Information Sharing and Situational Awareness: Insights from the Cascadia Rising Exercise of June 2016

AbstractIn a catastrophic incident gaining situational awareness (SA) is the foremost prerequisite that ena-bles responders to save and sustain lives, stabilize the incident, and protect the environment and property from further damage. However, catastrophes severely damage and disrupt critical infrastructures including response assets. Initially and for days and even weeks, essential information remains incomplete, unverified, and is changing as the catastrophic incident unfolds, all of which leads to a distorted common operating picture (COP). The lack of clear and comprehensive SA/COP prevents incident commanders from efficiently directing the response effort. This study reports on the challenges emergency responders faced with regard to situational awareness in a recent large-scale exercise under the name of Cascadia Rising 2016 (CR16) conducted in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The exercise involved a total of 23,000 active participants. Over four days in June of 2016, CR16 simulated the coordinated response to a rupture of the 800-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone resulting in a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami similar to the catastrophic incident in Eastern Japan in 2011. Responders at all levels were severely challenged, and the exercise revealed major vulnerabilities in critical infrastructures. Situational awareness was very difficult to establish. The exercise demonstrated that the challenges to SA/COP and to response management, in general, during catastrophic incidents cannot be regarded as a linear extension of non-catastrophic emergency and disaster responses. It rather requires the rethinking and revising of practices and procedures when responding under the constraints of massively degraded critical information infrastructures and harshly decimated assets.

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