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Applying wireless and mobile agent technologies for human decision Applying wireless and mobile agent technologies for human decision making in the mission critical emergency environments

making in the mission critical emergency environments

Hamidreza Pousti University of Wollongong

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Recommended Citation Recommended Citation

Pousti, Hamidreza, Applying wireless and mobile agent technologies for human decision making in the mission critical emergency environments, PhD thesis, School of Economics and Information Systems, University of Wollongong, 2005. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/299

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Applying wireless and mobile agent technologies for human decision making in the mission critical

emergency environments

A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree

Master of Information Systems (Research)




Hamidreza Pousti BSc (University of Tehran) MICT (University of Wollongong)

School of Economics and Information Systems 2005



Emergency response tasks, both military and civilian, occur in what are termed, 'Extreme Environments' characterised by uncertainty, high stress physical situations, and time sensitive decision-making. Emergency response crews in such environments need to be highly mobile, utilising a variety of advanced wireless technologies to communicate while accomplishing their assignments. It is crucial for the users in the field to be aware of their own situation and the situation in their vicinity to construct their own goals in coping with unpredictable conditions. These are problems identified in the Small Unit Operation (SUO) model used by the military in situations where people and equipment work together to meet some mission objective. These entities may have distinct roles and information needs, and are often geographically distributed. Moreover, other groups of users in the command and control (C2) position need to have an overall and clear picture of the current state of the operation, at the necessary level of detail, in order to make the proper decisions based upon different types of information they receive and their own knowledge.

To tackle these issues, users face challenges concerned with the responsible for handling data through volatile wireless network connections and narrow bandwidth conditions. These conditions pose new challenges for all parties of users in terms of situation-awareness, sensemaking, reliable decision making and consequent actions.

The aim of this research is to focus on technologies that can help decision makers in two ways: reduce the level of environmental uncertainty, and provide better situation awareness and sensemaking for individuals and teams in extreme environments. These technologies are studied in the light of human sensemaking requirements and the factors contributing to human cognitive states, especially in time critical situations.


To achieve this aim, a secondary case study was carried out to identify various user requirements in dynamic environments, and the ways technologies can address those needs.

Results show that many new wireless technologies, such as those based on Ultra Wideband (UWB) radio, demonstrate considerable potential for emergency response tasks circumstances. Furthermore, software agents show potential for deployment in emergency tasks to reduce the degree of uncertainty. Software mobile agents also show potential to improve the accuracy and agility of operations along with the ability to deal with the volatile wireless networks. The way decision makers understand their environmental states is vital for the success of emergency response operations. This understanding depends on the human capabilities of interpretation of information, as well as the memory and knowledge of decision makers at the moment the information is received. Thus, human issues need to be understood alongside the advances in technology. The potential contributions of the concept of mobile agents in this area is significant, especially where software mobile agents work as autonomous entities in order to handle the task and local decisions, on behalf of mobile emergency response crews.

These findings draw attention to the significant role of software mobile agents working in a meshed wireless network. They could provide an ubiquitous network in an extreme environment. They also have the capability of supporting users' situation awareness, sensemaking and critical decision making, vital in emergency response environments.



I, Hamidreza Pousti, declare that this thesis, submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Master degree, in the Department of information systems, University of Wollongong, is wholly my own work unless otherwise referenced or acknowledged. The document has not been submitted for qualifications at any other academic institution.

Hamidreza. Pousti 03 August 2005



Many people supported me during the completion of this thesis with criticism, helpful assistance, and references. This thesis would have never been possible without them. I would like to take this opportunity to offer thanks to all of them.

Firstly, my sincere thanks go to my supervisors, Associated Professor Helen Hasan and Professor Eryk Dutkiewicz. They have asked just the right questions at precisely the right times. They forced me to think when I believed I had thought enough. They gave strength to my mind, and they were always there. Helen, your time, patience and wisdom are greatly appreciated. Your earnest and steadfast mentorship helped reveal to me the true nature of scientific enquiry, for which you have earned my deepest respect and gratitude. Also I am extremely grateful to Eryk for accepting the responsibility of being my co-supervisor. Eryk, you always steered me in the right direction when I wasn’t certain which path to investigate and I acknowledge your awesome helps and contribution to my Master studies.

Many thanks to the University of Wollongong, particularly Department of Information Systems and the head of the department, Professor Peter Eklund, for supporting my research and giving me the chance to present my research topic there and providing me with valuable feedbacks. Likewise, I am grateful to the Faculty of Commerce at the University of Wollongong, especially Dean of Faculty of Commerce, Professor John Glynn and faculty's Research Manager, Mr. David Aylward, for supporting and providing me with amazing and unique facilities at the new Commerce Research Centre.


I owe a considerable dept of gratefulness to many friends and colleagues who filled my life with laughter and joy throughout my Master thesis.

I owe an immense debt of gratitude to my family and my acknowledgements now move closer to home to all my immediate and extended family. Mum and Dad, there are no word to express my gratitude but know it was you who have been my strength throughout. Dad (Pedaram) I am proud of you and I have had always this feeling in my heart for every single moment. Dad, your continual interest, advises, enthusiasm and support were my life-raft. Mum (Madaram) I learned the biggest lessens of my life in your hug. I understood what the love is just because of you. Your love and encouragement is my wealth.

And finally, my beloved wife, Naghmeh, for your unconditional love and support particularly, during the times when it all seemed too hard. You are more deserving of my thanks than anyone for bringing this thesis to end. Few people are as fortunate as I am, however, to have a spouse who has offered not only emotional support but intellectual support as well. Thank you for all your patience and scarifies you made in all countless nights and weekends I spent locked away in front of computer. This journey would not have been possible and such an amazing experience without you. I would like to thank you for, quite simply, everything: Naghmeh, your companionship means the world to me.


Publications and Awards

• Pousti, H. and Hasan, H. (2005), ‘Knowledge Management through Mobile Networks in Emergency Situations’, Proceeding of 4th International

Conference on Mobile Business, ICMB 2005, Sydney, Australia.

