A parametric approach to emergency response project management

Sanjay Jain, PhD


The frequency of natural and man-made disasters appears to be on the rise. In the year 2005 alone, there were multiple major natural disasters including tsunami in the Indian Ocean, hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the gulf coast of the United States, and the earthquake in the Pakistan-occupied area of Kashmir. Man-made disasters in the same period include the subway train bombings in London and suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq. The increasing frequency of such events underlines the need for improved preparedness for managing the response to those events. The chaotic response to Hurricane Katrina, leading to miserable conditions for several days for people trapped in New Orleans, indicates a severe lack of preparedness on the part of local, state, and federal authorities. The lessons of Katrina were not put to good use, as demonstrated by the poor response to Hurricane Rita that followed a few weeks later. It is clear that there is a critical need for rapidly improving the emergency response effort.

The emergency response effort needs to be improved on several fronts. A coordinated effort is required to identify and prioritize the areas of improvement. The whole life cycle of incident management needs to be analyzed to identify the areas of current weaknesses. The major phases of incident management include prevention, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. The role of involved government agencies at local, state, and federal levels in each phase needs to be analyzed. Prevention includes actions that can help reduce the potential for occurrence of such incidents. Preparedness includes planning the efforts for various potential incident scenarios and training the relevant personnel for effectively responding to them. Response includes coordination and execution of planned response activities following the occurrence of an incident. Recovery includes efforts to bring the affected areas back to their normal state after the immediate needs of the victims of the event have been addressed. Mitigation includes efforts to help reduce the impact of future potential incidents. Mitigation activities can be carried out before and after the occurrence of an incident. Activities required in each phase need to be addressed at two levels. First, the execution of the activity itself needs to be improved through employing the best available expertise and technologies. Second, the coordination of activities with other activities in that phase and across other phases needs to be well planned and executed.

The improvement of incident management activities requires a coordinated effort by all involved agencies with a range of expertise. It behooves all professional disciplines to bring their respective expertise to improve the relevant capabilities. Project management expertise can be employed in multiple ways. It can be used to plan and manage the coordinated effort for improving the overall incident management. It can also be used to improve the execution of activities within each phase. While all of these applications are important, the most critical area demanding immediate attention is the planning and management of the actual response following the occurrence of an incident. The need is to focus first on the large-scale incidents that have the potential to affect a huge number of people, typically classified as major disasters.

The major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina require immediate attention because their scale overwhelms the resources of multiple agencies and local and state governments. The emergency response personnel may be able to address smaller incidents based on their experience and ad hoc plans, but the larger incidents cannot be handled without carefully organized efforts based on the best of domain and project management expertise. This paper proposes one approach for putting the project management expertise to use for response to major disasters; that is, large-scale emergency events requiring local, state, and federal participation in response. These incidents qualify as incidents of national significance, and thus require federal resources for response.

Major disasters have the following characteristics: They can occur with little or short notice, ranging from zero advance warning for earthquakes to several days of warning for hurricanes and other natural disasters. The notice for man-made disasters can range from zero for accidents to various time periods for terrorist-planned incidents based on the quality and nature of intelligence. The response to such events involves a myriad of agencies, including government agencies at local, state, and federal level; non-governmental non-profit organizations, such as the American Red Cross; and commercial entities brought in under contracting arrangements for the response. Figure 1 shows a list of core agencies that are involved in response to a major disaster per the National Response Plan (2004). In addition to the core staffing, a number of other organizations may be involved. A tremendous amount of coordination is required among these agencies to ensure that the constrained resources are effectively utilized. It has been reported that, following Hurricane Katrina, there were cases when six helicopters showed up in response to one rescue call while several other calls for rescue were waiting for long periods of time! Such poor coordination further reduces the effectiveness of the constrained resources and causes poor morale among the responders and the affected population.

List of core organizations involved in emergency response. (Adapted from pages 23-24 of the National Response Plan, Dec. 2004, Department of Homeland Security.)

Figure 1. List of core organizations involved in emergency response.
(Adapted from pages 23-24 of the National Response Plan, Dec. 2004, Department of Homeland Security.)

