Modeling Complex Interactions in a Disrupted Environment: Relational Events in the WTC Response

by   Scott Leo Renshaw, et al.

When subjected to a sudden, unanticipated threat, human groups characteristically self-organize to identify the threat, determine potential responses, and act to reduce its impact. Central to this process is the challenge of coordinating information sharing and response activity within a disrupted environment. In this paper, we consider coordination in the context of responses to the 2001 World Trade Center disaster. Using records of communications among 17 organizational units, we examine the mechanisms driving communication dynamics, with an emphasis on the emergence of coordinating roles. We employ relational event models (REMs) to identify the mechanisms shaping communications in each unit, finding a consistent pattern of behavior across units with very different characteristics. Using a simulation-based "knock-out" study, we also probe the importance of different mechanisms for hub formation. Our results suggest that, while preferential attachment and pre-disaster role structure generally contribute to the emergence of hub structure, temporally local conversational norms play a much larger role. We discuss broader implications for the role of microdynamics in driving macroscopic outcomes, and for the emergence of coordination in other settings.


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