• Pousti, H., Hasan, H. and Dutkiewicz, E. (2005), ‘Application of Mobile Agents in Wireless-Based Mission Critical Emergency Operations’,

Proceeding of the 11th International Conference on Distributed Multimedia Systems, DMS'2005, Banff, Canada.

• Pousti H. and Dutkiewicz, E. (2005),’ Effects of wireless-based mobile agents on the effectiveness of critical operations in extreme environments’, Accepted paper in the 2nd International conference on Mobile Technology, Applications and Systems, IEE Mobility 2005, Nov. 2005, Guangzhou, China.

• Selected thesis topic from the Faculty of Commerce for the PhD Research Commercialisation Workshop in Queensland, April 2005


Table of Contents

List of Figures List of Tables

List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction ... 1

1.1. Introduction ... 1

1.2. Outline of the Thesis ... 5

2. Research Methodology ... 7

2.1. Chapter Overview ... 7

2.2. Introduction ... 7

2.3. The case for a qualitative research approach ... 8

2.4. Ethnography ... 10

2.5. Action Research ... 12

2.6. Grounded Theory ... 15

2.7. Case Study ... 17

2.8. Justification for the case study used in this research ... 20

2.9. Limitations ... 27

3. Literature Review ... 29

3.1. Introduction ... 29

3.2. Review of agent technology literature ... 30

3.2.1. Defining an agent ... 30

3.2.2. Attributes and Characteristics of Agents ... 34

3.2.3. Agent Environment ... 40

3.2.4. Mobile Agents ... 42

3.3. Review of public safety literature ... 58

3.4. Review of wireless technology literature ... 63

3.4.1. Wireless Local Area Networks ... 63


3.4.2. Ad hoc Wireless Networks ... 66

3.4.3. Bluetooth ... 79

3.4.4. Zigbee ... 82

3.4.5. IEEE 802.11 ... 87

3.4.6. Ultra Wide Band (UWB) ... 91

3.5. Review of Wearable Computing literature ... 98

4. Analysis of results ... 105

4.1. Introduction ... 105

4.2. Review of the September 11, 2001 WTC Collapse ... 106

4.2.1. Background ... 106

4.2.2. First hit on the World Trade Centre ... 107

4.2.3. Second hit on the World Trade Centre ... 111

4.3. Case Discussion ... 115

4.4. Case Study Analysis ... 120

4.4.1. Large number of users involved in the radio communication ... 121

4.4.2. Lack of interoperability among different parties ... 123

4.4.3. Data traffic and network congestion ... 125

4.4.4. Lack of Meta Data ... 127

4.4.5. Network interruptions and volatility ... 129

4.4.6. Problems concerning the suitability of equipment ... 130

4.4.7. Intelligent communication systems with autonomy ... 132

5. Discussions ... 136

5.1. Introduction ... 136

5.2. Small Unit Operation ... 138

5.3. Mobile Agents ... 140

5.4. Message Routing ... 145

5.5. Mesh Networks ... 148

5.5.1. Scenario 1 (Civilian fire event) ... 153

5.5.2. Scenario 2 (Dangerous area isolation) ... 158

5.6. Ultra Wideband technology ... 160

5.7. Sensor Networks ... 166


5.9. Human, the ultimate decision maker and actor ... 178

5.9.1. Situation Awareness and Decision Making ... 179

5.9.2. Sensemaking in a Changing Environment ... 185

5.9.3. Knowledge and Sensemaking ... 193 Role of Knowledge Management in the Sensemaking Process194 5.10. Chapter Conclusion ... 197

6. Conclusions ... 198

6.1. A Summary of the Results and Conclusions ... 198

6.2. Further Work ... 201

Bibliography Appendixes


List of Figures

3.1 Interactions between an agent and its environment ... 32

3.2 Combination of primary attributes of agents ... 37

3.3 The framework in which a mobile agent can move throughout a network .... 44

3.4 Classification of wireless technologies based on the coverage rang ... 65

3.5 Parasitic mobile ad hoc WLAN ... 67

3.6 A typical wireless bridge topology – point to point ... 69

3.7 A typical wireless Star topology – Point to Multipoint ... 70

3.8 A typical wireless mesh topology – peer to peer ... 70

3.9 A Bluetooth piconet with one master and up to 8 slave nodes ... 80

3.10 A Bluetooth scaternet with two masters... 81

3.11 Different types of topologies supported by Zigbee ... 84

3.12 Comparison of narrowband spectrum and Ultra-wideband ... 92

3.13 Different wireless technologies range and data rate... 98

3.14 Attributes of wearable computing devices in interaction with humans ... 101

4.1 The area destroyed in the North Tower hit by the first airplane ... 109

4.2 The area destroyed in the South Tower hit by the first airplane ... 112

5.1 A mesh configuration that every node can function as a outer ... 151

5.2 An ad hoc wireless network supported by mesh topology at the scene ... 154

5.3 Compatibility of mesh networks and SUO ... 154

5.4 Determining the location of the first responder inside the buildings ... 156

5.5 Different public safety agencies can communicate to each other ... 157


5.6 Isolation of dangerous area to protect civilians... 158

5.7 Set up a fast and reliable network instantly at the scene ... 159

5.8 Communications scenario through UWB ... 165

5.9 RETSINA framework ... 175

5.10 Proposed framework based on the mobile agent... 177

5.11 Source of situation awareness information ... 183

5.12 Cognitive Processes of an Action... 184

5.13 Single Sensemaking Cycle ... 192

5.14 Sensemaking cycle and linkages ... 193

5.15 The sensemaking triangle... 195


List of Tables

3.1 Comparison of different wireless topology ... 72

3.2 Comparison table of Bluetooth and other wireless standards ... 82

3.3 Zigbee physical device types ... 85

3.4 IEEE 802.11 different standards and their specifications ... 88

3.5 Comparison of 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g ... 90

3.6 UWB specifications and applications ... 96

5.1 Comparison of different wireless topologies ... 152

5.2 Pproperties of the UWB and its benefits ... 162

5.3 Comparison between different wireless standards ... 164


List of Abbreviations

3D 3 Dimensions

APRL Any-Path Routing without Loops

AWICS Aircraft Wireless Intercommunications System C2 Command and Control

DARPA Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency EMS Emergency Medical Service