The characteristic of major disasters that is of perhaps the most concern to project management discipline is the lack of time available for planning the response effort. As mentioned above, the available time from the notification of the imminent event to its occurrence may range from none to a few days. The short time available does not allow for development of a detailed project plan after or just before the impending occurrence of a disaster. The need for planning ahead of time has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as evident from the recently released National Response Plan and other related documents. While these documents are a step in the right direction, they are intended for use at a very high level and are designed for describing the responsibility structure across all major disasters. They are not intended to be, and are indeed nowhere close to, what project management professionals will deem a project plan. However, ultimately that is what is needed – a project plan that can be used to integrate and coordinate the actions of the many agencies involved in the response.

This paper proposes a parametric approach to emergency response project management. Because the short time available between the notification and actual occurrence of major disasters does not allow for planning the response effort, parametrized plans should be created ahead of time for the range of potential disasters that may occur. Each potential scenario needs to be studied, and the characteristics that determine its magnitude and its impact should be categorized. Project plans should be developed that are based on a number of likely scenarios and that can be adjusted based on the magnitude of the disaster. For example, a set of generic project plans can be created for large hurricanes that a region may face. Upon the occurrence of the hurricane, the emergency response organizations would feed the characteristics of the impending system into the parametric project management system. This may include data such as the intensity of the hurricane (category 1-5 using the Saffir-Simpson scale), the expected wind speeds, the storm surge, etc. The parametric approach would use these parameters to then select the applicable activities in the plan and adjust the resources required for each activity. It may use the estimates of the number of households affected in the hurricane landfall zone to determine the activities, time, and resources required for evacuation; for providing shelter to the displaced population; for addressing the special needs of disabled population; for providing law and order in the evacuated areas, etc. These quickly generated plans can then be used for gathering and implementing the response to the hurricane.

The development of parametric project plans is a technically challenging endeavor. Even more critical than the technical challenge of developing the parametric project plans is the challenge of gaining the confidence of emergency response community in the plans generated by such a system. This paper presents an approach for development of such plans that includes the addressing of technical and organization cultural challenges. A key aspect of the approach is based on the use of modeling and simulation of the disasters and the response. The simulation can be used to iteratively evaluate and improve the parametric system's capability to develop the project plans. More importantly, the same simulations can be used to train the emergency responders and their managers in executing the emergency response based on the generated plans. This will help gain the confidence of the emergency response personnel in the parametric project planning system, in addition to training them for such eventualities.

The next section of the paper discusses the question of applicability of project management principles to emergency response. Related prior research related to the topic is briefly reviewed in the following section. The proposed approach for the development of the parametric project planning system for emergency response is presented next. The approach includes utilizing the relevant documents released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The challenges in carrying out such a development are then discussed. A simulation test bed is proposed for iterative evaluation and improvements of the parametric project plans. Suggestions are provided for addressing the cultural issues in the implementation of the proposed parametric project planning system. Finally, the paper concludes with a call for initiating the proposed development.

Emergency Response and Project Management

Can emergency response be managed as a project? The Project Management Institute's renowned standard, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (2004), defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” Emergency response efforts are initiated in response to an emergency, and end when all the immediate impact of the emergency has been addressed and hence is a temporary endeavor. The details of the emergency response are determined based on the unique impact of the incident; hence, it provides a unique service. In addition to the above characteristics, emergency response also can be defined in terms of triple constraints. While the time constraints may not be explicitly defined, there are definite goals for providing the emergency response in a rapid manner in a reasonable time. Similarly, while cost is not of concern when lives are at stake, there is a constraint on the resources based on availability, and at times due to controlled access to the affected area. The performance is usually set out as goals on minimizing the impact of the incident in terms of number of casualties, delivering rapid care to casualties, and minimizing damage to property. Even if it is not defined publicly in terms of numbers, the community has expectations about the role of emergency responders in these terms. It is clear from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that society had expectations about the performance of emergency response efforts, and dismay followed the failure of authorities to meet those expectations.

