|Emergency 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.)|
|Part 1: Information management systems|
|Data analysis and information production|
What decision makers clearly need is not sheer volume, but well-reasoned, insightful findings and conclusions.
Emergency managers, confronted with a deluge of unfiltered data, often tend to react more from personal experience than from any useful insights submitted by field staff. This tendency may be wholly acceptable given sufficient experience and familiarity with the location and population on the part of the decision maker. More likely, however, is a process of second-guessing as higher authorities, often far removed from the field and under a myriad of pressures to act, react to particular, subjectively selected bits of data.
What decision makers clearly need is not sheer volume, but well-reasoned, insightful findings and conclusions accompanied by recommendations for action and clear statements from data analysts on how particular conclusions were drawn.
The term data analyst, with the image it implies of high-level technicians pouring over sophisticated computer-generated data sets, may seem somewhat intimidating. This admittedly is the case where, for example, GIS data or public health statistics are in need of analysis. However, although computer systems are now increasingly available, an information management system does not have to be computerized to provide good support. Often it may be faster and more efficient to use a computer, but it should be noted that sophisticated technology is not inherently more effective. In many cases, systems using only manual document handling procedures, card indexes, and calculators can provide needed support to decision makers. Refugee program managers have found it useful, for example, to use colored push-pins on maps of refugee camps to indicate critical locations such as feeding centers or storerooms. Such maps are in effect simple but effective geographic information systems which provide spatial information to decision makers.
The key word is support. Whatever technology is used, the information provided must help the decision maker to clarify particular problems and make choices. A well-designed information system adds value to a decision makers activities by:
· helping to select information relevant to the decision makers context;
· helping with the organization of information (ie, formatting, grouping, and classifying);
· supporting good analysis (ie, evaluation, validation, comparison, synthesis, and interpretation);
· improving the presentation of information, by allowing easy browsing, and guiding the decision maker through formal structures.
What is needed is a clear-thinking, experienced staff member who can read between the lines of (what is usually) qualitative data, who understands what the conditions of the disaster area and population were prior to the disaster, and who can express clearly to the decision maker an analysis of the changes that have occurred. Emergency managers responsible for overseeing the information production process, must be concerned with the issues described in the following sections.