FDNY Fire Department of New York FFD Full Function Device

GPSR Greedy Perimeter Stateless Routing

ICT Information and Communications Technology IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers IS Information Systems

KM Knowledge Management LAN Local Area Network

LPD Low Probability of Detection MANET Mobile Ad hoc Network M-MPR Meshed Multi Path Routing MP-MP Multi Point to Multi Point NYPD New York Police Department

OFDM Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing PAN Personal Area Network

PAPD Port Authority Police Department PDA Personal Digital Assistant

PHY/MAC Physical/Media Access PMP Point to Multi Point P-MP Point to Multi Point RAM Random Access Memory

RETSINA Reusable Environment for Task Structured Intelligent Network Agents RF Radio Frequency

RFD Reduced Function Device ROM Read Only Memory RPC Remote Procedure Call SA Situation Awareness

SEA Spokesman Election Algorithm SUO Small Unit Operation

TCP/IP Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol UWB Ultra Wide Band

WBAN Wireless Body Area Network Wi-Fi Wireless Fidelity

WLAN Wireless Local Area Network WPAN Wireless Personal Area Network WSN Wireless Sensor Network

WTC World Trading Centre


Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 Background

In today’s world, the coordination of multiple tasks in hazardous, uncertain, and time- stressed environments is becoming increasingly challenging, yet a vital concern for those responsible for public safety. Critical events of natural and man-made disasters- for example, earthquakes, tsunamis, environmental cleanup operations, and civilian and military crises, involve coordinated efforts by skilled personnel from different organisations such as fire fighters, police, and medical assistance personnel. These organisations need to cooperate in order to save lives, protect structural infrastructure and property, and evacuate victims to safety. They have to work together in hostile environments that are inherently diverse in terms of infrastructure where victims and rescuers are distributed across extended locations. In addition, these environments change unpredictably; for example, buildings and other infrastructure elements could collapse, blocking entrances, or fires could start, etc. In these situations, making timely decisions in order to act as quickly and effectively as possible is crucial for saving lives.

In such environments, human rescuers must communicate to make quick decisions under stress, and get victims to safety often at the price of risking their own life. They must have timely and accurate information regarding all parts of the disaster area,


expected arrival times for additional resources, such as medical supplies and additional personnel, and they must coordinate the allocation of resources and instigation of new rescue activities. One of their main difficulties is that communications may be intermittent or non-existent. Hence partial and incomplete information is the norm rather than the exception.

Traditionally, in a disaster relief operation, the rescue workers communicate face to face, via telephones, mobile handsets or walkie-talkies. The gathering of required information is performed manually, or through searches in identified databases. These manual operations are inadequate to meet the urgent high-risk challenges of an emergency response on a large-scale.

Previous studies (Commtech ,2003; Marstrander, A. & Hanssen, B.I. 2002; Payne et al., 2000) show that main emergency challenges of first respondents to a large-scale disaster situation fall in three main categories. First, people can make inaccurate or even wrong decisions under the emotional stress of the situation and the cognitive overload caused by the large amounts of information that comes to them. The second category concerns about the relevant information that may not get accessed by the rescue workers whose operations depend on the field information. This problem is profound when information is slowly integrated and distributed throughout the teams, and consequently becomes obsolete and useless, because information cannot respond well to the changes of the dynamic environment, and does not reflect the real environmental situation. The third category is rescuers risk their lives to get victims to safety and suffer from the lack of proper information, which is intended to help them to become aware about their operation environment, threads and resources.


Existences of theologies by which first responders will be able to make more accurate and timely decisions are indispensable.

Recently, interest has been growing around technologies that could overcome these problems. One of the most promising is the use of new wireless technologies such as Ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to provide a more reliable communication system.

These technologies can support different network topologies such as mesh. Mesh and UWB have many attractive features, including rapid self-configuring and self-healing networks, and bandwidth secure radio communications (Poor, 2003; Artimi, 2003).

Other research (McGrath et al., 2001; Lange and Oshima, 1999) reveals that mobile software agents feature properties that should prove a helpful component for integrated responses to civilian and military crises in unpredictable, time sensitive environments. Mobile agents have many fascinating and promising attributes including autonomy, adaptability, and persistency. These attributes make them able to act independently in their environment, sense and interact with their environment and make decisions on behalf of the users.

Until now there has been a lack of studies that approach issues of disaster response in a way that integrates these technologies and also considers the human and organisational perspectives. There are some studies on the new wireless technologies and some research about mobile agents, but there are no reports about the combination of these two technologies in the context of emergency response tasks, addressing the advantages and challenges of coupling the capabilities of mobile agents with new wireless technologies. Furthermore, the ways that these technologies


could help humans to make proper decisions in extreme and time critical situations are unclear throughout the literature.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the contribution of mobile agents - as a new paradigm of information gathering, processing and dissemination - together with new wireless networks to support human situational awareness and sensemaking, leading to decisions and actions in critical events of public safety. For this, the study aims to address those issues by investigating the following question:

'How the particular attributes of mobile agents and capabilities of new wireless radio technologies can help decision makers to get a better understanding and knowledge of their environment, become more aware of their situation and make sense of the operations' conditions in order to make more precise and timely decisions in extreme situations?’

To achieve this goal, this research adopts a case study approach to the research topic, which is the recommended method for finding proper answers to the ‘how’ questions (Yin, 2003). This study uses a secondary case study approach to the research question in order to find and apply the previous outcomes of other case studies in the context of this research. These results will be considered as the bottom line of situation analysis in order to find out the gaps and the areas where this research can make contributions.


1.2 Outline of the Thesis

This section presents an outline of the chapters that comprise this thesis and briefly describes their contents.

Chapter 2 provides a discussion about the different and alternative methodologies that can be applied in this research. It contains a critical review of different methodologies in terms of their advantages and disadvantages in order to find out which one suits to this research.

Chapter 3 includes a comprehensive review of literature about the related fields. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a deep insight on the strengths, weaknesses and the gaps that exist within the body of knowledge in this area. It comprises two sections. The first section of the literature review is devoted to studying the literature about the agents, and specifically, mobile agent technologies. The second section is concerned with the literature and issues around public safety, wireless technologies and other important related fields.