Project management principles may already be utilized for emergency response even though they may not be formally recognized as such. People with long experience develop an understanding of the activities required in responding to an emergency, and also the general sequence in which these activities should be executed. They utilize their experience to prioritize the tasks and deploy resources accordingly. The Wreckmaster in charge of response and recovery from a major subway accident in New York City is reported to have formed “a mental flow chart of how the work needed to proceed” (Nacco, 1992). A formal Gantt chart may not have been developed at the outset, but the Wreckmaster used the concept based on his experience to successfully plan and execute the response. Unfortunately, there are few people available with 24 years of experience in all aspects of the operations, and the managerial skill, as was the case with the Wreckmaster in the reported case discussion.

Application of project management principles to emergency response is called for because of the clear need for improvement in such efforts. Project management has been identified as the integration of multiple functions, teams, and activities in an endeavor; and, as discussed in the previous section, there is definitely a need for integration of multiple organizations and their roles and responsibilities in emergency response. A strong potential for conflict exists in any effort with a number of matrixed resources. Effective project management minimizes the conflict and, with the clear definition of activities and timelines, allows individuals to take advantage of the synergy among diverse resources. Emergency response organizations are themselves highly matrixed, as can be seen from the proposed organization structure for coordination of the National Response Plan in Figure 2. Application of project management principles will thus reduce the potential for conflicts in the highly matrixed response organization. The recognition of the applicability of project management principles to emergency response will provide the opportunity to apply project management body of knowledge and improve the effectiveness of the effort. It will also provide the opportunity to use project management for guiding utilization of information technology. The previous section listed the number of organizations that form the core of the emergency response effort. A larger number of organizations and unorganized civil volunteers typically get involved in the effort. Application of project management principles will provide the vehicle to utilize the larger team in a coordinated fashion.

Highly matrixed organization for NRP coordination: Terrorist incident. (Adapted from page 20 of the National Response Plan, Dec. 2004, Department of Homeland Security.)

Figure 2. Highly matrixed organization for NRP coordination: Terrorist incident.
(Adapted from page 20 of the National Response Plan, Dec. 2004, Department of Homeland Security.)

The recognition of the need for the kind of activities offered by the project management body of knowledge is evident in descriptions of the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System, even though they are not recognized as such in these documents. The National Response Plan (NRP) on page 20 defines the purpose as follows:

“To establish a comprehensive, national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident management across a spectrum of activities including prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.”

It further expands on the purpose as follows (first 3 items extracted from a list of 8):

“The NRP, using the NIMS, establishes mechanisms to:

  • Maximize the integration of incident-related prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery activities;
  • Improve coordination and integration of Federal, State, local, tribal, regional, private-sector, and nongovernmental organization partners;
  • Maximize efficient utilization of resources needed for effective incident management and Critical Infrastructure/ Key Resources (CI/KR) protection and restoration;”

The italicized text above is used to identify the objectives that are exactly among those one would list for effective project management.

Similarly, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) is introduced as below (pages 1-2 of the document).

  • “A consistent nationwide approach for Federal, State, and local governments to work effectively and efficiently together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity.
  • Provides for interoperability and compatibility among Federal, State, and local capabilities.
  • Includes a core set of concepts, principles, terminology, and technologies covering:

    Incident Command System (ICS)

    Multi-agency coordination systems

    Unified Command

    ■ Training

    Identification and management of resources

    ■ Qualification and certification

    Collection, tracking, and reporting of incident information and incident resources.”

Again, the italicized text is used to identify the principles that are shared with project management.

The two documents, NRP and NIMS, thus can be viewed as another confirmation of the applicability of project management principles to emergency response. Overall, there is a lot to be gained from application of the project management body of knowledge to emergency response.

Related Prior Research

There is limited literature on the use of parametric techniques for project planning. In their recent survey on the use of project management tools, Besner and Hobbs (2004) have found parametric planning to be among the group that sees from very limited-to-limited use in practice. Orczyk and Chang (1991) provide a parametric regression model for the scheduling of construction projects. They used literature and interviews to determine parameters that should be used to determine the scope of the construction effort. A parametric regression model is developed and utilized for project scheduling. MacDonell and Shepperd (2003) compared expert judgment, linear regression, and case-based reasoning techniques to optimize effort predictions in software project management. They found that performance of the selected techniques was negatively correlated. They concluded that identification of which technique to use under what circumstances was too complex. Our proposed approach is similar in basic concept to these two efforts, although its development is expected to be lot more challenging, given the uniqueness of each emergency response and the limited data available due to the thankfully infrequent occurrence of such events.

