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Using Exercises to Identify Veterans Health Administration Priorities for Disaster Response: Findings from the New Madrid Earthquake Training Exercise

Gin J, Chan EW, Brewster P, Mitchell MN, Ricci KA, Afable MK, Dobalian A. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 2013; 19(2): 126-132. 
    
Emergency managers are often charged with prioritizing the relative importance of key issues and tasks associated with disaster response. However, little work has been done to identify specific ways that the decision-making process can be improved. This exercise was conducted with 220 employees of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, who were asked to assign priority rankings to a list of possible options of the most important issues to address after a hypothetical disaster scenario impacting a Veterans Affairs Medical Center. We found that groups that were assigned to represent perspectives farther from the impacted site had less agreement in their identification of the top priorities than those assigned to the impacted facility. These findings suggest that greater geographic and administrative proximity to the impacted site may generate greater clarity and certainty about priority setting. Given the complex structure of many organizations, and the multiple levels of group decision making andcoordinationlikely to be needed during disasters, research to better understand training needs with respect to decision making is essential to improve preparedness. Relatively simple modifications to exercises, as outlined here, could provide valuable information to better understand emergency management decision making across multiple organizational levels.

KEY WORDS:

collaboration, complex organizations, coordination, decision making, disaster, emergency management, emergency preparedness, exercises and drills, priority setting, situational awareness