Communication for Effective Response in the Emerging Disaster Relief Industry

36 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2013 Last revised: 16 Sep 2014

See all articles by Ekundayo Shittu

Ekundayo Shittu

The George Washington University

Geoffrey Parker

Dartmouth College

Nancy Mock

Tulane University

Date Written: January 5, 2014


During times of emergency, private organizations as well as local, state, and federal authorities must coordinate in real time to create an effective response. When coordination is absent, failure results, as was seen after Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake. Using primary data that the authors collected immediately after these disasters, two case studies of systemic failure are presented to illustrate theory that might be used to improve coordination between parties in humanitarian relief operations. We identify recent emergency response trends and argue that failures are unsurprising, in part because response organizations normally operate independently and their operations evolve at naturally different rates. As a result, the organizational interfaces that enable rapid integration during a disaster naturally degrade and may be missing. We draw on information processing theory and the organization design literature to propose that disaster response systems be designed (1) to improve the information flow across the organizational boundaries of existing resources, (2) to better adapt to new technology such as social media, and (3) to be flexible enough to make use of external resources from unaffected areas on an opportunistic basis. We discuss possible adaptive solutions, which include boundary spanning investments. We argue that effective emergency response does not result from sporadic effort but instead requires sustained and continuous effort supported by the consistent collection of both “big” and “small” data.

Keywords: Information Theory, Organizational Design, Complex Adaptive Systems, Social Media, Boundary Spanning, Coordination, Emergency Response

JEL Classification: L8

Suggested Citation

Shittu, Ekundayo and Parker, Geoffrey and Mock, Nancy, Communication for Effective Response in the Emerging Disaster Relief Industry (January 5, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Ekundayo Shittu

The George Washington University ( email )

1776 G St. NW
Washington, D.C., DC DC 20052
United States

Geoffrey Parker (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States
603-646-9075 (Phone)


Nancy Mock

Tulane University ( email )

6823 St Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics