What Disaster Response Management Can Learn From Chaos Theory

Conference Proceedings
May 18-19, 1995

Edited by
Gus A. Koehler, PhD.

Return to table of contents


What Disaster Response Management Can
Learn From Chaos Theory

A Conference Presented By The California Research Bureau, California State Library,

And Funded By The California Emergency Medical Services Authority.

May 18-19, 1995

Day 1: Technical Presentations

8:00-8:15 Introduction and comments on what chaos theory might have to say to disaster managers. Gus Koehler, Ph.D., California Research Bureau, California State Library.

8:15-9:00 Basic chaos theory and self-organizing theory concepts. Douglas Kiel, University of Texas.

9:00-10:00 The response of public and private disaster organizations to a disaster. Tom Drabek, Ph.D., University of Denver

10:00-10:15 Coffee break

10:15-11:15 Perceptual response time-frames and organizing the response. Victoria Evans, University of Nevada.

11:15-12:15 Kobe, Japan compared to Maharashtra, India: Key variables to encourage self-organizing disaster responses. Louise Comfort, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh.

12:15-1:00 Lunch on site. Opportunity to view PBS video on chaos theory.

1:00-2:00 Chaos theory derived management principles and disaster response. Douglas Kiel, University of Texas.

2:00-3:00 The display and analysis of chaos related data, and how such data might be used to steer a disaster response organization. Richard Priesmeyer, Ph.D., St. Marys University.

3:00-3:15 Coffee Break

3:15-4:15 Fractals as a way of thinking about the emergence of disaster area wide response systems. Gus Koehler, California Research Bureau.

Day 2: Applications Workshop

8:00-8:30 Summary of previous day's presentations.Gus Koehler, California Research Bureau.

8:30-8:45 Review scenario of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay Area (in packet).

8:45-9:30 State Emergency Medical Services response system overview. Jeff Rubin, Chief, Disaster Response, Emergency Medical Services Authority.

9:30-10:00 Overview of medical response time frames and discussion of other sector's response times. Gus Koehler, California Research Bureau, Jeff Rubin, Chief, Disaster Response, Emergency Medical Services Authority, and participants.

10:00-10:15 Coffee Break

10:15-12:00 Roundtable discussion. Facilitated by Gus Koehler, California Research Bureau. The roundtable discussion will focus on the following questions.


Using the expected Hayward earthquake disaster profile, would the pre-identification of response related equipment, distribution of communications equipment, supplies and activation of delivery systems immediately following an event, improve response time?

What kinds of unexpected consequences from such an action might occur in the first 24 hours?

Can differences in internal and inter-organizational rhythms, time frames, and time signatures be addressed by planning, simulation or by a disaster response steering mechanisms such that their effect on the disaster response structure can be evaluated and minimized?

Do sensitivity to initial conditions, and path-dependent processes affect how the Standardized Emergency Management System (SIMS) is implemented and manages a disaster response (five organizational levels, ICS, Operational Areas, OASIS, MBO, and Action Planning)?

12:00-1:00 Lunch and opportunity to view "Nothing but Zooms," a video about fractals.

1:00-3:00 Roundtable discussion of the following questions.


Are their deterministic processes buried in the organizational and inter-organizational chaos following a disaster that government can influence to speed the emergence of an effective and efficient disaster wide response structure?

Given what we have learned from chaos theory, what should done in the first 12 hours? Are there actions that should be avoided?

Are there different priorities for different sectors (utilities, transportation, shelter are examples)? Or, should the same things be done in different sectors to speed the response structure? Does each sector face similar process problems?

Is data available to dynamically monitor and steer the disaster response? If not, could simulations be used?

3:00-4:00 Roundtable discussion of the following questions.

State and Local Exercises

Using insights from chaos theory, which elements of the response process that creates the response structure should be emphasized in Hayward Fault earthquake exercise for example?

How should disaster response managers and their staff be trained?

Would collection of time series data during an exercise for later use to simulate inter-organizational coordination be useful?

Value of Chaos theory to disaster management

Does chaos theory provide any new insights for managing disaster responses?

How has the conference changed the way you think about the disaster response?

Next Chapter: ATTACHMENT B - Selected Bibliography

Return to table of contents