FIRE21 is a four year long project that investigates problem solving in the Fire and Rescue services in the 21st century. The research is organized in five different work packages.
Work package 2 is researching network-based problem-solving in the Fire and Rescue services. The aim is to establish an understanding of the problem-solving networks and their capabilities. Work package leader is Gudveig Gjøsund at NTNU Social Research.
The aim of work package 2 in FIRE21 is to establish an understanding of the problem-solving networks and their capabilities in the Fire and Rescue Services.
The research takes its starting point in theory with a focus on bringing theory to practical implication. Work package 2 highlights the emergency management networks in new ways as the research looks into both formal and the informal (sometimes called incipient) networks.
Previously, theorizing about the organization of the Fire and Rescue service has not been very common, since the emphasis in an emergency response organization naturally is on the practical handling of incidents. By combining theoretical insights with their practical implications as is the case in FIRE21, the researchers will develop a better picture of how incidents are handled. The research method is empirical and explorative and has its basis in actor network and social network theory.
The first step for investigating the problem-solving networks in the Fire and Rescue Services is to map the formal problem-solving structure. In other words, to investigate formal documents from the directorates and municipalities at all levels, from local to national, and map planned interaction between the different actors involved in emergency management.
The formal documents standardize the response during an emergency, whom the organizations are supposed to contact, listen to and work with. The documents also clarify who is in charge of whom and who is leads specific operations.
But formal instructions alone might not be sufficient for handling an emergency. For instance, large cities have their routines and conditions whereas a small municipality will have others. Since incidents are unpredictable, the response tends to be “ad hoc” and it is not always possible to follow the formal instructions. Informal problem-solving networks and activities usually supplement the formal networks and procedures. The basic idea behind the project is, indeed, that formal structures can learn from informal networks that develop in response to specific incidents.
The mapping of the problem-solving-networks for the Fire and Rescue Service will present different levels in the network from national to local. It shows which organization is in command of another. It also shows what specific network is planned to be involved in what phase of the emergency management cycle, that is prevention, pre-incident planning, response, and post-incident recovery.
By studying both the organizations involved and the different emergency phases, the formal mapping provides a good basis for further inquiring into how the problem-solving network works.
During the mapping process, there are some areas of special interest. These will be investigated in all phases of emergency management from prevention to post-incident assessment.
The areas of special interest include normative structures, key actors´ capabilities, vulnerabilities, and technical aids. The technical aids refer to, e.g. general incident management systems and tools, different administrative systems as well as to social media.
The overview of the interactions and relationships between the different organizations provides a unique opportunity to deepen the research into both formal and informal problem-solving networks. The mapping itself beds for further qualitative analysis in the research since the mapping system maintains the connection to the formal documents. This enables the researchers to look deeper into the most interesting points.
The mapping aims to develop an overview of problem-solving opportunities and then to zoom in on specific, interesting points. When the researchers find extra interesting points, both theory and practice is applied. Of extra interest is to identify the pitfalls or barriers to problem-solving that might be avoided once identified, or to highlight network omissions. By this we mean connections that might be expected in the network but are not mentioned in the formal structures at all.
Each of the participating countries in FIRE21, i.e. Sweden, Norway and Denmark, will construct maps of the problem-solving network in their individual national contexts. Ultimately, the research will be able to make comparisons between countries to find both similarities and differences. The goal is to find implications that are specific for the Scandinavian context.
The mapping itself is a handicraft, where the researchers must understand each individual relationship between every organization involved in the incident management. By assigning and categorizing every relationship, the interactions between close to a hundred organizations involved in problem-solving are visualized.
The research in work package 2 provides an opportunity to look at formal guidelines and compare them with how problem solving actually works. By connecting theory and practice as it is done in FIRE21, lessons can be learnt which will improve problem-solving in the future. In that way the research will be a good starting point to suggest and develop future strategies that are specifically tailored to the Fire and Rescue Service in Scandinavia.
Responsible for work package 2: Gudveig Gjøsund, NTNU Social Research.