Chapter 4 makes a profound review of the fall of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 as a case of an extreme environment. It aims to identify the critical reasons and key moments that ended up with many damages and fatalities, especially on the lives of first responders. Also, the purpose of this chapter is to identify the technical and technological hurdles which contributed in the human mistakes and unsound decisions. At the end of this chapter, there is a discussion on the potential benefits of using mobile agents and new wireless technologies in an extreme environment.


Chapter 5 has a detailed discussion of how mobile agents and wireless technologies can contribute to emergency first responders’ tasks. It introduces the methods and frameworks by which mobile agents can augment human operations performance.

Also, it introduces and recommends the Ultra-Wideband radio technology as a preferred wireless technology, which can cope properly with the emergency tasks environment. The last and important section of this chapter presents the concepts of human situational awareness and their sensemaking requirements. This section addresses the cognitive and sensemaking issues that decision makers may face when they need to make a timely decision in a dynamic environment. It establishes a meaningful relation between technology and human aspects of decision making in order to augment the effectiveness of their decisions.

Finally, chapter 6 concludes the thesis with a summary of the major results obtained in earlier chapters. A summary of related open research issues is also presented.


Chapter 2

Research Methodology

2.1 Chapter Overview

The purpose of this chapter is to explain and justify the qualitative case-study methodology selected as most appropriate for the research presented in this thesis.

The first section of the chapter discusses the necessity of choosing an appropriate research methodology for a research project and then focuses on the main qualitative research methods recommended in the information systems (IS) research literature.

Each method is investigated in terms of its suitability, advantages and disadvantages for this research before justifying the choice made for this study.

2.2 Introduction

Methodology is one of the most important aspects of a research journey. An appropriate methodology helps researchers to conduct their research activities to obtain reliable and verifiable results. The research described in this thesis is distinctive in two respects. Firstly, it concerns critical emergency situations, which are difficult to study first hand, and secondly, it covers a breadth of human, social and technological concepts that are critically important but not easily measurable. Its position within the range of types of research and its consequent methodology therefore need careful explanation.


According to Redi and Pasteur (2004), scientists are 'observant' in that they notice things in the world around them by sensing what is going on in the world and become curious about what is happening. This can and does include reading and studying what others have done in the past because scientific knowledge is cumulative. So the research by which the scientific knowledge is gained is also cumulative. Redi and Pasteur (2004) also describe that scientists build their works on the work of previous researchers by finding out what previous research has already been done in the field.

Therefore science is a “process” where new things are being discovered and old, long- held theories are modified or replaced with better ones as more data and knowledge is accumulated.

The research described in this thesis brings together an understanding of the capability of new technologies with the social and human aspects of information and knowledge management in situations of critical public safety. It thus aims to contribute knowledge by synthesizing and integrating emerging knowledge, demonstrating how these apply in a specific case.

2.3 The Case for a Qualitative Research Approach

The validity and credibility of new findings poses a considerably challenging issue for researchers. In fact, research methods are vital processes of a research, which ensures that the research outcomes are valid. Myers (1997) expresses this point and the importance of the research method by clarifying that all research, whether quantitative or qualitative, is based on some underlying assumptions about what constitutes 'valid' research and which research methods are appropriate. In this sense, the first important step is to adopt a proper type of research method.


For the research of this thesis, there are strong reasons to adopt qualitative research methods. One reason for this adoption is the fact that this research tries to understand the advantages and disadvantages of proposed technologies in the ways that they can help humans make decisions more accurately in critical situations. So, descriptions and perceptions of these technologies and the ways people could use these technologies effectively are topics of this research.

This perspective makes qualitative research a good choice for this research since qualitative research is “descriptive” in that the researcher is interested in process, meaning, and understanding gained through words or pictures. Also, the process of qualitative research is 'inductive' in that the researcher builds abstractions, concepts, hypotheses, and theories from details (Creswell, 1994). Myers (1997) describes a qualitative research method as that which is designed to help researchers understand people, and the social and cultural contexts within which they live. Another reason that favours the choice of a qualitative research method research approach is the accuracy it gives of concepts and contextual data. According to Kaplan and Maxwell (1994), the goal of understanding a phenomenon from the point of view of the participants and its particular social and institutional context is largely lost when textual data are quantified. All these reasons make qualitative research an appropriate option for conducting the research as described in this thesis.

Although Avison and Myers (1995) mention eleven different research methods that can be appropriate in the area of IS, Myers (1997) states that the four most recommended and popular qualitative methods in IS are action research, grounded


theory, case study research and ethnography. Also, he states that qualitative data sources include observation and participant observation (fieldwork), interviews and questionnaires, documents and texts, and the researcher’s impressions and reactions.

Considering the above arguments, the following section will continue to investigate the four primary methods recommended by Myers (1997), in order to find out which is most suited to this research.

2.4 Ethnography

Ethnography is a research methodology applied to qualitative research projects, especially information systems research when the research purpose is rich description of the studied subject. As Myers (1999) states, in ethnographic research an ethnographer is required to spend a significant amount of time in the field and plunge him/herself in the life of people s/he studies and seeks to place the phenomena studied in their social and cultural context. Harvey and Myers (1995) approach this method from the information systems angle and describe ethnography as a well suited methodology for information systems researchers that provides them with rich insights into the human, social and organizational aspects of information systems along with their development and application.

An ethnographic approach can also contribute in a lot of qualitative research with many benefits and advantages. One of the most valuable aspects of ethnographic research is its depth. According to Myers (1999), ethnography is the most “in-depth”, or “intensive” research method possible. He explains that in ethnography the researcher is in the field for an extended period of time and sees what people are doing as well as what they say they are doing. So, over time the researcher is able to


gain an in-depth understanding of the people, the organization, and the broader context within which they work. This is what Graue (2005) describes as the unique characteristic of the ethnographer who goes beyond the reporting events and details of experience and works to explain how these represent the webs of meaning in which the subject of the research lives. Another reason for using ethnography is to study actual practices in real world situations that enable a researcher to study organizations as the complex social, cultural and political systems that they are (Harvey and Myers, 1995). So, these aspects of ethnography make it a powerful and attractive research method of qualitative research, especially for studies concerned with social phenomena and related fields.

