Business professor receives funds to study disaster response

By Keith Farner | Emory Business | Dec. 30, 2014

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The types of disasters that could hit a community are ever changing, and in recent years examples have ranged from hurricanes and tornadoes to domestic terrorism and disease outbreaks.

Thanks to a $577,474 grant from the National Science Foundation, a Goizueta Business School professor is conducting research to understand how communities plan for, and respond to, emergency events.

Michael Prietula, a professor of information systems and operations management at Goizueta, is working in collaboration with Emory’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, two professors from the University of Notre Dame and the Miami-Dade Office of Emergency Management.

Emergency Operation Centers are locations, when activated, that house an incident command structure of decision makers who have primary responsibility for public safety under the guidelines of the FEMA’s National Incident Management System. Prietula said the goal for the two-year project is to craft a “virtual operations center” modeling tool to investigate how large numbers of public and private agencies exchange information and make decisions during an emergency event.

By learning from Miami-Dade, Prietula said the project would build an open source simulation framework so others can test their own structures and train their own members.

“The organization we are studying has learned how to learn over time because it has dealt with these recurring, complex events that are never exactly the same, but have a lot of similarities,” Prietula said of Miami-Dade, which is known worldwide for its competency during emergency events. “The Miami-Dade organization exhibits a refined form of what one might call ‘organizational metacognition’ that allows them to manage what they have learned and make adjustments accordingly.

“They know what they know, and they know what they do not know. That distinction is critical for monitoring their performance and engaging different organizational response processes when necessary. Essentially, it all comes down to managing information and its flow, both inside and outside of the organization.”

View the full story in Emory Business.