Hernandez and Serrano (2001) propose a generic architecture for application of knowledge-based models for emergency management systems. Simulation is integrated within the architecture for evaluation of generated plans. The feasibility of the system is demonstrated using a case study of flood emergencies. Our proposed use of simulation for the evaluation of generated plans from the parametric project planning system is similar in concept to such use by the authors.

Fatemi Ghomi and Ashjari (2002) utilize simulation modeling for multi-project resource allocation. The system allocates common resources to multiple projects. The effectiveness of the resource allocation is evaluated using a completion time-distribution function for each project, throughput time (makespan), and consumed resource distribution as measures. Emergency response can be viewed as a program that is comprised of multiple related projects that require common resources. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, common rescue resources were needed across several parts of the city. Rescue operations in each ward could have been viewed as projects that needed the common rescue resources. The concept can thus be useful for additional uses of simulation models in the context of emergency response.

A Parametric Project Planning Approach

The goal of the proposed approach is to develop a parametric project planning system that allows the emergency managers to:

  • Quickly identify the category of event by selection from a pre-generated list
  • Define the event by providing major parameters of the incident
  • Define the resource availabilities through connecting to available resource scheduling systems of the involved agencies or through entry of the information
  • Quickly receive a project plan (referred to as Incident Action Plan in National Response Plan) that is:

    ■   based on a stored plan

    ■   customized to inputted parameters

    ■   adjusted to the resource availabilities

  • Track the progress of the project plan
  • Modify the plan with time based on new information

The development plan for the proposed parametric project planning approach can thus be summarized as below.

  1. Develop common process templates using relevant inputs {National Response Plan (NRP), National Incident Management System (NIMS), Emergency Response policies, procedures and literature, Incident management experts}
  2. Develop the work breakdown structure (WBS) based on the common process templates, adding details for consistency
  3. Define process to assign priorities for work packages
  4. Develop data-driven project scheduling approach
  5. Develop base project plans
  6. Test above developments using selected scenarios
  7. Roll out for implementation by jurisdictions

    a.  Identification of relevant incidents

    b.  Customization of project plans to jurisdiction characteristics and needs

    c.  Integration of system with resource scheduling systems of government agencies

    d.  Testing using selected scenarios of interest to jurisdiction

    e.  Training using the system

The development of the parametric approach requires the identification of common emergency response processes as a first step. Thus, while each project is unique, the underlying common processes can be identified at an abstract level. The processes have some commonality across different incidents and have been captured at that level in the National Response Plan and associated documents. The processes can be further detailed by going to the next level of detail and making them specific to the type of incident. Even more detail can be added for projects within a particular domain and for a particular function.

The identification of common processes across different emergency response efforts can be done through analysis of data from past incidents within the United States and outside where the efforts are carried out within a similar framework. The analysis should also include the data and experiences from emergency response exercises. The data from these sources should be organized in project knowledge bases for such analyses. The project knowledge bases can be used to identify the commonalities among projects within specific incident types and thus to draw the common processes that contribute to successful response efforts. The identified common elements can be organized together to form process templates tied to the incident types. For example, a set of process templates may be developed specifically for hurricanes, another set for tornadoes, and yet another for earthquakes. Classification schemes will need to be developed that group together incidents requiring similar responses. The process templates can then be developed based on common processes in response to the group of incidents.

The common process templates developed through the analysis of past incidents and exercise will provide a starting point. These templates then should be enhanced by experts for the involved functions and technologies. The National Response Plan defines 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) that provide the high level actions to be followed. These ESFs include transportation, firefighting, communications, emergency management, etc. Some of the ESFs, such as emergency management, are applicable to every scenario while others, such as firefighting and oil and hazardous material response, may apply only if that capability is called for in a given scenario. The developed process templates should include the high-level actions described in the ESF descriptions in the National Response Plan.

