'S-HELP' for managing disasters

7 June 2013

Emergency preparedness and response coordination is a multi-organisational effort, says Professor Liaquat Hossain.
Emergency preparedness and response coordination is a multi-organisational effort, says Professor Liaquat Hossain.

Disaster response teams can be impeded by chaotic communications according to University of Sydney behaviour dynamics expert Professor Liaquat Hossain from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies.

Complex communication channels similar to those of social networking shape the capacity of rescue services to respond rapidly, collaboratively and thereby minimise the effects of disasters such as mass flooding, bio-disasters or bushfires.

Professor Hossain, director of the University's Project Management program, is a member of an international team researching the best methods of disaster management. The team, which was recently awarded 4.3 million euro by the European Union to further develop its disaster management system dubbed 'S-HELP', will trial the system via three stimulated multi-factorial inter-agency disaster scenarios. Conducted in locations within Europe, the scenarios include a chemical explosion, mass flooding, and a regional bio-hazard.

Professor Hossain says emergency preparedness and response coordination is a multi-organisational effort, where shared goals - warning, evacuation and recovery - are heavily interdependent.

"Throughout these three scenarios we will model the situational and projected evolution of the emergencies and the ability of those involved to communicate, coordinate and collaborate in problem solving."

Professor Hossain, whose research interests are focused on understanding the behavioural dynamics of groups in chaos or crisis, says S-HELP will provide evidence-based solutions to improve health services performance in emergency management, similar to those experienced earlier this year Pakistan or more recently in Dresden and Prague.

Disasters place enormous burden on health infrastructure with an increased demand for medical attention, displacement and major outbreaks of infectious diseases all placing additional strain on health services.

"Preparedness and response capabilities of health services will directly impact society's ability to bounce back, to become more resilient to future disasters," states Professor Hossain.

He says S-HELP will significantly enhance operability by advancing the existing knowledge base required for the development of the next generation of Decision Support (DS) tools and a user-centred Decision Support System (DSS) for better preparedness, rapid response and coordinated recovery in emergency situations.

"We are developing a framework to guide stakeholder needs analysis, and integrating an advanced disaster support tool-set.

Professor Hossain has worked extensively with the Victorian Bushfire CRC and the NSW Ambulance Service on effective incident management.

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