

Twenty-six conclusions are discussed I in the final chapter of Disaster in Aisle 13. They are organized around five general themes: (1) organizations environment, (2) mobilizations, (3) communication, (4) coordination, and (5) preplanning. Many of these themes reflect aspects of the central core of knowledge that defines the empirical base for the emerging profession of emergency management. Organizational Environment

Personnel form law enforcement, fire, medical, and other emergency organizations confronted and a environment that was characterized by several important factors. Each constrained their responses in different ways. For example, despite a popular myth of victim disorganization, emergency responders reported neither panic flight nor hysterical breakdown. Instead, Coliseum attendees reacted. They did not wait for directions from authorities. Rather, using emergent definitions of risk and appropriate adaptive responses, they proceeded to initiate rescue, recovery, and transportation activities. Given the available information, these actions were rational, desirable, and reflective of an emergent norm of altruism.

Two other factors defined the response environment. First, much of the public response reflected convergence behavior, including material, personal, and informational. second, various spatial and temporal qualities tended to minimize organizational problems. I observed, for example, that "the presence of the enclosure around the Fairgrounds with a limited number of gates made security in the area of the Coliseum infinitely less difficult than otherwise would have been the case" (Drabek 1968, 150-51). Because it was Halloween, many additional police were on duty to curtail vandalism. Also, because the explosion occurred at 11:06 p.m., hospitals, fire, and law enforcement organizations had double shifts of personnel available. Mobilization

Three conclusions were highlighted regarding mobilization: two were descriptive, and one was analytic. Critical to understanding the community response and especially certain problem areas, the report emphasized that some organizations had not been advised of the explosion. Personnel in three of the five hospitals, for example, learned of it only when victims arrived in the emergency room. This complicated subsequent mobilization efforts. In contrast, those organizations that were notified quickly experienced few difficulties.

Shifting from these two descriptive conclusions, field interviews supported a proposition advanced by Form and Nosow (1958, 136-216), who had assessed the community response to a tornado in Michigan. Their data indicated that certain characteristics of organizational structure, for example, degree of formalizations and size, were associated with emergency response. Although this line of reasoning was not pursued in detail, one analytic proposition was highlighted. "The greater the proportion of paid personnel (as contrasted to volunteers) in an organization, the greater the speed of mobilization" (Drabek 1968,154). Communication

Communication inadequacies were the major difficulty encountered with the Coliseum response. Five observations were offered that were interrelated. Two of these pertained to the hospitals. The lack of communications among them contributed to both intra and interorganizational facilities. These two observations were specific aspects of the more general issues. No central communications center was established to facilitate cross-agency interaction. Also, informational convergence on telephones impaired efforts with interorganizational communication.

The follow-up field trip made on the one-year anniversary of the explosion provided documentation of a positive adaptation. Largely through the leadership provided by local Red Cross officials, an interhospital communication system was established. Thus, the event precipitated a positive change in the community's state of disaster readiness. Coordination

Given the communication inadequacies just noted, coordination difficulties followed logically. The first of the five conclusions offered, however, emphasized a key idea. Although the filed, interviews uncovered a few instances to the contrary, nearly all emergency personnel cooperated with one another. Thus, this case illustrated what others have since documented elsewhere (Drabek 1979). Cooperation is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, for coordination. Much more is required.

Following this more abstract conclusion, four others of a more specific nature were discussed. Victim dispersal from the explosion site was a key task that was not coordinated. Some key tasks were duplicated needlessly, while others were neglected. Personnel tended to rely heavily on internal resources rather than seeking assistance form other organizations. Once the high-priority task of helping the injured had been met, however, the level of interagency coordination increased. These observations underscored the importance of preparedness planning rooted within a communitywide perspective. They illustrated a fundamental axiom: the emergency response effectiveness of any single agency is directly dependent on the level of coordination within the emergent multiagency network. Control

As is typical following large-scale disasters, responding agencies represented varied sponsorship bases. Many, of course were division of local government, for example, Indianapolis Police and Fire departments. Others were specialized private sector organizations such as ambulance firms or voluntary agencies like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Because the coliseum was within the state fairgrounds, the state police eventually were recognized as the responsible authority. During the immediate aftermath, however, no overall authority was recognized. Hence, the interagency control processes were weak or nearly nonexistent.

