Scholarship of Interdisciplinarity 

SOI Appendix

Intro: My INDS degree in resilient technologies and disaster management focused on the complex issue of resiliency and communication infrastructure failures in disasters through an interdisciplinary multi-disciplined perspective. While volunteering with the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center responding to disasters to repair critical technology infrastructure, I learned how involved disaster management is and how it requires cooperation from many agencies and partners. This kicked off my academic research into how society and disaster management professionals depend on technology, specifically the information communications technology infrastructure, during the emergency management phases: disaster prevention, mitigation response, and recovery. After disasters, communication technologies such as cellular, radio, and internet networks are affected, significantly limiting the quality of service of these critical services. Major issues start to arise, such as sharing real-time information and communicating amongst agencies, making adequate disaster mitigation, response, and recovery complex. 

 

Course Work: To understand the complexity of disaster management and their use of information communication technologies requires an interdisciplinary approach. There are many types of disasters, two of the common ones being natural disasters and human-made disasters, with many sub-disaster types under these two main categories. To understand how these two types of disasters happen and require disaster management professionals, I focused on many disciplines, including political science and history, which helped me understand U.S. national security threats and the policies and strategies currently in use to protect our nation from security breaches. The knowledge I have gained from Information Systems and Computer Science has helped me understand how to design, secure, and manage IT systems. A small subset of Emergency Health Sciences, Geography & Environmental Systems, and Psychology also played essential roles in understanding disaster impacts on emergency personnel and survivors and how the ecosystem environment contributes to the cause of disasters. 

Scholarship of Interdisciplinarity: My academic coursework and research can be described as interdisciplinary by leveraging a pragmatic approach in which Repko defines as an “approach which focuses on research, borrowing, and practical problem-solving in response to the external demands of society” (Repko, 2012). Understanding and figuring out what happens when information communication technologies fail during the most critical time is essential to resolve these issues. Firstly, I had to understand what resilience is and what it means to have resiliency in information communication technologies and disaster management. This turned out to be more difficult than one would think because there are not many integrative definitions. To approach this issue, I looked towards the strategy of Redefinition, which Repko defines as “An integrative technique that involves modifying or redefining concepts and assumptions used by relevant disciplines to bring out a common meaning” (Repko, 2012). 

      Multiple sources covered how to define resiliency and what it means to resilient. Three conceptual continuums formed the first definition: the tension between a speedy recovery and timely adaptation, the severity of the disturbance, and the state of return that resilience would need to accomplish or aspire to (Comfort et al., 2010a). By staking out the integrative middle ground along the three conceptual continuums, we can formulate the first definition of resilience to take more of an approach to social science theory in that: Resilience is the capacity of a social system (e.g., an organization, city, or society) to proactively adapt to and recover from disturbances that are perceived within the system to fall outside the range of standard and expected disturbances (Comfort et al., 2010a). The second definition came from the National Research Council (NRC), which defined resilience similarly in their committee report Disaster Resilience a National Imperative "as the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events" (NRC, 2012). While these were great starting definitions for resilience, they tended not to focus on the critical infrastructure aspect of creating resilient systems and how they play a crucial role in establishing resiliency. Therefore the last core definition discovered was that ICTs need to have the ability to provide and maintain an acceptable level of service in the face of various faults or challenges that can affect normal operations (Sterbenz et al., 2010).

While each discipline had varying definitions and strategies in which they defined what it means to be resilient and what resiliency is, they all commented that this concept could not be defined by one core discipline. To have a resilient ecosystem, it needs to be explained using many fields outside of one’s own perspective discipline, also known as “silos.” Examining the three core definitions from the literature review, we see these common themes of planning, absorbing impact, recovering from, and more successfully adapting to adverse events in each definition but to their own specific disciplines. By applying redefinition, we can formulate our own integrative definition as the capacity of the socio-technical system (e.x, society, people, and critical infrastructure systems) to proactively prepare for, adapt to, and recover from disturbances that are perceived within the systems to fall outside the range of standard and expected disturbances such as natural or human-made disasters. 

       Having a working definition or understanding of resilience was only the first step at approaching this complex issue of ICT use and failures. Critical services such as power, water, and telecommunications are considered critical to human well-being and the functioning of society. These services are defined as complex systems due to their interdependent nature. If the grid goes down, water plants and telecommunications infrastructure are also going to go down. Van der Merwe and fellow researchers call for a complex socio-technical approach to explain resiliency in these overly complex interdependent systems. By stating that “resilience needs to be built into the human and institutional processes within which these technical systems are embedded” (Van der et al., 2018)”. Bridging the Explanation Action Gap helps build this socio-technical approach by applying one or more domains to be used to define the nature of  ICTs use in disaster management and what happens when they fail. Knowledge from the other domains are used to guide interventions, implementations, or solutions to make the systems more resilient (Miller & Boix Mansilla, 2004).

When a natural or human-made disaster hits, partner organizations need to communicate with one another effectively, make informed decisions under conditions of uncertainty, and effectively engage with individuals and local communities in collaborative efforts (Qian Hu & Naim Kapucu, 2016). To have effective management, organizations rely on information communication technologies (ICTs) to help share and process real-time information, establish diverse communication channels, engage a broad spectrum of stakeholders, and coordinate efforts among a large number of partner agencies ( Hu & Kapucu, 2016).

