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close this bookEmergency Information Management and Telecommunications - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 62 p.)
close this folderPart 1: Information management systems
close this folderIdentification of information needs
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInformation needs: “pre-crisis”
View the documentInformation needs: “with onset of crisis”
View the documentInformation needs: “post-crisis”


The starting point in the design of any information management system is the identification of the eventual users of the system and their particular needs. Emergency managers should beware: later requests for information of a type not considered during the system design stage are often extremely difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy by that system. When these unmet needs proliferate and eventually reach unacceptable levels, then managers start looking for new information management systems.

The users of information in most disaster situations are numerous. Each is likely to have specific information needs which the designer of the disaster information management system should consider in advance. These users will include some or all of the following:

· The affected population
· Private donors (individuals, corporations, and foundations)
· Public donors (taxpayers and government funding agencies)
· Government response organizations (national, regional, and local authorities)
· Military forces and civil defense units
· UN organizations
· Non-governmental organizations (both international and local)
· Religious institutions
· The media (international and local)

Phases of Disaster Management

Clearly, with such a varied list of users, perceptions of information needs will vary greatly. Information that is indispensable to one type of user may be deemed superfluous by another. For example, the leader of a community affected by an earthquake may need information on methods of constructing permanent, earthquake-proof housing. The representative of an international relief agency responding to the same disaster may, on the other hand, wish to obtain information on the local availability of tents, plastic sheeting, or other forms of temporary shelter.

The information needs of a particular user also differ according to the phases of the disaster of concern to that user. For example, the needs of the chief of the Civil Defense Unit or of the local Red Cross or Red Crescent are likely to consist of search and rescue information. The in-country representative of the World Bank or of the United Nations Development Programme, however, may require information on the prospects of the value of longer-term activities on the country’s future recovery.

Note: The capacity to respond to the needs of various donors is one indicator of highly effective information management. This implies being able to provide situation and financial reports as needed and in formats acceptable to each donor.

This has often proved problematic for emergency respondents whose information systems are organized around internal agency needs and who are today increasingly faced with donor demands for more reporting precision. As resources decline relative to global need, donors want to know precisely how their contributions are being programmed. The donors’ information “needs” increasingly include not only the type of program (eg, “maternal/child health” or “food-for-work”) but also the precise locations and actual beneficiaries of the response. This is especially the case in situations of complex emergency where, increasingly, the distinctions between the victims and the perpetrators of civil strife are blurred. Donors want to be able to assure their constituencies that emergency donations are well-programmed, and not “adding fuel to the emergency fires.”

Reporting difficulties can be minimized if respondents discuss with the donor that donor’s particular information needs - before accepting resources. The rule of thumb is: before any transfer of funds occurs, both parties should be very clear as to the reporting requirements that will be expected of the emergency respondents. These requirements can and should be worked out in advance of crisis so that time is not wasted negotiating agreements in time of need.

The remainder of this part discusses information needs of emergency managers prior to, during, and after the emergency.