The process templates can be used as the basis for developing base project plans for identified scenarios within each incident group. The identified scenarios should be defined with the most likely characteristics of incidents that may occur. For example, if the analysis of historical data indicates that category 4 hurricanes are most likely to occur, base project plans should be designed with these in mind. A work breakdown structure (WBS) should be developed hierarchically detailing the process templates. Again, information from the National Response Plan may be used for the initial WBS for many of the activities. For example, Figure 3 shows part of a WBS based on the incident management actions defined in the NRP. Duration of activities and resource assignments should be defined using a defined representative jurisdiction.

The identified work packages will need to be assessed for the determination of relative priority. Clearly, the work packages that are related to saving lives will take priority over many other tasks. However, of even higher priority would be the work packages that lead to organizing the right equipment for the first responders, thus ensuring their safety. The priority order may differ based on the category of incident. Such variations should be identified. Inputs of experts from relevant agencies for each category should be used for determining the priority. Also, the initially developed priority orders may be modified based on the impact of these decisions. Plans generated on the initial priority order should be simulated and the impact understood. Iterative cycles of simulations and a review of outputs and modifications may be carried out until a satisfactory priority order is attained. The prioritizing process may generate an ordered list of high-level work packages such as the following:

  1. Notify and assess
  2. Gather and equip first responders
  3. Tie:

    ■ Actions to reduce further casualties for an ongoing event

    ■ Attend to casualties

  4. Arrange for restoring critical services in the affected area
  5. Seal off the affected area
  6. Inform the public
  7. Etc.
Work Breakdown Structure example based on text of the National Response Plan (Section V. Incident Management Actions, pages 46-47)

Figure 3. Work Breakdown Structure example based on text of the National Response Plan
(Section V. Incident Management Actions, pages 46-47).

The prioritized work packages should be scheduled using a data-driven scheduling routine. The time and resource parameters for each work package should be defined for an incident with a magnitude that has a likelihood of occurrence. The parameters of the incident that determine its magnitude and the damage it may inflict should be used to estimate the duration and resource requirements of response activities that form the work breakdown structure. The following characteristics are provided as examples of the input parameters in this approach.

  • Category of event (man-made vs. natural; radiological, biological, etc.)
  • Incident status (terminated, unfolding)
  • Estimated casualties – current and potential
  • Location
  • Affected area in square miles
  • Population in the affected area
  • Status of utility services in the affected area
  • Access points to the area

The scheduling routine may be based on an adaptive approach; that is, using stored schedules and adapting them to a new instance. It may be based on a generative approach; that is, the schedule may be built from scratch, loading each work package, one by one, on to the schedule; or the approach may be a hybrid of the adaptive and generative approaches, using the former for the common work package sequence while using the latter for adding on sequences for unique circumstances.

The integrated composition of the process templates, the work packages, and the project schedule will provide the core component of the base project plan. It will utilize resources based on descriptions of sets of generic skills for emergency responders, and functional parameters for equipment and assets. Similarly, it will provide budgeting information based on the average costs for required resources.

The capability of generation of the base project plans should be tested using a set of incidents of different magnitudes. The generated plans should be evaluated by experts from relevant domains, including emergency response and concerned technical areas. The evaluations should be used to improve the algorithms and procedures for development of the base project plans.

The developed base project plans for the same incident may be implemented differently across various jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction should review the common base project plans that are relevant. For example, coastal jurisdictions have to include major disasters that may come through the ocean, including hurricanes, tsunamis, and illegal access by terrorists. A jurisdiction in the midwest region of the United States might focus on its unique potential disasters, which may include flooding, tornadoes, and snowstorms. The jurisdictions can thus select the subset of base project plans that are relevant for their circumstances, and review and enhance them.

The base project plans should be further customized for the unique characteristics of the jurisdiction. For example, the city of New Orleans may need to include activities for restoring breached levees as its response to hurricanes, while a community on the coast of Florida may include activities to safeguard against beach erosion in such an event. The population density in the areas exposed to potential disaster would have a large impact on the time and resources required to assist the population. The customized project plans to the jurisdictions should be stored in the project knowledge base for use as their base plan. The system implementation in the jurisdictions should include integration with the resources scheduling systems of the local agencies.

