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Ambiguities, awareness and economy: a study of emergency service work

Pettersson, Mårten and Randall, David and Helgeson, Bo (2004) Ambiguities, awareness and economy: a study of emergency service work. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 13 (2). pp. 125-154. ISSN 0925-9724

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Abstract

This paper derives from a studyundertaken at an emergency service centre byresearchers at the Blekinge Institute ofTechnology, Sweden. It forms part of a projectinvolving partners at the university and inSwedish emergency service centres. The focus inthis project was on the possibility ofdeveloping new technology for use in thesecentres. One vision for the new technology isto support distribution of calls and handlingof cases across several centres. Historicallythe work has been conducted in a number ofdifferent centres, where responsibilities arethus primarily geographically localised andwhere, as a result, practices in the differentcentres may be distinctively local. The study has focused on features of workfamiliar to the CSCW community, includingdocumenting and analysing current workpractices, understanding the properties of thetechnology in question, and perhaps mostimportantly how the technology functions inuse. Our focus in this paper exemplifies thesethemes through the analysis of three cases. Inthe first, the issue in question is the way inwhich an emergency is identified and dealtwith, it being the case that a typical problemto be dealt with by operators, and morecommonly in the days of mobile telephony, isthat of multiple reporting of a single case. Ofparticular interest here is the phenomenon oflistening-in, which is a function in theComputer Aided Dispatch system and by contrastthat of `overhearing', which is not. The secondand third cases focus on the relevance of largepaper maps, given the existence of computerizedmaps in these centres. Based on our ownanalysis and on work done by others in similarcontexts, we develop an argument for a sense oforganizational relevance that hopefullyintegrates existing analytic interests inemergency service work.

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