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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 folderData analysis and information production
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentCross-checking and verification
View the documentFiltering and prioritization
View the documentInformation presentation
View the documentSoftware tools for data analysis and information production

Filtering and prioritization

The early stages of an emergency response are often characterized by very fast moving events and high levels of stress on operational staff. Mechanisms for filtering information are essential. Those responsible for filtering and prioritizing information for decision makers must be concerned with the following:

Translating and structuring incoming messages - Incoming messages often arrive in a format or structure that is of limited use to management. Unstructured messages can usually be translated into structured form by trained staff. Structured messages usually include activity or event descriptions, a spatially referenced location, and information on the team or unit involved.

Filtering - Staff will need to analyze, categorize, sort and select from the various types of messages sent. The main types of message arriving will be unscheduled situation reports, on-call situation reports, and scheduled summary status reports. Each will need to be read, classified, and routed.


Prioritization - Incoming messages will need to be sorted and labeled for urgency. Definitions of urgency will vary with the organization, although prioritization systems generally include the following concepts:

· Urgent: This message is of highest priority and importance. Anyone copied on this message should put aside all other tasks and take immediate and appropriate action(s).

· Priority: This message is considered very important and should receive your attention as soon as any “urgent” level messages have been handled.

· Routine: This message should be handled according to the organization’s standard operating procedures.


Note: Priority indicators used in marine radio distress transmissions, for example, are: (1) mayday (indicates that a station is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance; (2) pan-pan (indicates the safety of the ship or person is in jeopardy; and (3) security (used for messages about the safety of navigation or important weather warnings.) Radio operators will begin their messages with one of these indicators to give precedence over routine message traffic.

Corroboration - It is important to compare incoming data with a baseline: “Baseline” or background data should be readily available to provide a context and check for incoming data. Baseline data will need to be regularly updated and modified and possibly in real time as the operation continues. Analysts must avoid the tendency to generalize from data which cover only a small geographic area. The actual situation and needs of the affected may differ significantly over very short distances.

Reliability - Incoming information should also be assessed in terms of the source’s reliability: eg, completely, usually, not usually, unreliable, and cannot be judged. Analysts should as well consider the background and biases (eg, ethnic, religious, political, gender, cultural, etc.) of the information sources, particularly in complex emergency situations where one faction or another may provide selective bits of information to further political agendas.


Note: Filtering information is an essential information management function carried out at two very different levels in the organization. At the lower level, data analysts filter out information which is unreliable, inaccurate, or unrelated to the organization’s purpose. At the higher level, many organizations use a “gatekeeper” whose function is to decide what is politically relevant to top management’s needs, and to “filter” out that which lacks importance to top management.

The gatekeeper function is a positive one insofar as it ensures that critical information finds it way to those with authority to make decisions. The utmost care must be taken, however, to ensure that the gatekeeper does not serve to isolate top management from the reality on the ground. That is the role of gatekeeper must belong to a trusted staff member, one whose motivation is clearly in the organization’s interests.