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UB Researchers Studying 'October Surprise' Response Underscore Need for Expertise, Training

By Jacqueline Ghosen

Release Date: October 11, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researchers studying the response to the 2006 "October Surprise" storm have concluded that the effective coordination of emergency services played a critical role in decision making during the crisis.

In a paper examining the "Incident Command System" used by Erie County in responding to the natural disaster, the researchers investigated the coordination of the tasks, resources, technology and personnel utilized in the emergency response efforts.

The authors of the paper include three members of the UB School of Management's Department of Management Science and Systems: H.R. Rao, professor, Raj Sharman, assistant professor, and Rui Chen, doctoral student; as well as Catherine P. Cook-Cottone, assistant professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the Graduate School of Education; and Shambhu Upadhyaya, associate professor of computer science and engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The ongoing research is being funded by a $30,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Disaster planning, response and mitigation are components of UB's research focus on "extreme events," identified as one of the university's strategic strengths in the UB 2020 strategic plan. The group will work under the umbrella of UB's Center of Excellence in Information Systems Assurance Research and Education (CEISARE), which is co-directed by Upadhyaya and Rao.

While the paper concludes that the incident coordination during the storm was ultimately deemed successful, it also outlines many lessons learned from the process that can improve operational effectiveness in the future.

For example, the researchers found that some of the key decision makers lacked the proper knowledge and expertise to handle the disaster because they were appointed by county officials who were not familiar with emergency operations. The researchers recommend that personnel serving in a decision-making capacity be chosen based on expertise and that a database of experts be assembled.

Also, while the technology was in place to coordinate efforts via DisasterLAN, a Web-based incident management system for decision support, it was discovered that many agencies did not have proper training to use the system, thus slowing down emergency efforts. The researchers recommend increased education and training across the agencies.

Chen will present the team's findings at the "Decision Support for Extreme Events: Learning from Success and Failure" workshop in December prior to the International Conference on Information Systems in Montreal.

The same team has two other studies under way using research from the October storm. In one project they are investigating affect and behavior issues as they relate to first responders (emergency personnel) in an extreme event, including the subjects' response patterns when transitioning from normal routine operating conditions to emergency conditions.

In the other project the researchers are examining risks to hospital information systems when faced with extreme events. The team is working closely with health-care facilities in the Buffalo region on this research.

The Wall Street Journal ranks the UB School of Management 9th in the nation among schools with strong regional recruiting bases. In addition, BusinessWeek ranks the school as one of the country's top 5 business schools for the fastest return on MBA investment, and Forbes cites it as one of the best business schools in the U.S. for the return on investment it provides MBA graduates.

For more information about the UB School of Management, visit http://mgt.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.