Use Case Provenance of Decision Making Emergency Response

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Provenance of Decision Making: Tracing Decisions Made in Emergency Response Situations


Iman Naja and Luc Moreau

(Curator: Simon Miles)

Provenance Dimensions

  • Primary: Justification for Decisions
  • Secondary: Attribution, Accountability (Use), Imperfections (Use)

Background and Current Practice

In response to major incidents, different emergency services (e.g., Police, Fire Brigade, Ambulance Service, Local Authorities, the Military) must perform their designated roles according to their assigned responsibilities, as well as co-ordinate effectively with each other and with volunteers to ensure maximal efficiency in saving and protecting lives and relieving suffering.

In a flooding disaster, several decisions are made by emergency workers and implemented on the ground. Police and Fire Brigade must evacuate civilians from flooded building or buildings under the threat of being flooded according to some prioritisation scheme. For example, critical infrastructure like care homes, hospitals, and schools have higher priority over houses and businesses. In turn, houses with vulnerable occupants have more priority over other houses. Evacuated civilians who need medical attention are taken to a triage area to be examined by medics. Medics use a triage scheme to prioritise the care and delivery of patients to be taken to hospitals in ambulances.



  • Identify the decisions that may have to be revisited given some new observation on the ground invalidating or complementing previous knowledge.
  • Answer what-if questions (hypothesis management) as well as why-not questions.
  • Trace the flow of decision to hold the decision-makers accountable for any major incorrect decisions made.

Provenance will help identify dependencies between decision and facts.

Use Case Scenario

A chain of reasoning, based on some initial data, leads to a decision which affects all instances of class of problem. Later, the following occur. First, some of the data is found to have been wrong and/or what was true at the time is updated to the current situation. In these cases, the same reasoning is applied to the updated data, changing the future decisions for the same class of problem. Second, a hypothetical situation in which some data is different is considered using the same reasoning, to see if the outcome would be different. Finally, for a specific instance, the data and reasoning which led to the decision are explained. The specific domain which motivates this scenario is as follows.

Argumentation - wrong data: In a flooding event, search and rescue workers decide to evacuate buildings R11 through R15 which are houses. While evacuating, the rescue officers notice that there are people screaming for help in a nearby care home R16 with no one attempting to evacuate them. The provenance of the decision to evacuate R11 to R15 is used to deduce that that initial decision to evacuate R11 through R15 was made based on the information that R16 is empty. A new decision needs to be made that dictates whether to carry on with evacuating R11 to R15 or to re-prioritise and evacuate the critical infrastructure R16 that is not empty as previously assumed.

Argumentation - facts updated: Ambulance A1 was assigned to transport patients from the triage area to Hospital H1. Upon arriving, medics in A1 learn that H1 is full and can no longer take more patients in. A1 report this new fact to the medics in the triage area. The medic M in charge needs to contact the other ambulances that are on their way to A1 as well as initiate a re-triage for patients waiting to be taken to H1. M uses the provenance of the decision made to transport patients based on the information that H1 is available and re-prioritises triage patients as well as produces new goals for current ambulances heading towards H1.

Hypothesis (what if): In a related scenario, search and rescue decide not to evacuate buildings R21 through R27 because the street is no longer under threat of flood. They decide to deliver medical supplies, food, and water to the residents of those houses. However, a police officer observant is not sure that is the correct action to be undertaken. Provenance is used to indicate whether the decision was made based on definitive information. Provenance is also used to check whether different decisions should have been made in case the street is not really secure, for example deducing that the priority of allocating resources to distribute needed goods outweighs the priority of allocating these same resources to secure flood defences, e.g. sandbags, to secure the street.

Why-not questions: A few months after the incident, an inquiry committee is put in place to examine what went wrong and highlight where more lives could have been saved. In the reports of medics in the triage area, patient P1 who was categorised as delayed, i.e. non-urgent, suddenly seized and - even though immediate medical care was provided by medics - the patient died. The provenance of the decision to triage the patient as non-urgent is reviewed to answer the question of why the patient was not triaged as urgent.

Problems and Limitations

Because of the hectic situation on the ground, not all provenance information of how decisions were made may be recorded immediately. Additionally, emergency responders may not record all the information that they took into consideration when making certain decisions. It must be clarified for emergency responders that even though recording such data may look like a waste of time on the spot, it is crucial for tracking back decisions during the emergency as well as for accountability after the emergency.

Also, not all provenance information may be available to everyone involved in responding to the disaster. For example, information produced by the Police may not be accessible to the Ambulance Services or to the voluntary sector. This may restrict the interference of observers because of their inability to judge whether decisions were made based on missing information or whether a wrong decision was made even though the information was available.

Finally, in large scale disasters there may be hundreds of emergency responders and thus the scale of recorded provenance may grow enormously.

Unanticipated Uses

The scenario above describes a particular case of using technology. However, by allowing this scenario to take place, the technology allows for other use cases. This section captures unanticipated uses of the same system apparent in the use case scenario.