Although those advantages of ethnography make it so appealing to many qualitative researchers, some considerable problems pose as serious obstacles to adopt this method. According to Myers (1999), one of the main disadvantages of ethnographic research is that it takes a lot longer than most other kinds of research. Doing ethnography takes a great deal of time since considerable time is needed to prepare the members of the organization for the acceptance of such an in-depth approach.

Furthermore, much time is needed to gather data and carry out many levels of interpretive analysis. Another disadvantage is accounted by Harvey and Myers (1995). They explain that ethnographic research is not extensive since an ethnographer usually studies just the one organization or the one culture. In fact, ethnographic research leads to in-depth knowledge only of particular contexts and situations, and it suffers from the lack of “generalisability”.


As far as this research area is concerned, looking carefully at the issues around ethnographic research, this methodology could not be adopted as the primary research method for this research since it is not fitted to the research requirements and restrictions. The settings which would suit the study would not be conducive to having a non-qualified participant for reasons of security or safety. In addition, this research is highly constrained by the limited time frame due to the fact that it is master degree research. So it is expected that ethnography will not lead the researcher to the appropriate results in a short period of time. In addition, generalizable results are highly desirable in this research, because it involves the area of public safety where results should show an acceptable degree of certainty in order to be potentially applicable to life sensitive tasks.

2.5 Action Research

Action research is an established qualitative research method in the social and many other sciences that has been used since the mid-twentieth century. Baskerville (1999) states that this method produces highly relevant research results because it is grounded in practical actions aimed at solving an immediate problem situation.

O'Brien (1998) suggests a more succinct definition for action research: "Action research aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to further the goals of social science simultaneously. Thus, there is a dual commitment in action research to study a system and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction. Accomplishing this twin goal requires the active collaboration of researcher and client, and thus it stresses the importance of co-learning as a primary


These definitions for action research show that this method involves the studying of a system in its operating place in order to look at the ways people interact with the system and react to changes. This is the point explained by Avison et al. (1999) as they state that in action research the emphasis is more on what practitioners do than on what they say they do.

Baskerville and Wood-Harper (1998) believe that the action research method fairly fits to the researchers' requirements in the discipline of Information Systems. They state that the discipline of IS seems to be a very appropriate field for the use of action research methods since Information Systems is a highly applied field, almost vocational in nature. Baskerville and Wood-Harper (1998) state that action research methods are highly clinical in nature, and place IS researchers in a ‘helping role’

within the organizations that are being studied. They emphasize that action research merges research and practice, thus producing exceedingly relevant research findings and such relevance is an important measure of the significance of IS research.

These characteristics of action research make it an interesting method to use in running qualitative research. Baskerville (1999) spells out that action research responds directly to the pronounced needs for relevance in information systems research and provides a rewarding experience for researchers who want to work closely with the practitioner community. However, action research still poses considerable challenges. One important issue of the action research method relates to its validity among the scholars as a scientific research method. Baskerville (1999) describes this issue by highlighting the point that although action research is a highly


qualitative research method, it is parked solidly outside of valid positivist techniques.

Its qualitative and interpretive foundations make its journal length articles difficult, and the lack of generally agreed upon criteria for evaluating action research further complicates the publication review process. These constraints make the approach a difficult choice for academics tied tightly into the journal system of scholarly communication.

Another issue discussed by Baskerville (1999) lies in the nature of the action research method. He states that the action research collaborative framework diminishes the researcher’s ability to control the process and the outcomes of the research, and that the lack of control makes it difficult to apply action research as an instrument in an orchestrated research program. Avison et al. (1999) also point out another potential problem of action research that concerns the ethical aspect of the research. As they explain, researchers and practitioners working together in the action research context need to have a mutually acceptable ethical framework because successful action research is unlikely where there is conflict between researchers and practitioners or among practitioners themselves.

Following the problems mentioned above, Avison et al. (1999) emphasize that this method is not recommended for novice researchers and practitioners due to the lack of guidelines assisting them to understand and engage in action research studies in terms of design, process, presentation and criteria for evaluation. This issue could significantly impact this research since it is a master level research that most likely could not cope properly with this methodology. There is also another key feature of action research that makes it unsuitable for contribution to this research. As


Baskerville (1999) describes, the fundamental contention of a action researcher is that complex social processes can be studied best by introducing changes into these processes and observing the effects of these changes. In the context of this research this argument means that these proposed approaches (mobile agents and new wireless technologies) should be considered as the source of change. It would then be necessary to study practitioners' response to this change. Technically, this would be a precise way of studying this system through. But in reality the technology is not yet available for this purpose and this approach could be considered for future research.

2.6 Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory is mostly described in the literature as a research method in which the theory is developed from the data, rather than the other way around. That makes this an inductive approach, meaning that it moves from the specific to the more general. As Strauss and Corbin (1990) explain, grounded theory is the method that is inductively derived from the study of the phenomenon it represents. They also spell out that grounded theory is discovered, developed and provisionally verified through systematic data collection and analysis of data relevant to that phenomenon.

Therefore, data collection, analysis and theory stand in mutual relationship with each other. According to Davidson (2002), the primary objective of grounded theory is to expand upon an explanation of a phenomenon by identifying the key elements of that phenomenon and then categorizing the relationships of those elements to the context and process of the experiment. In other words, the goal is to go from the specific point or issue to the general results without losing sight of what makes the subject of a study unique. This makes the ground theory a reliable method since it is built directly on data. Siegel and Mart (1995) emphasize on this point by explaining that grounded


theory presents a theory which is substantiated by data from field notes and the research results provide an idea where the data came from, how the data was rendered and how concepts were integrated. These characteristics of grounded theory make it a significant method in running qualitative researches.

