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Emergency-related knowledge and research gaps 2021

After the establishment of the National Knowledge and Research Center for Emergency Management, in 2018, an assessment of emergency-related knowledge and research gaps was conducted in order to direct and maximize the center’s resources.  This process included interviewing and conducting roundtable workshops for professionals, decision-makers, and scholars, in order to identify common themes and multi-disciplinary topics in need of further research. The process yielded nine topics, which guided the center’s funded research during its first three years. The 2018 process is described in more detail here (in Hebrew)

In 2021, the needs assessment was updated, both because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in light of other global changes. Between February and June 2021, Dr. Danielle Zaychik (post-doctorate fellow at the center) led the process of updating the needs assessment. This process included interviewing researchers, decision-makers, and relevant professionals.  In addition, an online survey was distributed to researchers in Israel and in relevant global networks.

Based on the analysis of research findings, the following research gaps were identified.

First-Order Research Gaps: Topics that were identified with high frequency by a variety of interviewees with expertise in different areas
1. National Management of Crises: Inter-agency coordination, organizational structures, and the spread of responsibilities and authority
a. The most frequently identified topic in interviews was the lack of clear arrangements regarding processes, organizational structures, coordination, and communication between different government agencies, between government agencies and other organizations (like the Home Front Command and non-profit organizations), and between different levels of government. Interviewees pointed to major shortcomings in in emergency preparation and management with regards to: clear legal frameworks, clear division of responsibilities and authority, clear decision-making protocols, communication between agencies, coordination between various organizations and agencies, clear organizational and inter-organizational structure, and effective mechanisms for facilitating cooperation.
b. This topic was identified both in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as beyond the context of the current pandemic. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, interviewees suggested comparing how the crisis was management with how such a crisis was supposed to be managed, per government plans. In addition, they suggested comparing reality and protocols to ideal crisis management, with an emphasis on the ideal arrangements for inter-organizational cooperation and coordination. Interviewees frequently noted the need to create a model for dividing responsibilities with regards to all aspects of crisis management. Additionally, the creation of mechanisms to facilitate routine inter-organizational cooperation would serve to facilitate coordination and communication during crises as well.
c. Interviewees also noted the need to study perceptions of inter-agency coordination and create operative tools for effective collaboration.

2. The Role of Local Governments in Emergencies
Determining the role of local governments in decision making and crisis management was highlighted as a critical research gap, both in light of the COVID-19 crisis and in general. This topic is comprised of four sub-topics:
a. Examining decentralization versus centralization of decision-making and authority was stressed as a research priority. This lens should be applied to understanding how past crises (including the COVID-19 pandemic) were managed and in order to create an efficient model for the division of authority and responsibilities in the future.
b. Studying the differences between localities and their influence on disaster preparedness and management was identified as an important topic.
c. The preparedness of local governments for emergencies was identified as an area requiring further research. Included in this topic, interviewees highlighted the need to examine current levels of preparedness, propose ideal standards for emergency readiness for local governments, and examine the current legal arrangements and enforcement of current standards of local government preparedness.
d. Examining the relationship between the central government and local governments, including characterizing the support of the central government to local governments and the degree of independence of local governments, was also noted as an important research topic.

3. Evaluating Programs and Protocols
Study participants highlighted the need to evaluate existing programs, procedures, and protocols, in light of their effectiveness and their relevance to a the current make-up of society. As part of this topic a few specific topics were frequently identified:
a. Several decision-makers noted the need to study and assess the service levels and goals (ramot v’yaadei sherut) outlined by National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA(, which outline standards for the emergency preparedness of government agencies.
b. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, study participants identified a need to compare formal procedures for crisis management (what is supposed to happen) to how the crisis was actually managed.
c. A number of Heads of Emergency Departments at different government agencies spoke of the need to detail gaps in current regulations for essential enterprises, in order to bridge current shortcomings.

4. Influences on Public Behavior
a. Many study participants pointed to the need to better understand the factors that influence public behavior, including effective public relations and communication with the public, incentives, and enforcement methods. Many study participants noted that the importance of this topic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
b. This topic was raised in the context of the preparedness and management stages of emergencies. In the preparedness stage of crises, research should address how to prompt the public to take preparation and mitigation measures. In the management stage of the crisis, three aspects of the topic were identified: how to influence public behavior, how to properly communicate with the public, and how to understand and predict public behavior in order to create accurate and effective models, policies, and predictions.

5. Vulnerable and Minority Populations
a. A number of aspects relating to the topic of vulnerable and minority populations were raised by study participants. Primarily, participants emphasized the need to better understand the modifications and accommodations necessary to assist and protect vulnerable and minority populations during the preparedness and management stages of emergencies.
b. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, participants expressed the need to better understand necessary modifications and accommodations, expected behavior, and effective communication methods with regards to the Arab and chareidi minorities. Such an analysis should take into account cultural aspects relevant to preparedness and management, barriers to effective action, methods for increasing resilience in these populations, methods for increasing the accessibility to services, and effective public relations for these populations.
c. Additionally, study participants mentioned the need to better understand and examine the necessary modifications and accommodations for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, disabled, sick, non-citizens (including foreign residents, tourists, and Palestinians living in the West Bank), special needs residents and others.
d. Creating mechanisms for cooperation between different segments of civil society, especially in mixed cities, is also needed.

