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Designing Information Technology for Emergency Response

Doctoral thesis
Authors Jonas Landgren
Date of public defense 2007-09-07
Opponent at public defense Vidar Hepsö
ISBN 978-91-628-7231-1
Publisher University of Gothenburg
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2007
Published at Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Language en
Keywords Emergency response, Sensemaking, Mobile technology, Ethnography, Design
Subject categories Informatics


This thesis contributes to our understanding of information technology use in emergency response work and how information technology could be designed to provide support in emergency response work. The work domain of operative emergency response has been studied by extensive ethnographic fieldwork at several different fire and rescue services in Sweden. Prototypes have been design and used by fire crews in field experiments in order to probe for potential future use of information technology and to study its consequences. By using sensemaking as an analytical lens, new aspects in emergency response work have been identified that influence the design of information technology support. The results from the extensive fieldwork and the field experiments presented in this thesis suggest a new conceptualization of response work as patterns of practice where the collective efforts of making sense is fundamental for successful response work. The conceptualization makes visible the importance of carefully embedding the use of information technology in the situated time-critical response work. Based on the patterns of practice, two general design dimensions have been formed, extending our current knowledge of how information technology should be designed for emergency response work. Current information technology has primarily been designed for a formal role or specific task. The results presented in this thesis suggest that the design of information technology should focus on the social interactions among the response actors involved in time-critical response work. In the collective efforts of making sense in emergency response, actors use a range of information technology artifacts that produce a range of digital traces that say something about the ongoing work. Future information technology should be designed to make use of such traces of actions in order to improve the visibility of the actors and their actions in ongoing the response work. By designing for social interactions and designing for traces of actions, new improved features of information technology could be materialized that will make emergency responders better equipped for sensemaking activities in emergency response work.

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