Despite the fact that the ground theory method is a promising method for the qualitative researches in many disciplines, there are considerable issues that need to be taken in to account for its adoption. One important issue relates to the sophisticated steps that should be taken in order to achieve the desirable results. This implies that a researcher should have an acceptable level of skills and experiences to cope properly with the method's procedures and steps. This issue is highlighted by Davidson (2002) when he describes that grounded theory is a painstakingly precise method of study that requires high levels of both experience and insight on the part of the researcher.

Davidson concludes that "novice researchers should avoid this method of study until they have achieved the proper qualities needed to effectively implement the approach".

Another disadvantage of the grounded theory method is the inconsistent and even controversial approaches that have been adopted by different scholars in running this methodology. In this respect, Chamberlain's (1995) studies show that in spite of the highly structured way in which grounded theory is presented, considerable variation in epistemological viewpoints toward the approach can be found (Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and issues of scientific methodology, Heylighen, 1993).


Looking carefully at challenges concerning grounded theory and considering the fact that this research is at a master’s level, realistically it is inappropriate to follow this methodology as it requires a high level of experiences and research skills. Also it is believed by the author that grounded theory cannot be well applied to this research since the environment of the subject that is studied in this research is highly dynamic and it does not depends on a single or a dominant phenomenon.

2.7 Case Study

The case study is also an accepted method in qualitative research. It is a methodology used by researchers in a variety of disciplines. As Yin (2003) states, it is not a surprise that the case study has been adopted as a common research strategy in many disciplines such as psychology, sociology, engineering and so forth. It is also an important research strategy within IS since it has made a great contribution in this area (Myers 1999, Klein & Myers, 1997).

According to Eisenhardt (1989) the case study is a research strategy that focuses on understanding the dynamics present within a single setting. This definition presented by Eisenhardt makes it clear that case studies are involved with the dynamic factors of the subject. Each of these factors could affect the overall situation of a single setting.

However, this definition cannot identify what exactly a case study is and where it is applicable. Kaplan & Duchon (1988), define a case study based upon the type of the topic to which it may apply: "the essence of a case study, the central tendency among all types of case study, is that it tries to illuminate a decision or set of decisions: why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what results". Among all of the definitions, Yin (2003) provides the more complete definition of the case study


method. He states that the case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident. In other words, Yin believes that researchers would use the case study method because they deliberately wanted to cover contextual conditions, believing that those might be highly relevant to researchers' phenomenon of study.

Case studies could be used for many purposes, and it could be used in order to derive different kinds of results. Eisenhardt (1989) states that case studies can be used to accomplish various aims such as providing descriptions for phenomena, testing theories and generating theories. Yin (2003) spells out that the distinctive need for case studies arises out of the desire to understand complex phenomenon in their social context. Therefore, this method allows the investigator to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events such as managerial processes, event consequences and, so on.

Compared with other research methods, what makes the case study a useful method for qualitative research is the way that it poses to tackle its objectives. This positioning can be cleared in the early stage of research by the research question.

Eisenhardt (1989) states that the rationale for defining the research question is the same as it is in hypothesis-testing research, where without a research focus, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of data. Also Yin (2003) believes that the first and most important condition for differentiating among the various research methods is to identify the type of research question being asked. As Yin argues, generally

"what" questions may either be exploratory or about prevalence, while "how" and


"why" questions are likely to favour the use of case studies. Yin (2003) also believes that "how" and "why" questions are more explanatory and likely to lead to the use of the case studies research strategy since such questions deal with operational links needing to be traced over time, rather than mere frequencies or incidence.

It is worthy to mention that there are many overlaps between case study method and other research strategies. For example, there is no hard and fast distinction between case study research and ethnographic research; but the main difference between the two methods is the extent to which the researcher immerses himself or herself in the life of the social group under study (Myers 1999; Klein & Myers, 1997). Also Yin (2003) states that case studies and history research can overlap but the case study's unique strength is its ability to deal with a variety of evidence beyond what might be available to conventional historical studies. This implies that case studies could use the same resources and same approach as other methods – especially historical research - when their area of studies overlaps with each other.

Based upon the above information and evidences, the researcher believes that the case study method will be a proper methodology to apply to this research. Firstly, this research investigates and studies the potential applications of specific technologies in a socio-technical context. It aims to understand “how” these technologies would help humans to overcome some technical communications problems in an extreme situation. Also, it tries to determine “how” mobile agents and wireless technologies would assist decision makers in making proper decisions based on the pertinent information. That means that the research question is mainly concerned with the

“how” question. In this sense, as Yin (2003) explained, a case study is a good choice to conduct this research.


Secondly, considering the limitations of this master level’s research, time restrictions and research skills are the main obstacles in adopting other methodologies such as ethnography, action research and, grounded theory. A case study is a good option since it also overlaps with other research methods such as historical research that allows using a variety of resources like reports, documentaries, pictures and so on.

This is a significant advantage to this research since it could alleviate the problem of evidence and data gathering in a short time frame.

In this research, a single comprehensive case study approach is used. According to Lee

(1989), one important point in the case study method is the justifications of selecting the number of cases for one study. Lee (1989) spells out that the single-case analysis is justified when the case in question is a critical, extreme or unique case. This is what Yin (2003, p40) describes as the rationale of selecting a single-case study approach.

He states that there are five rationales for doing a single-case study rather that choosing a multi-case study approach: critical, extreme/unique, representative/typical, revelatory and, longitudinal. Yin (2003) explains that in an extreme/unique case, rare or unusual situations would arise in a period of time, and accordingly specific, results would be gained which are not attainable in common and usual situations. In such circumstances, Yin believes that the single-case study is an appropriate research method.

2.9 Justification for the Case Study Used in this Research

Case studies can generate innovative new interpretations and concepts by selectively analyzing a single case (Tellis, 1997). Case studies can provide the means to


generalize a theory as laboratory experiments lend themselves to low-level generalizations (Yin 2003). This approach allows for a broader explanation of how cases that are unexpected can provide insight into the application of the issue subject to study, in this case, the applications and implications of wireless technologies and mobile agents in the public safety domain .The frequent use of case studies is due to the fact that they allow close in-depth analysis and understanding of specific cases, aid in understanding unique realms of inquiry, and provide insight into cases that could not be duplicated experimentally. Relying on a single case is a useful way of study when there is enough evidence and documentation on it. Reason (1990) has stated that when sufficient evidence regarding a single case is available then, “we are able to study the interaction of the various causal factors over an extended time scale in a way that would be difficult to achieve by other means.”