6. Information Transfer and Use
This topic, raised frequently by scholars and professionals, is comprised of four primary sub-topics:
a. Study participants stressed the need to examine the use of information during decision making processes and disaster management, including methods for identifying and filtering relevant information, analyzing data, and interpreting information in real-time.
b. There is a need to examine methods for transferring information between organizations and government agencies, including mapping what information is needed by which agencies during emergencies, outlining barriers to information transfer (legal and other), and proposing arrangements and mechanisms that would facilitate information sharing when needed.
c. The need for improving the knowledge exchange between experts and decision makers was stressed.
d. The transfer of information to the public- including the management of media, social media management, and fake news- was identified as an area for further research.

7. Technology
a. Many interviewees highlighted the need to develop various technologies- including algorithms, models, and applications- to support decision making and disaster management during emergencies. For instance, a decision maker in the Ministry of the Environment detailed the need to develop an application to support the efficient disposal of waste in real-time. Such an application would allow for adjusting parameters (including the location of an event and the quantity of waste) to support decisions during an emergency. An interviewee at the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services stressed the need to develop models to prevent the spread of fire, as a function of the type of vegetation in the area affected, the temperature, and the topography.
b. The need to examine different types of technologies for managing the civil arena was noted. This should include studying the relationship between the public, technology, and the parties managing the emergency.

Second-Order Topics: Topics noted with moderate frequency over the course of the needs assessment

8. International Comparisons and Case Studies
Although this is a methodology as opposed to a subject-specific topic, international comparisons and case studies were frequently mentioned as research that is particularly useful to decision-makers and professionals. Study participants (parituclarly those working in government offices) highlighted the need to learn from past emergencies in Israel and around the globe and improve disaster management based on past experience. Thus, there is a need to analyze the preparation, response and recovery from disasters, highlighting tactics and policies that proved effective. Additionally, some of the interviewees mentioned a need to compare Israel’s legal and regulatory frameworks for managing emergencies to those in other countries.

9. Military versus Civil Orientation of Preparing for and Managing Emergencies.
a. In light of the military orientation of Israel’s emergency preparedness and management, including the concentration of authority and responsibility with the military’s Home Front Command, many interviewees- particularly decision makers- mentioned the need to assess the advantages and disadvantages of a military versus civil orientation to managing disasters. Three relevant gaps were mentioned as part of this topic:
i. The organizational culture and military orientation of Israeli emergency preparedness and management, including the implications of this orientation on emergency readiness and management in Israel, should be examined.
ii. The implications, advantages, and disadvantages of managing the civil arena with a military versus civil organizations during emergencies should be examined.
iii. The cooperation and collaboration of military organizations and civil organizations, as well as mechanisms that facilitate collaboration, should be examined.

10. Individual and Human Rights and Ethics During Times of Emergency
Many study participants mentioned the need to examine ethical issues- particularly those connected to human rights and individual rights- during times of emergency. This includes the need to look retrospectively at issues that arose during the COVID-19 crisis in order to create clear guidelines for the future. Ethical analyses should include consideration of disaster type, legal issues, circumstances that justify suspending human rights, the balance between individual rights and public rights, and specific offices and decision makers that should have the right to suspend human rights.

11. Economic Aspects of Disasters
Many study participants highlighted the need to conduct detailed economic analysis, both of past events and of possible future scenarios. These types of analyses should include cost-benefit analyses of preparedness and mitigation measures and the calculation of a “price tag” (including indirect costs) of disasters. Analyses of this sort are likely to attract the attention of decision-makers to the need to take proper mitigation and preparedness measures. A few study participants also stressed the need to assess the economic costs (including indirect costs) of the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and the influence of the current pandemic on the economy and economic behavior.

12. Recovery
A number of study participants mentioned that disaster research and planning in Israel often don’t include the recovery period. Therefore, planning for long-term recovery is an area that requires attention. This should include creating plans and conducting analyses of past cases for learning purposes.

13. Decision Making during Emergencies
A number of study participants stressed the need to study the topic of decision making during emergencies, including the decision making process, the agencies and levels of governments that have decision making capabilities, the relationship between decision makers and civil society, and models for effective decision making in circumstances with high levels of uncertainties.

14. Mapping Projects
In several cases, interviewees suggested ideas for geographic mapping projects, such as mapping buildings vulnerable to earthquakes throughout the country, mapping vulnerable populations, mapping areas with proper protection against missiles, and mapping a plan to optimize resources of the Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

Third-Order Topics: Topics noted with low frequency over the course of the needs assessment

15. The Place of Communities during Crises and the Ability of Communities to Navigate Disasters
The importance of community and the ability of the community to utilize resources and manage emergencies was brought up in several interviews as a topic needing further research. Additionally, there is a need to assess models of government support for communities that strengthen community resilience, so that the community can take more responsibility for managing emergencies.

16. The Climate Crisis
A number of interviewees spoke about the need to plan and prepare for climate change, including updating emergency procedures and plans in order to account for climate change and flooding scenarios.

17. Assessment of the Implication of the COVID-19 Lockdowns
Several interviewees mentioned the need to retrospectively assess the efficiency, cost, and desirability of lockdowns as a policy for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, the need for assessing the effects of the lockdowns on education was highlighted.