        ICT’s, while useful and essential, tend to fail due to physical damage, damage of supporting infrastructure, or congestion (EL & Mcheick, 2010). Damage to these infrastructures can be too costly and time-consuming to restore. It may require maintenance or replacement of complex hardware, mainly if essential components such as cell towers or cables are concerned (EL & Mcheick, 2010). Wireless networks are highly variable in their vulnerability to physical damage, weather conditions, and degrading service quality issues (EL & Mcheick, 2010). Some if not all of these vulnerabilities are found to hamper public safety land mobile radio systems. These types of failures are what I witnessed responding to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the area. More than fifty percent of the Puerto Rico Police Departments' primary network, the P25 radio system, and most interoperability system equipment for emergency communications throughout Puerto Rico were not operational due to damages from the storm (Cordova et al., 2020). One of the most prevalent issues and causes of failures is breakdowns by supporting infrastructure. Cellular networks are very dependent on the electrical grid. Therefore, if they go down, so do all cell towers. This was the issue after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Ninety-five percent of all cell sites were knocked out of service due to physical tower damage, and there was no electrical grid functional either ("Communications Crisis in Puerto Rico," 2019). 

To mediate these issues, resilient technologies do exist that allow you to build rapid cell phone redundant communications, usually via satellite coverage. Still, these types of systems are often only accessible to advanced users due to regulations, high costs, or technical complexity (Höchstet al., 2020). Through my research and ongoing work with Project Owl, I am helping to make the ClusterDuck Protocol (CDP) created by OWL and myself to be a more resilient, affordable communication network. CDP is a device-to-device mesh communication network that runs on off-the-shelve Internet of Things boards leveraging LoRa technology. The devices broadcast a WiFi access point to which an end-user can connect to. Once a user connects, they can use the Duck portal page to submit emergency messages or any 256 character text message. Once the message is sent, The primary device sends that message using Device to Device (D2D) communication to the other devices on the network. This allows for communities and emergency personnel to stay connected in austere environments while reducing devices’ technical complexity and cost. 


SOI limitations:  There were many limitations to my interdisciplinary work. One of the major issues I faced during this research is time constraints and COVID-19 affecting travel opportunities. Project Owl currently has many devices in Puerto Rico that need to be upgraded, and my prototype needs to be added to the network. Currently, the network in Puerto Rico can go down due to earthquakes bringing down our internet connection to the devices. The current prototype would alleviate these issues by adding a smart redundant backup via a satellite connection. Another limitation during the research phase is more time is needed to really understand and thoroughly research the theory of socio-technical systems and how it applies to my complex issue. Throughout my final semester, I have found out that there are plenty of Geography Environmental Systems classes that could have been added to my degree to bring more awareness into the science behind natural disasters.

References 

Boin, Arjen & Comfort, Louise & CC, Demchak. (2010a). The Rise of Resilience. 

 

Cordova, Amado, Ryan Consaul, Karlyn D. Stanley, Ajay K. Kochhar, Ricardo Sanchez, and David Metz, Recovery Plan for the Communications and Information Technology Sector After Hurricanes Irma and Maria: Laying the Foundation for the Digital Transformation of Puerto Rico. Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center operated by the RAND Corporation, 2020. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2599.html.

“Communications Crisis in Puerto Rico.” Free Press, 10 Feb. 2021, www.freepress.net/issues/free-open-internet/communications-crisis-puerto-rico

EL Khaled, Z., & Mcheick, H. (2019). Case studies of communications systems during harsh environments: A review of approaches, weaknesses, and limitations to improve quality of service. International Journal of Distributed Sensor Networks. https://doi.org/10.1177/1550147719829960

 

Höchst, Jonas & Baumgärtner, Lars & Kuntke, Franz & Penning, Alvar & Sterz, Artur & Freisleben, Bernd. (2020). LoRa-based Device-to-Device Smartphone Communication for Crisis Scenarios. 

 

Miller M. and Boix Mansilla V. (2004). “Thinking Across Perspectives and Disciplines.”  Interdisciplinary Studies Project, Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. GoodWork Paper 16. Cambridge, MA.

 

National Research Council. 2012. Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13457.

 

Qian Hu & Naim Kapucu (2016) Information Communication Technology Utilization for Effective Emergency Management Networks, Public Management Review, 18:3, 323-348, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2014.969762

 

Repko, Allen (2012). Interdisciplinary Research, Process and Theory. Second Edition. SAGE Publications.

Sterbenz, James P.G., et al. “Resilience and Survivability in Communication Networks: Strategies, Principles, and Survey of Disciplines.” Computer Networks, vol. 54, no. 8, 2010, pp. 1245–1265., doi:10.1016/j.comnet.2010.03.005.

Van der Merwe, S., Biggs, R., & Preiser, R. (2018). A framework for conceptualizing and assessing the resilience of essential services produced by socio-technical systems. Ecology and Society, 23(2). doi:10.2307/26799110