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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
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsIdentification of information needs
Open this folder and view contentsData gathering and emergency management
Open this folder and view contentsData analysis and information production
Open this folder and view contentsInformation dissemination
View the documentBuilding institutional memory

Building institutional memory

Building a real capacity for institutional memory requires a firm commitment by top management, a detailed plan, and a funded, operating budget,

At the heart of effective information management is a capacity to use “institutional memory” - i.e., the recording and feedback into program design of the organization’s emergency response experience. Despite ready acknowledgment by all managers of the need to develop such a capacity, maintenance and use of institutional memory continue to be among the most neglected areas of emergency information management. Ideally, organizations should be able to draw on their colleagues’ prior experience with information easily accessed from their banks of “institutional memory” whenever requested. Nonetheless, this goal remains elusive for almost all organizations: reinvented wheels are the rule rather than the exception.

Emergency response organizations serious about building this capacity should designate one or more core staff to record useful experience and develop systems for storage and easy retrieval of this information. Interviews or correspondence with experienced emergency managers, past and present, and document reviews are often the simplest ways to begin building this bank of memory. Ideally, this “bank” would maintain details on all responses, successful or otherwise. In addition to compiling information on what actually was done in response to a particular emergency, the bank would provide information as to why particular decisions or actions were not taken. Indeed, the reasons why certain actions were not taken are often as useful as an understanding of the actions that were carried out.

Building a real capacity for institutional memory requires a firm commitment by top management, a detailed plan, and a funded, operating budget. Steps in managing the process of building institutional memory generally include the following:



1. Budgeting resources for institutional memory development and maintenance.

Items to be budgeted include:
· office space
· staff salaries and fringes
· storage devices (imaging systems, computer drives, file cabinets)
· transport for needed interviews
· telecommunications
· report production and dissemination

2. Designating current, or hiring new, staff responsible for gleaning, recording, storing, retrieving, and disseminating organizational experience; and maintaining regular contact with field workers to stay abreast of particular programs and needs.

· Responsibilities are written into job descriptions and staff performance plans.
· Staff performance is assessed on speed and quality of response to field requests for information.

3. Setting priorities, schedules for information gathering.

· Past disaster programs whose lessons are most likely to be of wider use to the organization and, where appropriate, replicable are given top priority.

4. Designing - and training all staff in - information retrieval procedures.

· Procedures are communicated to all staff.
· Staff are trained in how, where, and to whom requests for information are submitted.

Q. Identify two or three off your organization’s past emergency response programs which you believe hold valuable lessons for the future. Identify the specific sources where your organization should turn to obtain the essential details of these lessons.


Emergency Response ___________________________________________

Sources _______________________________________________________

Emergency Response ___________________________________________

Sources ______________________________________________________

Emergency Response ___________________________________________

Sources _______________________________________________________