In part, this situation reflected inconsistent, ambiguous, and overlapping organizational policy statements and local and state laws. These normative prescriptions had little relevance in guiding the actions taken by emergency officials during the response. Rather, reflecting an emergent norm of altruism, officials made reasoned judgments. Their efforts were hindered by communication inadequacies rather than incompatible policy prescriptions. Preplanning

Field data provided support and clarification of a fundamental axion that had not been recognized previously except among a few research specialists. "There is a marked difference in organization planning for day-to-day emergencies and planning for post-disaster community responses" (Drabek 1968, 170). Like many of their peers throughout the nation at that point in time, all but a few organizational executives in Indianapolis reflected an "add on" planning perspective. Because they successfully handled miniature emergencies daily, they believed they were prepared for large-scale events. If more personnel were needed, they could be obtained. This view fails to recognize important qualitative distinctions and changes in the task environment associated with large-scale disasters. Disasters do not constitute a simple straight line extension of an auto accident or house fire.

Finally, a descriptive observation was offered regarding longer term change, or rather the lack of it. "While most organizational officials expressed an interest in the development of a comprehensive disaster plan when initially interviewed after the explosion, one year later no such plan had materialized" (Drabek 1968, 176). This pattern of initial interest, followed by inaction, has been documented subsequently following other events (Drabek 1986). These windows of opportunity are relatively short. If policies are not enacted within a few months after such events, there is a strong propensity to return to older patterns of denial and inaction. Implications for Organization Theory

Although Disaster in Aisle 13 was largely descriptive, aspects of organizational theory were introduced into the analysis. By juxtaposing these ideas with subsequent developments during the past three decades, we can obtain a sense of the continuity in this theoretical base and the enormous expansion that has followed. Three concepts were central to the analysis of this event: (1) interorganizational coordination, (2) blame assignation, and (3) organizational environment. Interorganizational Coordination

As reflected in many of the conclusions previously outlined, the fundamental flaw in the multiagency response to this explosion was the relative lack of coordination. Subsequent development of this concept and the analytic conditions related to it represent an important expansion of organizational theory. Additionally, as evidenced by the range of responding organizations with differing sponsorship bases (e.g. federal, military, state police, city and county law enforcement, and private sector agencies like Red Cross and Salvation Army), this case study illustrated the need to classify disaster response organizations. Both Quarantelli (1966) and Dynes (1970), like numerous others (e.g., Stallings 1978, 1987), recognized that coordination of such multiagency responses is difficult in part because of the variety of units represented. Aspects of this variety are sorted out usefully in what came to be known as the DRC typology of organizations. By cross--tabulating two dimensions- tasks and structure--a fourfold typology is produced: (1) established (regular tasks, old structure); (2) expanding (regular tasks, new structure); (3) extending (nonregular tasks, old structure); and (4) emergent (nonregular task, new structure). Because of the absence of a shared consensus regarding multiagency responsibilities and procedures, a coordinating task force gradually emerged several hours after the explosion. Structures of this form are clearly identified within the DRC typology. Today, they are much better understood as are the conditions that give rise to their emergence (Kreps 1989; Drabek 1987a).

Interoganizational coordination was assessed in detail within a variety of nondisaster settings including both antecedents and consequences (Rogers et al. 1982). Following several disasters, emergent communication structures were mapped temporally and were related to both relative degrees of coordination and key operational problems (e.g., Drabek et al. 1981; Drabek 1985). These social-mapping techniques illustrate the significant gains that have occurred in both conceptual refinement and measurement sophistication since the analysis of the 1968 explosion.

Others have applied these techniques to the nonemergency phase so as to examine the structure of interagency networks with more precision (Gillespie et al. 1986; Caplow et al. 1984). And recent research documented a series of coping strategies used by local government officials to construct and maintain such linkage sets (Drabek 1987b; 1990). Thus, research in the United States as well as other societies, such as Australia (Britton 1989a, 189b; Britton and Wettenhall 1991), underscores the importance of this concept and illustrates the enormous progress made. Blame Assignation

In the year that followed the 1963 explosion, a complex blame assignation process emerged. This was summarized in the monograph and assess further by Quaranelli and me (1967). In this instance, not unlike the cases studied previously by Bucher (1957), the search for guilty individuals diverted attention away from fundamental flaws in the mitigative subsystems.

