Disaster Forensics: Leveraging Crisis Information Systems for Social Science (2004)

Disaster Forensics: Leveraging Crisis Information Systems for Social Science
Mitchell L. Moss
Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
New York University

Anthony M. Townsend
Institute for the Future


This paper contributes to the literature on information systems in crisis management by providing an overview of emerging technologies for sensing and recording sociological data about disasters. These technologies are transforming our capacity to gather data about what happens during disasters, and our ability to reconstruct the social dynamics of affected communities. Our approach takes a broad review of disaster research literature, current research efforts and new reports from recent disasters, especially Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami. We forecast that sensor networks will revolutionize conceptual and empiricial approaches to research in the social sciences, by providing unprecedented volumes of high-quality data on movements, communication and response activities by both formal and informal actors. We conclude with a set of recommendations to designers of crisis management information systems to design systems that can support social science research, and argue for the inclusion of post-disaster social research as a design consideration in such systems.

Sensing, sensor-networks, context-awareness, social science, forensics