The common operational picture is used to overcome coordination and information management problems during emergency response. Increasingly, this approach is incorporated in more advanced information systems. This is rooted in an 'information warehouse' perspective, which implies information can be collected, sorted and exchanged in an accessible and univocal form. In practice, however, professionals interpret similar information differently. Therefore, we focus on how emergency responders develop collective sensemaking from information. We employ a 'trading zone' perspective, in which information is negotiated, to study information management in an ethnographic study of disaster exercises in the Netherlands. Our analysis shows how professionals attribute different meanings to information that distorts the coordination process. We end by stressing the importance of actionable knowledge and reflexivity. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.