This leads the researcher described in this thesis to adopt a single-case approach, since it will investigate situations in a public safety operation where the circumstances are highly dynamic and the environment is extreme. As mentioned earlier, the main reason to adopt this approach is that case studies have provided an established, valuable method of the study of real situations where many different factors come into play. In this thesis, the application of wireless technology and mobile agents in the public safety domain and rescue operations is evaluated by examining a single case, a portion of the September 11 of 2001 World Trading Centre collapse. This is what would be described as a secondary case, as the primary data is not collected by the researcher himself, but relies on available accounts and documentation, which in this case is plentiful.


Secondary sources of research refers to any materials such as books, articles, documents, etc. which have been previously gathered and published. The option of using Media (press, movies, documentaries, etc.), is one of the most well-known sources of secondary data and it has been suggested by many scholars (Dunsmuir and Williams, 1991; Yin, 2003).

As Myers (1997) states, sometimes primary data collection simply is not necessary and secondary data may be available, entirely appropriate, wholly adequate to draw conclusions and answer the question or solve the problem. Nevertheless, secondary sources often prove to be of great value in exploratory research. In fact, investigating data that have been compiled for some purposes other than the project at hand is one of the most frequent forms of exploratory research and investigating such sources has saved many researchers from ‘reinventing the wheel’ in primary data collection. This is also a technique for both descriptive and conclusive research with great influences on the process of fact finding (Zikmund, 2000).

Generally, literature (Crawford, 1997; Dunsmuir and Williams, 1991; Zikmund, 2000) shows that there are many advantages in using secondary data in research since the secondary research data are:

Cheap and accessible

Often the only available resource (i.e. extreme cases)

Only way to examine large-scale trends

The time involved in searching secondary sources is much less than that needed to complete primary data collection


It can play a substantial role in the exploratory phase of the research when the task at hand is to define the research problem and to generate hypotheses

Using the secondary data in the qualitative research can provide a useful ground for the qualitative sampling and case investigations. According to Liamputtong and Ezzy (2005), in some qualitative research, for example, 'Purposive sampling', the researcher uses secondary data and aims to select information-rich cases for in-depth studies to examine meanings, interpretations, processes and theory. Also they describe 'Extreme or deviant case sampling' as another base for secondary data usage in qualitative research, where cases are selected that are unusual or have distinctive characteristics and a researcher's aim is to elicit rich and detailed information that provides a new perspective on more typical cases.

Nevertheless, much literature (Crawford, 1997; Dunsmuir and Williams, 1991;

Zikmund ,2000) reveals that there are also drawbacks in using secondary data, and that researchers should be cautious about them. Secondary research disadvantages are:

Lack of consistency of perspective

Biases and inaccuracies can not be checked

The concern over whether any data can be totally separated from the context of its collection

Secondary data may be outdated or may not exactly meet the needs of the researcher because they were collected for another purpose


Following the above arguments, we believe the term of the 'secondary case study' will fit the context and purpose of this research since it investigates an extreme incident. In fact, this case study allows for an evaluation of an extreme incident that could not be replicated by experimental means. Reason (1990) has a unique opinion about the relation between case studies and human made disasters. Reason (1990) states that case studies have taught that “disasters are very rarely the product of a single monumental blunder.” He further states that human-made disasters are generally the result of accumulating apparently negligible consequences that compound to contribute to the undesired result.

Two types of communications were selected for evaluation: inter-team communications and communications among teams and command and control units (C2 units). These are the most important forms of communications that would take place in incident rescue tasks, especially in a civilian fire situation (US Fire Department, 2003). The types of communications are under examination in this thesis, not the fire itself.

In the context of this thesis, there are many reasons that makes the September 11 WTC disaster an appropriate case to study. Among those reasons are:

1- The size of the event is quite huge by any measure. According to the centre of fire statistics of International Technical Committee for the Prevention and Extinction of Fire (CITF) (2003), on the September 11, 2001 the biggest number of firefighters' fatalities in the history of civilian rescue operations has occurred. So, the outcome results of the case study would be extended and


applied to any other situations where public safety operations are subject to investigation. Therefore, studying the reasons that caused this significant number of casualties could be significant in any other situation.

2- Many reports and evidence reveal that there was considerable communications problems among individual firefighters and between commanders and their crew during the rescue operations. Communication problems had a significant impact on the overall rescue operations performance in the WTC rescue operation and on the cooperation among the parties involved in the rescue tasks. This case will significantly highlight these challenges.

3- This case will explicitly stress the crucial role of sharing vital information during the rescue operations in extreme environments. On September 11, many firefighters lost their lives since they didn’t receive the announced evacuation warnings. They seriously suffered from the lack of vital information during the rescue operation, especially when the towers started to collapse. Consequently, this had a direct impact on the number of firefighter fatalities.

4- Traditional communication systems showed significant problems in the WTC disaster. They showed that it is hard to rely on those systems, particularly where the situation and environment are under extreme pressure and time is a critical factor in making decisions.


5- It highlights that it is important to have a reliable and flexible communication network which could work in a situation where physical and communication infrastructure have vanished. Thus, it can connect users together, helping them to exchange the minimum amount of data vital to their operations.

6- The case of the WTC collapse shows that voice communication is essential but not sufficient for the users. Sensing the probable hazards when the environment is highly dynamic can also help them to become aware of the situation around them.

7- The WTC collapse reveals that critical decisions rely heavily on the manner in which information travels though the wireless network. It is critical to have mechanisms that can cope with wireless network disconnections, data communication interruptions and other challenges concerning the volatile nature of wireless networks.

8- So far, much research has been carried out regarding the September 11, 2001 WTC collapse; it has been studied from different points of view. However, to the best of my knowledge, the application of new wireless technologies and mobile agents has not been investigated in this context. Considering the unique significance of this case, this study could provide a better understanding of new applications, implications, advantages and disadvantages of these technologies, especially in situations of extreme environment rescue operations.


