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Article

Jen Ziemke, Buddhika Jayamaha, and Molly M. Jahn

Crisis mappers secure satellite imagery, photos, video, event data, incident data, and other documentary evidence to create an operational picture of a disaster in order to facilitate improved humanitarian response and assistance in a crisis. The era of human-powered crisis mapping between 2009 and 2014 was a bootstrapped effort very much a function of the peculiar state of technological development at the time—available but not yet formalized, streamlined, and automated. Humans filled the gap until machine assistance could catch up. These efforts, often mundane (e.g., cut and paste over and over for hours), were more reflective of the state of technology at the time than anything else. Another precondition that enabled the field to grow is the often taken-for-granted public good provided by the GPS satellites maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Without this service, the project at the time would not have emerged where and when it did. The future will be shaped as a result of improvements in automated forms of data collection; improved machine learning techniques to help filter, identify, visualize, and analyze the data; and the proliferation of low-cost drones and other forms of sensors, to name a few.

Article

Kyle Beardsley, Patrick James, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, and Michael Brecher

Over the course of more than four decades the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project, a major and ongoing data-gathering enterprise in the social sciences, has compiled data that continues to be accessed heavily in scholarship on conflict processes. ICB holdings consist of full-length qualitative case studies, along with an expanding range of quantitative data sets. Founded in 1975, the ICB Project is among the most visible and influential within the discipline of International Relations (IR). A wide range of studies based either primarily or in part on the ICB’s concepts and data have accumulated and cover subjects that include the causes, processes, and consequences of crises. The breadth of ICB’s contribution has expanded over time to go beyond a purely state-centric approach to include crisis-related activities of transnational actors across a range of categories. ICB also offers depth through, for example, potential resolution of contemporary debates about mediation in crises on the basis of nuanced findings about long- versus short-term impact with regard to conflict resolution.

Article

The politics of crisis terminology is rarely examined directly. Crisis is an “umbrella,” under which resides a multitude of terms such as accidents, emergencies, fiascos, disasters, and catastrophes, as well as variations such as natural disasters, transboundary crises, and mega-crises. Yet the sheer diversity and frequent ambiguity among terms reflects the “politics” of how societies and political actors seek to cope with and address extreme events, which often pose a mixture of threat and opportunity. Central to an understanding is how (a) different terms are means of framing issues such as the scale and causes of the crisis, (b) crisis terms are part of governing strategies, and (c) nongovernmental actors (opposition parties, media, lobby groups, social movements, and citizens) can seek to influence government. A pivotal point in developing an understanding of crisis terminology is that rather bemoaning the lack of singular meanings for crisis and associated terms, or criticizing actors for “abuse” of the terms, one should recognize and accept that complex and contested crisis language and definitions are in themselves manifestations of politics in political societies.

Article

Crises are uncertain and disorderly situations, which temporarily destabilize power relations and impede centralized control over operational crisis responders (e.g., firefighters, police officers, paramedics). Consequently, responders wield considerable autonomy and have room to act on their own initiative. They make crucial decisions in frontline crisis operations based on their situational understanding and professional expertise. As such, they are similar to other “frontline workers” (or street-level bureaucrats) in government service. Their important work has attracted increasing attention in crisis management literature, in which three tensions have emerged. The first tension revolves around the nature and extent of frontline discretion. In some studies, these frontline responders are presented as implementers who are considerably constrained by extensive rules, planned routines, and detailed protocols. Other studies, instead, emphasize the independent and proactive behaviors of frontline workers who use their discretionary space to shape crisis response efforts. The second tension centers on the reasons for discretionary actions. Typically, crisis scholars analyze social and rule-based pressures on frontline workers to explain their discretionary actions as they implement public policy. Critics, instead, build on responders’ own stories to grasp their meaning-making attempts and use this as a basis for understanding why and how responders enact their discretionary practices. The final tension concerns the advantages and disadvantages of frontline worker discretion. There is a widespread belief that frontline discretion in crisis response enables much-needed improvisation, creativity, and flexibility, but increased discretion may also raise legitimacy questions and potentially burden frontline workers with complex ethical dilemmas. To move the understanding of frontline workers in crisis management forward, further research is required in several areas. Empirically, frontline workers are increasingly working in transboundary crisis networks, so that more research is necessary to understand how such crisis networks affect frontline discretion. Theoretically, literature on frontline work in crisis management has remained by and large isolated from other micro-level theories on crisis management, even though there are opportunities for fruitful cross-fertilization with adjacent literatures.

