David Mendonça, PhD, an associate professor in the department of information systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), has received a $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study creativity by first responders following the 2001 World Trade Center attack and the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
"Disasters routinely create non-routine situations,” Mendonça said. “History repeatedly teaches us that both effective planning and an ability to improvise are needed in emergency response.”
Mendonça, who is the lead investigator on the project, is working with two sociologists—Gary Webb of Oklahoma State University and Carter Butts of University of California at Irvine—to improve understanding of creative decision-making during emergency response.
Their analysis will draw upon the radio communications and dispatch logs produced during the response to the events. These and other materials (such as interviews conducted with response personnel) will be used to construct a description of the relationship between thinking, acting and communicating following each disaster.
“Recollections of decisions made in crises can leave out important details,” said Mendonça. “By examining actual records of communication and decision-making processes, we have a chance to develop a fuller, more accurate understanding of the response to large-scale disasters.”
The project is also intended to lead to recommendations about how to better use information technologies for collecting and analyzing data from response activities.
“We hope that our work also leads to improvements in how information technology can support organizations in learning from their response to disaster, thus contributing to their ability to plan effectively for future disasters,” said Mendonça.
The project builds on Mendonça’s previous work on creative decision-making in the restoration of power and telecommunications infrastructures in New York City after 9/11, along with studies of the use of information technology in post-disaster recovery operations following Hurricane Katrina. Mendonça’s work has also been supported by a CAREER grant from NSF, an award intended to recognize outstanding junior faculty in science and engineering.