Although relatively few analysts have focused on this emergent process during the past three decades (Drabek 1986), several important studies have appeared. For example, Neal (1984) examined an emergent citizen group that formed because of their concerns about the possible health consequences of a pollution policy. They objected to the lack of regulations pertaining to the burning of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). By linking blame assignation processes to the emergence of such citizen groups, Neal provided an important bridging mechanism. Indeed, his work, like that of Walsh (1981) and Quarantelli (1985), has pressed us forward in our understanding of the social conditions that spawn such groups. As Wenger (1987) pointed out, these types of analyses have tightened the linkages between traditional collective behavior studies and organizational analysis.

Clearly, much more needs to be known about the social process of blame assignation. But nesting future analyses within assessments of emergent citizen groups links the concept to fundamental principles of the birth or origins of such social units and, at times, a collective consensus regarding a fundamental social problem (Drabek 1989a). Organizational Environment

As previously noted, limited aspects of the environment within which these agencies responded were highlighted. The observations made, however, mainly had to do with public responses, for example, lack of extreme personal disorganization. These observations were consistent with previous studies (e.g., Quarantelli 1954) and have been verified subsequently (Johnson 1988). Recent research suggested, however, that there may be some cultural variation in the overall pattern (Alexander 1990).

Although this component of organizational environment is highly significant for both theory and application, there has been a total redirection in organizational theory since 1968. Although a few perceptive analysts writing at that time emphasized environmental uncertainty as a key to understanding organizational dynamics (e.g., Thompson 1967), awareness accelerated rapidly. Following extensive and insightful assessments by writers like Aldrich (1979), Hannan and freeman (1989) began to develop population ecology models wherein environmental factors became paramount. Indeed, recent texts propose these models as paradigm shattering because of their power and completeness (e.g., Carroll 1987). Whereas most regard such claims as overreactions (e.g., Perrow 1986), this early observation anticipated progress in organizational theory.

Subsumed within the discussion of agency environments, albeit vaguely and incompletely, were references to the intergovernmental system. Although here the analysis was very weak, the finding prefigures significant developments brought to disaster research and organizational theory by specialists in political science (e.g., May 1985) and public administration (Charles and Kim 1988). The web of constraints and cross-cuttings sectors of strain represented by the intergovernmental system that comprised a major segment of the response network described in this monograph appear over simplified when juxtaposed against more recent analyses. Hence, the infusion of concepts and specific empirical analyses by representatives from these two disciplines especially, have significantly enriched the theory base available for future analyses of such responses.

Methodological Implications

The case study method used in the analyses of the Indianapolis explosion reflected a strong and continuing tradition in sociology and disaster studies in particular (e.g., see Kreps 1981). Critics emphasized the limitations of the excessive use of this single research strategy (e.g., Cisin and Clark 1962; Drabek 1970; Mileti 1987). Aside from a few extremists, whose attacks have bordered on the polemical at times (e.g., Rossi et al), the emergent consensus among sociologists is that case study designs remain useful for the purposes for which they are intended (Campbell 1975; Yin 1984). Yet, the fact remains that the Coliseum explosion was assessed within a context of being a one-shot case of responses to one event, in one community, at one point in time.

