Professors Tufan Tiglioglu and Peggy Bowen-Hartung presented “Digital Leadership for Local Resilience During Disasters” with doctoral candidate Sean Cullen at the International Leadership Association Conference in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Below, the trio shares a little insight about their research with Alvernia Magazine.
Bowen Hartung: I grew up in the "Tornado Alley" section of the United States during a time there was no early warning of an impending disaster nor was there any method of communication with the rest of the country when the disaster struck. It was common to "look at the sky and smell the air" and then hide in cellars until the storm passed. We would then come out to look at the damage and hope family, friends, and livestock had survived. Many times days and weeks would pass before we would know.
It was very chaotic after a storm because there was no form of communication other than face-to-face. I became trained as a Certified Trauma Specialist which meant I was a First Responder to all types of disasters from local house fires to terrorist actions such as the Oklahoma City Bombing and 9/11 at Ground Zero in New York. Each time I worked a disaster, it was evident communication was an issue. The communication problem was not only among the different units responding to the disaster but between the First Responders and the survivors and family members who were trying to obtain status information about their loved ones.
The advances in technology have made it possible for immediate communication to happen among the First Responders, the survivors, and the outside world. The use of digital leadership has increased the availability of more appropriate resources where they are needed. It has enabled family members and even those at the scene to communicate with others providing immediate status information about the situation. One of the downsides is the miscommunication which results in individual messages.
Cullen: My background in leadership, communication, technology, and political science made the topic of digital leadership interesting to me as a concept too often overlooked by leaders. During Hurricane Sandy, then mayor of Newark, Congressman Booker (N.J.) and Governor Christie (N.J.) used social media to relay information to the masses, which impressed me as I checked my Twitter newsfeed by candlelight at home in northern N.J. Later, Dr. Tiglioglu spoke with me about drafting a presentation proposal on digital leadership and crisis management for the ILA conference in Montreal.
Bowen-Harutng: I provided all of the first-hand background information as I have numerous experiences as a First Responder at local, regional, national and international natural and man-made (terrorism) disasters. Both Dr. Tiglioglu and I try to provide opportunities for graduate students to increase their skill sets, thus we wanted Mr. Cullen to have the experience of presenting the poster after working on the paper.
Cullen: I presented the paper proposal in Montreal after suggested edits, debates, and key articles on latest technological advancements in mapping software from Dr. Tiglioglu. Dr. Bowen-Hartung has an expertise in crisis management and first-hand emergency response that will be immensely helpful when bringing the foundation of this presentation to publication form.
Bowen-Hartung: Digital leadership is a growing field. However, one of the problems with digital leadership during disasters is who will be the official source. Much misinformation occurs during a disaster and it is difficult to determine who is responsible for providing information to the public. Recount all the times a disaster has happened and false information is released which causes undue stress and panic. As a result of our reliance on technology, our society demands immediate information. However, many times people are not psychologically capable of filtering the immediate information and may act on misinformation which results in harm to themselves or to others.
Cullen: My hope is that those who I talked with understand that digital leadership encompasses all core leadership skills, and is not simply as a concept for communication in this age of new media, but also as a concept that urges leaders to be open to technological innovation and take the time to learn what resources exist (and how to use them) to best prepare for, organize, and expedite the process of aiding followers in need when crisis occurs.
Bowen-Harung: I strongly believe we need more research regarding the reactions of individuals during disasters and traumatic experiences. We are now recognizing the impact of combat not only on the veterans themselves, but family members and society itself. Instant communication is now an expectation. Who is responsible for misinformation? These are issues we need to consider.
Cullen: In PHD 812 Communication and Leadership Theory, Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick introduced me to Marshal McLuhan’s text Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). In it McLuhan famously wrote, “The medium is the message.” In the same piece he added, “By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms. This is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves... An Indian [sic] is the servomechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the executive of his clock” (McLuhan, 1964). When looking around, it seems that our smart phones (and social media outlets) have become our proverbial canoe, horse and clock. To paraphrase from Uncle Ben, to aspiring print newspaper photographer Peter Parker, #withgreatpowercomesgreatresponsibility.