2.10 Limitations

Case studies can expand on principles that “can reasonably be expected to reduce either the occurrence of errors or their damaging consequences” (Reason 1990). The study of individual cases can provide understanding into the extent and scope of human and technology performance capabilities that laboratory environments could not follow. It would be impractical to attempt to replicate the extreme circumstances that model the real world in a laboratory environment. The ability to investigate and learn from these extremes in human and technology capabilities, high risk decision making processes, and problem solving under life threatening situations can only be studied in their complete context from case studies. This is one of the limitations concerning this case study.

Another limitation, according to Reason (1990), is the limited information that is available from past accident investigations and their reports, where the tendency of documentation is to be “digitized” as opposed to an original event. Real events are usually more complex and continuous due to the fact that the nature of events is

“analog.” In fact, past accident reports lack the information that was potentially available since the broader, richer, and more complex possibilities of the original account can be compromised in the written form. This thesis is constrained by this limitation as well, since much of the evidence in the form of interviews, reports and documentaries is available in digital format, and information regarding the WTC collapse and its consequences is being revised and may be changed.

Drawing a conclusion from the material discussed in this chapter, it is believed that the case study is the best method suited to this research. The above discussion reveals that every recommended method in IS has its own advantages and problems. But an


analogy between these methods in terms of their strengths and weaknesses shows that the case study is the one with more promise to lead this research into a reliable outcome.

Before any analysis of the case, it is essential to have a deep review of the relevant literature in order to summarise outcomes of previous research in the different areas of the topic, what is already known, gaps in that knowledge, and so forth. For this reason, the following chapter is devoted to the review of various literatures.


Chapter 3

Literature Review

3.1 Introduction

The literature review is a critical look at the existing research that is significant to the work of researcher. It is not just a summary, it is also vital for evaluating other people’s work, show the relationships between different works, and show how they might relate to subject of research. Literature review should provide the context for the research by looking at what work has already been done in your research area.

According to McKillap (2000) states, literature review is a very careful and critical evaluation of what everybody else has done in the field and possibly inside related fields in terms of your research. It is looking around the filed of other people’s work and it is not just look at what people have done but also the researcher should try to be comprehensive as possible and should be very critical in order to identify strengths and weaknesses and most importantly the gaps in what has been done already.

The following section makes a comprehensive review of the related literature to this research. There are two different but related reviews of literature. The first review concerns the related literature in field of agents. It tried to identify the contribution of the agents in the area of uncertain environments and their strengths and weaknesses in this area. The second part will have a look and critical review on the topics of public safety, wireless technologies and related issues. This section will try to identify the key points of these areas in terms of their capabilities, weaknesses and future


development in order to find out their direct and indirect contributions in this research.

3.2 Review of agent technology literature 3.2.1 Defining an agent

Agents are inspired by many diverse disciplines and draw on many different areas of research, such as computer science, psychology, philosophy and so forth. So, it is difficult to find a succinct definition for an agent that includes all the aspects that most researchers and developers consider an agent to be, and exclude all of the aspects they are not considered to be. The concept of an agent can be traced back to the early days of research into Distributed Artificial Intelligence in the 1970s and Carl Hewitt's concurrent Actor model (Hewitt C., Yonezawa, A., 1977). In this model, Hewitt proposed the concept of a self-contained, interactive and concurrently- executing object, which he called 'actor'. This object had encapsulated internal state and could respond to messages from other similar objects. It also had a mail address and some behaviour. Such objects had the ability to communicate with other objects by message-passing and they could carry out their actions concurrently.

So far, researchers involved in the agent technology studies have offered a variety of definitions, each hoping to explicate their own use of the word "agent". These definitions range from simple to of lengthy, complicated and demanding ones.

Consequently, finding a proper general definition for the term "agent" has become an issue among researchers who work theoretically, or develop practical agent-based systems.


As Wooldridge and Jennings (1995) express, defining a universal agent is challenging, because there is no general agreement as to what constitutes an agent.

The question "what is an agent?" is emblematic of agent-based research community.

They believe that the source of this problem goes back to the widely used term

“agent” by many people working in closely related areas. This defies attempts to produce a single, universally accepted definition. They also point out that if many people successfully develop interesting and useful applications for agents, then it hardly matters if there are not any agreements about trivial terminological details.

Other research such as that carried out by Franklin and Graesser (1996) show that finding a generic and precise definition for agent is a painful task that is unlikely to end up with desirable outcomes. They mention ten different definitions within different software systems as developed by distinct groups of researchers. The research shows that each group uses various approaches and emphasizes particular things in their definitions of agents. These disparities of definitions have led Franklin and Graesser (1996) to conclude that there is no general agreement of what an agent is or how agents differ from a software programs.

Other experts such as Russel and Norving (2003, p.32), the two outstanding researchers in the area of agent technologies have shown some other ideas about the definition of agents that seems more practical and simple. They generally define an agent as anything that can be viewed as perceiving its environment through the sensors, and acting upon that environment through actuators (Figure 3.1). Their agent could be a human, a robot, a piece of software or whatever else that could interact with its environment by sensing and acting upon its perception of the environment.


They clarify an agent in its simplest form as a reflex agent who selects actions on the basis of the current perception of its environment and the condition-action rules.

Figure 3.1 Interactions between an agent and its environment (Russel & Norving, 2003)

There is no universal definition of an agent, and definitions can be made based upon the nature of the system an agent is designed for and its attributes. Wooldridge and Jennings (1995) explain this point by distinguishing the general usage of the term agent into two ideas. They state that the first notion of agency is a weak notion, which is relatively uncontentious. Using term of agent in this notion is to indicate a hardware or software-based computer system that enjoys four primary properties: autonomy, social ability, reactivity and pro-activeness. On the other hand, the second notion of agency is stronger and potentially more controversial. It has a more specific meaning that describes an agent as a computer system that in addition to having the four primary properties is either conceptualised or implemented using concepts that are more often applied to humans, such as knowledge, belief, and intention.

What the world is like now

What action I should do now Condition-actionrule

Environment Sensors

Actuators Agent


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