Juxtaposition of this work against the literature of the past few years reveals at least three highly significant developments: (1) increased sophistication regarding sampling, (2) improved measurement techniques, and (3) greater awareness of the problematics inherent in comparative analyses. Sophistication Regarding Sampling

Discussions of sampling during the early 1960s largely reflected issues related to victim and nonvictim pools. Although a few advocated that disaster studies could be improved through sampling techniques (e.g., Killian 1956), the use of even quasi-experimental designs had not yet occurred (e.g., Campbell and Stanley 1966). As controversy intensified regarding disaster impacts on victim health status following the flooding of Buffalo Creek (e.g., Erickson 1976; Tichener and Kapp 1976; Lifton and Olson 1976), critics focused on the inherent limitations of analyses limited to data bases containing only victim responses (e.g., Perry 1979). Yet, even today, the use of quasi-experimental designs that incorporate victim and nonvictim data, as well as pre- and postevent information, remains relatively rare (e.g., Drabek and Key 1984). On the other hand, there is far more widespread recognition that these more sophisticated designs will be required if the quality of the knowledge base is o be improved. Improved Measurement Techniques

How are communication process, coordination, preparedness planning, or control best measured? During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a large volume of studies was published assessing these and other aspects of organizational structure through a combination of survey techniques and traditional index construction procedures (e.g., see works by Blau 1970; Hall 1987; Hage and Aiken 1967). Indeed, these practices became so widely accepted that handbooks of measurement tools were published for both intra (e.g., Price 1972) and interorganizational (e.g., Morrissey et al. 1982) characteristics. These represented major steps forward. But as critics like Benson (1977) pointed out with vigor, they reflected oversimplified conceptualizations of organizational structure and continuity with a positivistic epistemological assumption base that many had begun to question.

Others have continued to press ahead and confront the measurement challenge head on (e.g., Gillespie et al. 1986). It is clear that many issues of measurement are really issues of theory. There is an enhanced sophistication today regarding the limitations inherent in complex concepts like coordination and effectiveness, especially when human service agencies or networks comprised of them, are units of analysis. Thus, here again, the juxtaposition reveals important progress in that the issues are being taken seriously although the answers remain elusive. Problematics of Comparative Analysis

Although no two disasters are exactly alike, it is clear that many aspects of the full life cycle of any event, including mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery activities, share some common elements. Hence, in contrast to the single event case study of the Coliseum explosion, many researchers attempted comparative analyses of disaster events through well-planned research designs (e.g., Leik et al. 19810, opportunistic reconstructions (e.g., Perry 1983) or syntheses of published results (e.g., Mileti et al., 1975; Drabek 1986). Others took a mitigative focus and examined the institutional dynamics of emergent regulatory systems that were designed to reduce risk (e.g., Perrow 1984; Kunreuther and Ley 1982).

These analyses illustrated the concerns raised by Dynes and Aguirre (1979) who had reflected on the problematics of integrating archival data amassed by the DRC staff during two decades. They also challenged Kreps and his associates (Kreps 1989b) who developed an innovative paradigm for dealing with many of he problematics. Although their "DRAT" system leaves many unanswered questions, it pressed many in the field to come face-to-face with the most fundamental issues of all; that is, what is a disaster? What classification schemes, of both disasters and social structures, should guide comparison and generalization?

Krep's (1989b) work, like my analysis of taxonomy (Drabek 1989b), challenged all disaster researchers to examine a range of issues that simply could not have been considered at the time of the 1963 explosion. As reflected in the special issue of the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters that Kreps edited (1989b), many social theorists and disaster researchers are now devoting a portion of their energies toward these difficult but most fundamental issues. Depending on the rigor of their in the near future, disaster studies may make significant leaps forward or continue to build broader and more complete date sets that will remain noncumulative. Despite the enormity of this challenge and the uncertainty of the response by disaster research community, this juxtaposition reveals a remarkable degree of progress.

Influences on Application

The third broad axis of juxtaposition. Revisiting Disaster in Aisle 13 provided opportunity for disciplined reflection on two specific aspects of application: (1) preparedness in Indianapolis and (2) emergent professionalism within emergency management. Preparedness in Indianapolis

Since the 1963 explosion, three major social dynamics have altered the state of disaster readiness within the Indianapolis community. First, there were several additional disasters that served as reminders. Among the most severe of these are the following: tornadoes (1965, 1975, and 1989); major snow blizzards and ice storms (1987, 1988); a toxic substance release (1984); a three-alarm downtown fire (1985); and an A-7D fighter airplane crash into a motel (1987).

These events, along with numerous others of a smaller scale, required the emergency response system to be activated. These activations, and the horror of victim suffering, altered community risk perceptions and legitimated various reform proposals and increased resources allocations. Critiques helped pinpoint operational problems and required modifications in response procedures.

