PhD project on Adaptive multi-agency response coordination for managing distributed disease outbreaks

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When disease outbreak situations such as that of Swine Flu and SARS arise, a warning is communicated through various media, and coalition networks comprising multiple, loosely linked organizations or ad-hoc networks become active in response to the outbreak. These networks are important to successful coordination because they bring the local knowledge of the disease outbreak to the attention of the response coordination unit. The network in the affected communities can assist in supporting local and state efforts to coordinate their response and its recovery. However, achieving this optimal scenario is a major challenge. The traditional approaches to coordination are to delegate maximum authority to a single actor—a ‘coordination by command’ approach. This approach has been contentious, mainly because of the difficulties in selecting a suitable government disaster response networking body, particularly in Australia’s complex federal system; no less a challenge is creating a system in which local knowledge flows up and down the command structure most efficiently. The extreme public concern over pandemics during the past decade suggests that urgent action is required to develop optimal information-sharing environments. This can only be achieved by seeing coordination as multilayered, involving the orchestration of relationships not only at headquarters but at the regional, national and field levels. It is, in effect, a social system.
The University of Sydney in collaboration with Area Health Networks plan to use new techniques to significantly improve the crisis management of disease outbreaks. The University has the expertise in network theory and coordination, and the Area Health Networks would bring clinical and epidemiological expertise, facilities and data sources that will lead to important advances in disease outbreak research and practice.


Professor Liaquat Hossain

Research Location

Civil Engineering

Program Type



The aim of the project is to develop adaptive and robust crisis responses systems through a fusion of social network theory and biologically inspired self-organization. The specific aims are to:
• identify the formal and informal social networks that exist among the disease outbreak response readiness community;
• analyse the federal, state, council and community-level communication flow relating to dissemination of risk warnings, and to intervention strategies for dealing with disease outbreak;
• determine the importance of local knowledge possessed by the loosely tied, ad-hoc social network for effective disease outbreak coordination;
• determine the optimal role and implementation strategy of information and communications technology for the identification and allocation of local volunteers and the application of community knowledge for disease outbreak response.

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crisis management, disease outbreak situations, public concern over pandemics, formal and informal social networks, disease outbreak coordination, network theory, coordination, implementation strategy, community knowledge

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1351

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