Emergency Measures Interoperability, what does it mean exactly ?

In the emergency measures industry, the term interoperability continues to grow in popularity. In order to better understand this concept, here is a definition specific to the emergency services field: «emergency interoperability refers to the socio-technical ability of emergency personnel to immediately communicate and share information»[1].

This desire for interoperability is born from tragic events that made realised emergency managers the importance to implant systems that allow responders to communicate easily and rapidly the information in crisis situations. For example, following the September 11 terrorist attack, a report regarding elements to improve in the future demonstrates the importance of preparedness in emergency crisis, in particular as regards the information sharing and communication. These tragic events have also demonstrated the importance for emergency services to work as a collectivity instead of individually.

Although we cannot deny that technologies contribute to interoperability, the fact remains that it is also important to take user perceptions into consideration. This is what the searcher Carrie B. Sanders made by interviewing police officers, firefighters and paramedics who have to work together in a crisis situation.

Its results are very interesting: On the one hand, different emergency services implicated in a crisis situation possess different mandates, politics and proceedings. In addition, they rarely fall within the same jurisdiction of work. It is then easily conceivable that frictions arise when different emergency services have to work together. Moreover, the fact that every responders have its own rules regarding information sharing complicates the collaboration.

The researcher’s conclusion is that: «Organizational contexts, such as policies and procedures, have created multiple, and often contradictory, definitions of information sharing and emergency interoperability»1. Thus it seems that the definition of interoperability into an organization is very different from the one interorganizations. Even if everybody agree on the fact that information sharing is crucial in a crisis situation, it seems there’s no unanimity about when, what and to which level this sharing has to be made.

[1] Sanders, C. (2014). Need to know vs. need to share: information technology and the intersecting work of police, fire and paramedics. Information, Communication & Society, 17-4, p.463-475.