Second, in the early 1970s a "consolidated city" form of government, that is, "UniGov," was established to integrate governmental services within Marion County and the city of Indianapolis. Not all services were included, however. Directly relevant to the disaster response system was the decision to exclude law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services. Also, three municipalities within the county were excluded (i.e., Lawrence, Beech Groe, and Speedway). Hence, although this administrative reform brought some services under a common administrative structure, those most relevant to disaster response remain differentiated.

Third, despite continued differentiation among law enforcement, fire, and other emergency service agencies, a series of intensive planning efforts reportedly reduced the degree of fragmentation and increased the quality of interagency coordination. Whereas several of these might be selected to illustrated this enhanced state of readiness, three are directly related to the juxtapositions made in this chapter: (1) clarification of lines of authority, (2) explicit recognition that disaster planning is a process, not a product, and (3) improved interhospital communications. Clarification of Lines of Authority

Several clarifications have occurred at different points within the intergovernmental system. For example, prior to the opening of the 1989 Indiana State fair, authorities signed a "Major Incident Coordination Plan" (Emergency Management Planning Division et al. 1989). Interestingly, the opening paragraph in the preface of this plan is a quotation from Disaster in Aisle 13. Clearly, the local institutional memory was impacted by this DRC publication.

The state fair plan is a variant of the widely used Incident Command System (ICS) that gained popularity in California in the 1980s. I defines three levels of incidents based on the number injured. This crude measure of organizational demand is juxtaposed with incident commanded or on-site responses and county agency response levels. For example, a Level 3 incident at the fair is defined as one in which five to ten persons are injured. This will trigger county notifications. A level 5 incident, defined as more than twenty-five injured persons, will activate a county response of Level 1 or 2.

Lines of authority regarding activation of this plan are delineated clearly. An activation of the Indiana State Fair Plan at Levels 3, 4, or 5 is the responsibility of the Indiana State Police--Fairgrounds Operation (District V Commander). Because the Indiana State Fairgrounds is an island of state property inside the County of Marion, the Marion County Emergency Management Plan will be activated at standby; Level One; or Level Two. The administrator of the Emergency Management Planning Division has the authority to declare activation at standby, and Level One. Activation of the Marion County Plan above a Level One will require action by the Mayor of the Consolidated City of Indianapolis-Marion County, or the Director of Public Safety acting on his behalf. (Emergency Management Planning Division et al. 1989, 2).

A series of "response objectives" are defined within the plan. These nine functions are coordination, communications, law enforcement, fire-rescue hazardous materials response, emergency medical, human services, public works, transportation, and utilities. Elsewhere in the plan, these functions are listed by organizational responsibility. Hence, the function of coordination is the responsibility of three member agencies: (1) Emergency Management Planning Division, Consolidated City of Indianapolis-Marion County; (2) State of Indiana Emergency Management Agency; and (3) Indiana State Fairgrounds Administration and Operations--Coordination Center Staff.

In contrast, the communications function is to be assumed by five member agencies: (1) National Weather Service--Indianapolis Forecast Office; (2) Indiana State Police, State Warning Point; (3) Indianapolis Police Department, Marion County Warning Point; (4) Emergency Broadcast System, CPCS-1, WIBC (1070 am), and CPCS02 WFBQ (94.7 FM); and (5) Marion County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). One agency, the American Red cross, Indianapolis chapter, is responsible for the human services function. The remaining six functions are to be assumed by four to seven community agencies.

This broad division of labor is augmented by the specification of three different emergency organizations that will be established. The functions and locations of each are a follows:

  1. Emergency command Center (ECC) - staff working at the on-site command post will provide direction and coordination of field response and recovery activities. This on-site post also is referred to as the "Incident Command Organization."
  2. Operations Coordination Center (OCC) - personnel assigned to the operations center, located within one of the administrative buildings at the fairgrounds, will coordinate county and state support activities, incident information, and public information.
  3. Emergency Operating Center (EOC) - personnel assigned to the operating center, located within a state administrative building in downtown Indianapolis, will coordinate policy and legal issues, large-scale state agency assistance, and public information (adapted from Emergency Management Planning Division et al. 1989, 4).
This organization plan differentiates the tactical decisions that are required by on scene commanders from the strategic decisions that service agency directors must make. Both of these are dirrerentiated from the broad policy decisions that elected officials must make with the assistance of senior agency advisors.

