How is Technology Being Used to Improve Disaster Management in U.S. Cities?

The rapid development of modern technology has increased access to and reliance on sophisticated communication and real time technology. These technologies, which have become embedded within everyday life, have significant implications for government agencies – particularly within the field of disaster management. How are cities currently using technology in their disaster management? In understanding what cities are using, what are the most important factors in adopting new technology? Can future technology developments help address the needs of emergency managers?

Damage from April 2011 tornado that ripped through Raleigh, NC.
(Photo credit: Alex Ford)

To answer these questions, this thesis draws on the evolution of disaster research, the history of disaster management in the US, literature on emerging uses of social media technology, and interviews from 24 emergency management offices throughout the US. The analysis reveals several conclusions. First, cities are using a variety of communication, data management, and simulation technologies, primarily within the preparedness and response phases of the disaster cycle. Although many cities are operating on web-based platforms and using social media, this use is generally as a one-way broadcasting system rather than as a bi-directional exchange allowing the gathering of crowdsourced information.

Cities are also facing a variety of challenges for adopting new technology, including funding, political support, and legal constraints. When combined with general interoperability challenges, shifting government-public relations and increasingly mobile populations, it is clear that future technology developments and legislation must work to address these issues. Through the use of open standards and strengthened data integration, cities may be able to both focus on and better leverage both existing and new forms of communication to build the level of trust needed to both reduce vulnerability and increase resilience.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis,“Evolving Technologies for Disaster Management in U.S. Cities,” written by Vanessa Ng.


Posted on April 13, 2012, in disaster management, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Crucial set of issues and ones that are receiving extensive federal attention. Thanks for sharing the work. The Community and Regional Relience Institute provides resources of all types fro communities preparing for and recovering from disaster:

  2. Finding ways of utilizing ICT for disaster management is such a hot issue right now – both in developed and developing countries. I’m working on a climate change adaptation project in Ghana (, and trying to figure out how we can set up an early warning system that’s effective utilizing appropriate ICT at various levels. I recommended my colleagues to read Vanessa’s thesis work, and it has been a really helpful reference point for us to think about this issue! Thanks for the great work.

  3. Congrats Vanessa for an excellent thesis! You provide a really rich and profound analysis on a very complex topic. As you say, technology now makes it possible to have better information to plan for risk reduction and emergency response, and it can be a driver for democratizing information. I think this is so crucial. A person in power becomes more aware, but also more accountable!

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