Ambiguities, Awareness and Economy: A Study of Emergency Service Work

Document type: Journal Articles
Article type: Original article
Peer reviewed: Yes
Author(s): Mårten Pettersson, Dave Randall, Bo Helgeson
Title: Ambiguities, Awareness and Economy: A Study of Emergency Service Work
Journal: Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work
Year: 2004
Volume: 13
Issue: 2
Pagination: 125-154
ISSN: 0925-9724
Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers
City: Dordrecht
Organization: Blekinge Institute of Technology
Department: School of Engineering - Dept. of Interaction and System Design (Sektionen för teknik – adv. för interaktion och systemdesign)
School of Engineering S- 372 25 Ronneby
+46 455 38 50 00
Authors e-mail:
Language: English
Abstract: This paper derives from a study undertaken at an emergency service centre by researchers
at the Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden. It forms part of a project involving partners at the university and in Swedish emergency service centres. The focus in this project was on the possibility of developing new technology for use in these centres. One vision for the new technology is to support distribution of calls and handling of cases across several centres. Historically the work has been conducted in a number of different centres, where responsibilities are thus primarily geographically localised and where, as a result, practices in the different centres may be distinctively local.

The study has focused on features of work familiar to the CSCW community, including documenting and analysing current work practices, understanding the properties of the technology in question, and perhaps most importantly how the technology functions in use. Our focus in this paper exemplifies these themes through the analysis of three cases. In the first, the issue in question is the way in which an emergency is identified and dealt with, it being the case that a typical problem to be dealt with by operators, and more commonly in the days of mobile telephony, is that of multiple reporting of a single case. Of particular interest here is the phenomenon of listening-in, which is a function in the Computer Aided Dispatch system and by contrast that of ‘overhearing’, which is not. The second and third cases focus on the relevance of large paper maps, given the existence of computerized maps in these centres. Based on our own analysis and on work done by others in similar contexts, we develop an argument for a sense of organizational relevance that hopefully integrates existing analytic interests in emergency service work.
Subject: Human Work Science\Computer Supported Cooperative Work
Human Work Science\Work Practice
Human Work Science\Human Computer Interaction
Keywords: ambiguity, awareness, control room study, design, emergency handling, ethnography, ethnomethodology, field study, safety critical work, technology-in-use