It is understood that pre-generated base project plans may not include all possible situations that may be created in a real emergency. The templates should be designed to allow quick modifications to address the unique elements of the real emergency. Such modifications may be carried out manually or, preferably, through application of intelligent techniques, such as case-based reasoning and expert systems.

A number of challenges need to be addressed to enable the development of the capability discussed above. Figure 4 provides a list of challenges and recommended approaches relevant to the challenges.

The proposed approach can be implemented using the architecture as shown in Figure 5. The system will be comprised of the following major modules: a project knowledge base, an intelligent search and construct engine, a project scheduler, and a system manager who coordinates the tasks among the preceding modules. Such a system is envisaged for use in an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) used for coordinating the response to a disaster. The EOC users can interact through the system manager to generate plans for use following an incident. They would first describe the incident to the system through identification of the incident group and associated parameters. The system manager would then call for generation of an appropriate base project plan based on the incident information. The intelligent search and construct engine would mine the past data in the project knowledge base to identify the closest available template. The engine would then add activities that may not be incorporated in the common template. A generative WBS construction approach would be used for the purpose. The engine would also analyze and provide the priorities for the selected work packages. The results of this effort would be provided back to the system manager and the user. The system manager would call on the Project Scheduler module to utilize the template and the prioritized WBS, and generate schedules comprehending the emergency response resources and assets available. The Project Scheduler would utilize the resource availability information specific to that jurisdiction to allocate resources and sequence the work packages. An iterative approach could be used to develop and refine the project schedule. The resulting schedule—WBS and the other elements of the project plan—would then be provided to the users for implementation.

Challenges and relevant approaches

Figure 4. Challenges and relevant approaches.

The parametric emergency response project management system would provide interfaces to National Incident Management System (NIMS) to allow downloading of current incident and resource availability information. The information provided through NIMS should be stored in the project knowledge base for future use. The interfaces for the short-term use for the current incident and the long-term use for the future between NIMS and the proposed system are also shown in Figure 5.

Simulation Test Bed

The project plans generated by the preceding proposed system will gain a following among the emergency response community only when their quality is proven beyond doubt. Rapid experience in implementation of plans generated from the system can be gained through the use of modeling and simulation. The applicability of modeling and simulation to emergency response has been recognized, as evident from the following excerpt from a National Research Council (2002) report:

“Systems analysis and modeling tools are required for threat assessment; identification of infrastructure vulnerabilities and interdependencies; and planning and decision making (particularly for threat detection, identification and response coordination). Modeling and simulation also have great value for training first responders and supporting research on preparing for, and responding to, biological, chemical and other terrorist attacks.”

The planning and decision-making applications identified in the NRC report are the areas primarily targeted in this section. The plans and decisions embodied in a proposed project plan can be evaluated using modeling and simulation.

Schematic of the proposed Parametric Emergency Response Project Management System

Figure 5. Schematic of the proposed Parametric Emergency Response Project Management System.

A number of modeling and simulation tools for aspects of emergency response are available (Jain & McLean, 2003). For example, the Naval Research Laboratory has developed the CT-Analyst software for modeling the dispersion of a radiological plume (BAE Systems, 2005). The tool can be used to predict the path and the concentration levels of the release based on the material released and the weather conditions. These predictions can be used by the emergency responders to identify the areas in harm's way and coordinate evacuation efforts. Similarly, there are simulation tools available that individually model the spread of fire in a building, the evacuation traffic movements, the treatment of victims in a hospital's emergency room, etc.

A realistic simulation of the emergency response requires the integration of various simulation tools that together model all the major aspects of the incident, its impact, and the response efforts themselves. These need to be brought together for studying the impact of disaster events as a whole. Not only do we need to understand how the radioactive plume will disperse, but we also need to plan what traffic routes people will use to evacuate the affected areas, what demands will be placed on the hospital resources in the area, etc. The individual simulation models, such as those for studying the radiological release, need to be integrated with those analyzing the traffic movement through the highways and arteries of the affected area, and with those analyzing the resource constraints of hospital systems, among others. The integrated simulations will provide a test bed for emergency response strategies and plans.