One function is singled out for special emphasis--media information. With regard to the Incident Command Organizations (ECC), the plan states a clear prohibition: "There will be no public information released directly to the media from Incident Command Organization" (Emergency Management Planning Division et al. 1989, 4). A similar statement is made for the OCC. Hence, all information distributed to media personnel following most disasters, this effort at centralizing the public information function may improve accuracy, precision, and consistency. Eradication and reduction of rumors may occur if the plan is implemented as written. Disaster Planning: A Process, Not a Product

Throughout the 1990s and 1980s, numerous researchers emphasized that disaster planning must be conceptualized as a process (Drabek 1986, 46-60). Moreover, those who are going to implement the plan must be involved actively in the planning process. If they are not, the paper plan that exists in a file drawer will have minimal impact on response behavior. As Dynes, Quarantelli, and Kreps (1972) put it: "Disaster plans too often remain paper plans and are not rehearsed in whole or in part" (79).

These themes were emphasized by many, but were documented most carefully by Wenger and two associates--James and Faupel (1980). They reviewed seventy-one community disaster plans and conducted in-depth interviews with fifty planning officials. Three observations sum up the deficiencies they discovered.

...there is a tendency on the part of officials to see disaster planning as a products, not a process. (Wenger et al. 1980, 156) Too often, disaster planning is isolated from the day-to-day planning process. It is often assigned to organizations, or units within organizations, that are divorced from traditional, institutionalized sources of social power within the community. (Wenger et al. 1980, 156) ...these plans include almost no expectations for public behavior during a disaster. Furthermore, when attention is given to public response, it is generally predicted on erroneous conceptions of public behavior. (Wenger et al. 1980, 155)
The creation and rehearsal of the 1989 Indiana State fair Plan reflected the recognition and understanding of these fundamental planning principles by the emergency management and emergency services agencies in the Indianapolis community. Informal discussions with one staff member verified the social process that the plan reflects. Furthermore, review and discussion of a preliminary sketch of the planning that took place prior to the 1990 Indianapolis 500 mile automobile race, provided further confirmation. Clearly, these planning principles have been integrated within the emergency response capacity of this community. Improved Hospital Communications

As previously noted, one of the major changes made in the year following the 1963 Coliseum explosion was the establishment of an interhospital communication system. This system was upgraded and improved during the next decade as numerous emergency medical services planning efforts were completed. The results have paid off several times.

One illustration documents this increased capacity: the crash of the U.S. Air force Corsair A7-D fighter jet into a motel and branch bank building, in which ten people died. The crash occurred at approximately 0915 hours (EST) on 20 December 1987. Area hospitals were alerted quickly after the incident, however.

The Marion County Sheriffs department, the Alternate County Warning Point, provided information over the Indianapolis Emergency Communications System (INDECS) during the activation of the Emergency Management Plan at a Level One status at 0927 hours. All emergency service communications centers, and key public safety officials have INDECS tone activated radio receivers. Hospital notification over the Indiana Hospital Emergency Radio Network (IHERN) occurred at 0925 hours, requesting immediate emergency room capabilities and bed availability data. The product of this roll call, the Patient Distribution List, was transmitted to Wishard Ambulance Supervisory by 0945 hours. (Emergency Management Planning Division 19988, 31)
This rapid response reflected that a roll call is done twice daily for all hospitals on the network (IHERN) within Marion County and the seven contiguous county hospital systems. Although ambulances certified in Indiana are required to have radio equipment capable of receiving and broadcasting on the IHERN channel, plans have been completed to control use.
During a major emergency--disaster in Marion County, the EMS coordination Center will control the use of the IHERN radio, reserving it primarily for interhospital coordination. However, since the IHERN radio is required equipment on every ambulance certified in Indiana, it may be used by ambulance personnel who have been assigned to the major incident if they do not have Med Channel 8. Like Med Channel 8, it will only be used for essential off-site communications. If the incident requires a substantial adjacent county EMS agency mutual-aid response, the EMS Coordination Center should assume the IHERN's uses for inter-hospital communications will become ineffective due to ambulance requirements for it. The EMS Coordination Center should then make use of a "patch" to, and from, the hospitals via Med channel 1,5, or 6 for the RollCall and other essential communications. At a point early into the response phase to a mass casualty incident, the EMS Coordination Center may announce over the appropriate radio channels "a suspension of medical direction" via Med Channels 1,5, or 6. Ambulance personnel treatment then will be based on "standing order" of their protocols. (Emergency Management Planning Division 1990, 39)
Specific procedures have been developed to insure rapid dissemination of notifications of any event in which ten or more persons are injured at a single site. Thus, the dispatchers are instructed to notify their superior and then the Indianapolis Police Department (primary Marion County Warning Point) or the Marion County Sheriffs Department (alternate). They are to ask that the Emergency Management Duty Officer be paged. They are to then notify the Marion County Medical Exchange and ask that the Chief Medical Service Coordinator and the Public Health Group Manager be paged (Emergency Management Planning Division 1990, T-1).

These procedures are a sharp contrast to the behavior pattern that was documented in Disaster in Aisle 13. They are evidence of the increased emergency response capacity that has emerged within the Indianapolis community. Informal interviews with several emergency response and coordination staff members have indicated that this monograph continues to be remembered as a stimulus that many used as a reminder. Both substantively and politically, it has assisted them in their efforts to improve the disaster response capacity of this community and many others. Emergent Professionalism With Emergency Management

Shifting to a broader scope of analysis provides a final area of juxtaposition. From the early 1960s, the entire nation has experienced a major redirection in disaster preparedness that reflects the rapid emergence of a new professional. Increasingly, local government officials have recognized the need for improved coordination within the emergency response system. And increasingly this function has been explicitly assigned to an agency directed by a professional with specialized training and job title. The new era of emergency management reflected at least four major areas of change: (1) developments in preparedness theory, (2) new training opportunities, (3) specialized innovations, and (4) increased linkages between research and practitioner communities.

Developments in preparedness theory have ranged from specialized coordination procedures like those reflected in the widely used ICS to highly sophisticated transportation planning models to assist in community evacuation. More generally, however, a series of fundamental principles have begun to emerge regarding topics like the planning process, warning responses, evacuation behavior, hazard analysis, and the like. Although certain aspects of these rapidly evolving methodologies reflect the contributions of social science research (e.g., Quarantelli 1984), others are rooted in highly bureaucratic models. Dynes (1989), Kreps (1989b) and I (Drabek 1987b, 1990) have all questioned the applicability of these bureaucratic models to emergency management. It is clear that this complex issue will require a great deal of clarification and debate in the coming decade. In the meantime, some within the emerging profession will continue to apply organizational theories that have a high probability of failing them and their communities.

Major changes have occurred in emergency management training. The institutionalization of a course sequence at FEMA's Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland is the most obvious. These are complemented by other programs sponsored by the National Emergency Training center, of which EMI is a component, like the instructional programs that thousands of practitioners throughout the world receive each month via satellite, through the Emergency Education Network (EENET).

All of these training initiatives are augmented by the growing number of university based programs that are degree based. At the North Texas State University, the University of Wisconsin, several universities in California, and elsewhere, the professionalization process is being formalized.

Many important innovations have further reinforced the professional process. Most notable are the significant changes in communications systems. Many communities have adopted voice-augmented sirens to enhance their warning capability. Similarly, satellite-based radio units permit high quality transmissions linking personnel in the field to command posts and EOCs located miles away. These developments pale, however, when contrasted to the significant impacts of the widespread adoption of microcomputers. As I have documented elsewhere (Drabek 1990,1991), the images of local emergency management agencies have been enhanced greatly by the adoption and implementation of microcomputers. This innovations has increased their centrality within the interorganizational network and their capacity to manage resources, guide evacuations, use sophisticated storm-modeling programs, quickly ascertain toxic substances, and perform other disaster-relevant tasks. Because of these and other innovations, emergency management agencies have gained increased recognition and acceptance within most communities. The comparison to the response following the Coliseum explosion is most instructive.