Consider the need for testing the parametric project plans for an explosion and fire at a downtown high-rise building in a major city. The response plans will include activities for deployment of first responders, including firefighters, police crews for crowd and traffic control, emergency medical technicians for attending to the casualties and taking them to the emergency rooms as needed, and the treatment of casualties in the emergency rooms. The simulation test bed has to include models of all the relevant aspects to test the quality of the project plan. It would need to model the occurrence of the explosion and the fire, the flow of information to the dispatch center and to the first responders, the dispatching and movement of the responders to the incident site, the travel of ambulances with the injured to the hospital, and their treatment in the emergency room. Figure 6 shows the concept of an integrated simulation model, incorporating the desired elements for testing the emergency response project plans for a building explosion and fire incident.

The development of such integrated simulations will require data describing all the elements of the scenario, as shown as the platform in the figure. This will include static information on the local community, such as city maps; the locations of first responder stations; the communication networks for federal, state, and local authorities, etc. The simulation will also require dynamic information, including the availability of response personnel at the time of the incident, estimates on the number of people in the building and in surrounding areas, traffic volumes and patterns, etc. Some of the information, such as available responder personnel, is the same as that needed by the parametric project planning system.

The simulation test bed will thus allow a systems approach to emergency event modeling and be capable of evaluating the response plans. The test bed should have access to a library of scenarios to allow evaluation of the project planning capability for different scenarios. As evident from the preceding example, it should include models that simulate the incident itself and those that model various aspects of the response. The test bed should capture the performance of the plan on selected metrics, such as:

  • Time until last casualty arrival at a hospital
  • Number of civilian casualties after notification
  • Property damage after notification
  • Number of first responder casualties
  • Cost of response effort.
Concept for Integrated Simulation Test Bed for Emergency Response Project Plans for a building explosion and fire scenario. (Acknowledgement: The graphic shown on the computer screen has been adapted from the website for Sim City 4.)

Figure 6. Concept for Integrated Simulation Test Bed for Emergency Response Project Plans for a building explosion and fire scenario.
(Acknowledgement: The graphic shown on the computer screen has been adapted from the website for Sim City 4.)

Availability of a simulation test bed as described above would tremendously help the development of the parametric project management system. The proposed project management system should be interfaced to the simulation test bed for evaluation purposes. It should also provide interfaces to the operating systems used by responders and EOC staff for facilitating its use.

Cultural aspects

It is likely that system-generated project plans (or Incident Action Plans—IAPs, as they are referred to in the NRP) may face lack of confidence from first responders. The resistance can and should be addressed in many ways. Trusted first responders will need to be used as the source of expertise for system development. Their involvement in the development should be highlighted for the emergency response community. The system-generated IAPs will also need to be reviewed by another group of experts, also from the emergency response community. Again, such involvement should be highlighted for the user community. The system should be used for helping conduct tabletop and live Homeland Security exercises. The data from validation of the system through simulations and exercises should be widely shared among the development and the user community. The system should also be used for the training of first responders. All these measures will help the system gain the trust of the emergency response community.

Once the system is accepted and put into operation, the system may reduce conflicts regarding the plans and thus further reduce the time for developing emergency response project plans. It will allow smaller communities to benefit from the experiences of experts whom they normally may not have access to. Ultimately, it should achieve the purpose of improving emergency response planning and execution.


This paper proposed a parametric emergency response project management system to address the need for improved effectiveness of emergency response. The proposed system can improve the effectiveness through rapid generation of Incident Action Plans (IAPs) that provide efficient use of available resources to carry out tasks in the right priority order. The plans will help improve the integration among the multitude of agencies and their functions. The system will also encourage the targeted use of information technology.

A parametric approach can meet the time-constrained environment of emergency response. The development of such a system would require addressing technical and cultural challenges. A project knowledge base, techniques like case-based reasoning, and data-driven project scheduling are needed to enable a rapid generation of the project plan. A simulation test bed is essential to validate the generated plans beforehand and for gaining the confidence of the emergency response community. These challenges define the future research directions to help make the proposal a reality.


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