A final area of juxtaposition has to do with the relationships between researchers and practitioners. The linkages here have been intensified greatly through a variety of strategies. The annual workshop sponsored by the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information center has been most significant. As Yin and Moore (1985) discovered, the informally based contacts that are nurtured in such settings provide the pathways that redirect research agendas and speed the pace with which findings are disseminated. Paralleling such developments have been other organized attempts to involve the users of research results, for example, research project advisory committees (Drabek 1987b, 267-68) wherein representatives from both communities can press principles investigators to sharpen their concepts and struggle with potential dissemination and application routes.

A text that was published recently within the International City Management Association's prestigious "Green Book" series established a new standard in this integration (Drabek and Hoetmer, 1991). While researchers, reflecting the disciplines of sociology, law, public administration, journalism, city and regional planning, and social work, prepared eight of the twelve chapters, practitioners from local and state emergency management agencies prepared the others. One chapter was co-authored by a long-term National Science Foundation staff member whose administrative skill has done much to facilitate the quality and quantity of research in the area. This blending of talents and perspectives reflects an emergent integration of interests and skills that today comprises an important national resource. The contrast it provides to the situation that existed when the 1963 explosion occurred in Indianapolis is dramatic, instructive, and encouraging. When placed within the context of the numerous other contrasts highlighted in this chapter, these juxtapositions provide inspiration.


The analyses that comprise this chapter point toward three broad conclustions. Each reflects significant changes that have occurred conclusions disaster research and the emerging profession of emergency management during the 1970s and 1980s.

  1. Juxtaposition to theory highlights the enormous progress that has been made in our understanding of interorganizations coordination and organizational environments. Developments within general sociological theory have increased the quality of disaster research. Disaster studies, in turn, have added to sectors of organizational theory, especially that pertaining to interorganizational analysis. Although blame assignation processes have not received much attention, those focusing on more general issues of collective behavior, especially emergent citizens groups, have pushed our understanding forward.
  2. Juxtaposition to methodological issues brings us face to face with the problematics inherent in comparative analysis. Since Aisle 13 was a case study, these issues were not raised until others began to attempt comparative analysis using some of the data collected. The range of generalization, or external validity, was not addressed until others reported parallel or conflicting findings. Neither the social structures nor the range of events to which the conclusions of the study might apply were clear. Thus, it has only been in recent years that some disaster researchers have begun to tackle fundamental theoretical issues that underlie such methodological problems. "What is a disaster?" emerges as a perplexing problematic that awaits the energy and discipline of the disaster research community.
  3. Juxtaposition to applications underscores the validity and use of the conclusions reached in the study of the 1963 explosion in the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Nearly three decades later, the conclusions regarding such processes as notification, mobilization, authority, communication, and coordination remain useful cross-checks for local emergency managers. They also highlight the significant progress that has been made in disaster planning within the Indianapolis community. Finally, this juxtaposition affords an appraisal of the significant contribution that the disaster research community has made to the emerging profession of emergency management. With an improved knowledge base, practitioners can facilitate community planning and coordination processes with information rooted in science rather than myth.
As these basic problematics are pondered and debated, however, disaster researchers should take pride in knowing that some of their analyses have influenced policymakers and administrators. The emergency response capacity of many communities has been increased because of the insights, findings, and questions raised by disaster researchers. Although a certain degree of tension and distance must be maintained between the two sectors, that is, practitioners and researchers, a new level of cooperation has been reached. In the coming decade, emergency management professionals will benefit from this social innovation and possibly improve the quality of the contribution they can offer to those they serve. In this sense then, the tradition reflected in Aisle 13 continues, although in a greatly expanded way. In reference to the local officials who cooperated with the study team, this tradition was noted as follows: "Their motivation, as ours, was that others might benefit from what was learned through the Indianapolis tragedy" (Drabek 1968, v). Explication of this continuity underscores a key element in the legacy of the disaster research tradition and the fundamental ethical commitment of all professional groups to those they have chosen to serve.


Return to table of contents