Article

Crises and disasters come in many shapes and sizes. They range from global pandemics and global financial crises to tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic ash clouds, bushfires, terrorist attacks, critical infrastructure failures and food contamination episodes. Threats may be locally isolated such as an explosion at a local fireworks factory, or they may cascade across multiple countries and sectors, such as pandemics. No country is immune from the challenge of managing extraordinary threats, and doing so out of their comfort zone of routine policy making. The crisis management challenge involves managing threats ‘on the ground’, as well as the political fallout and societal fears. Populist and journalistic commentary frequently labels crisis management initiatives as having either succeeded or failed. The realities are much more complex. Evaluators confront numerous methodological challenges. These include the careful consideration of multiple and often competing outcomes, differing perceptions, issues of success for whom, and gray areas stemming from shortfalls and lack of evidence, as well as variations over time. Despite such complexity, some key themes appear continually across evaluations, from internal reviews to royal commissions and accident inquiries. These pertain to the ways in which evaluations can be shaped heavily or lightly by political agendas, the degree to which evaluating organizations are able to open up, the degree to which gray areas and shortfalls are stumbling blocks in producing findings, and the challenge of producing coherent investigative narratives when many storylines are possible. Ultimately, evaluating crisis initiatives is “political” in nature because it seeks to provide authoritative evaluations that reconcile multiple views, from experts and lawyers to victims and their families.

Article

Sanneke Kuipers and Jeroen Wolbers

Research on organizational crisis emanates from multiple disciplines (public administration, international relations, political science, organization science, communication studies), yet basically argues that three main categories of crises exist: • Crises in organizations: often tangible, immediate threats or incidents that completely upset an organization’s primary process or performance, while both cause and problems are more or less confined to the organization and those affected by its malperformance. • Crisis to the organization: a threat or damage occurs outside of the organization at hand but implicates the organization by attribution of responsibility or culpability (for causing the problems or allowing them to occur). • Crisis about the organization, or institutional crisis: even without a tangible threat or damage, in a short period of time the organization’s perceived performance deficit becomes so deeply problematic that the organization itself is subject to intense scrutiny and criticism. Previously agreed-on values and routines, the structure, and policy philosophy of the organization are no longer seen as adequate or legitimate. The three types of organizational crises tend to have not only different causes but also different implications as to the commensurate crisis response, both functionally and politically. There is no single best response to organizational crises: appropriate responses are both commensurate to the crisis type at hand and to different phases of a crisis. Still, discerning between crisis typologies opens a research agenda to provide a better understanding of the relation between the internal and external dynamics of a crisis.

Article

Legitimacy and crisis are closely related concepts. A crisis may even be viewed as a process of legitimation. Legitimacy is a collective perception about which actors and institutions that have the right to rule, regulate, and decide. Crises put legitimacy at stake and may, depending on the premises and management strategies, challenge, enhance, or impair legitimacy. Legitimacy and communication are entwined into each other. Legitimacy as a process is dependent on communication in its original sense: ritual communication as a sacred ceremony that unites people and creates a community. When legitimacy is put at stake, organizations and other actors use strategic communication to respond to, confront, and impact the outcome by the use of different crisis (or legitimacy) communication strategies and tactics. But while legitimacy is an old concept, the premises for handling legitimacy have changed. One way to view this shift, from a societal theoretical standpoint, is to focus the shift between modernity and late modernity as an interpretative framework. Increased diversity and mobility, globalization, reflexivity, and mediation are new premises for legitimacy work. The multivocal and multifaceted character of late modern society challenges organizational as well as societal legitimacy, especially in crisis situations. Political debates and critical reasoning questioning the role and actions of different social institutions are necessary from a democratic standpoint, but when core societal institutions are delegitimized, risks occur. This may be happening in several Western societies, with increased polarization and fundamental questioning of important institutions. Crises (e.g., the coronavirus pandemic) and how they are handled and managed by existing institutions may be radical turning points of legitimacy in governance. Crisis management and communication have developed as possible tools for organizations to handle legitimacy crises. Simplified, one may use three theories of legitimacy strategies in crisis as developed in the applied field of crisis communication. These three theories include image repair theory (rhetoric), situational crisis communication theory, and a broader array of alternative network and complexity theory.

Article

Because social complexity is rarely defined beforehand, social science discussions often default to natural language concepts and synonyms. Assert a large sociotechnical system is complex or “increasingly complex,” and notions of many unknowns, out-of-sight causal processes, and a system difficult to comprehend fully are triggered. These terms, however, also suggest the potential for, if not actuality of, catastrophes and their unmanageability in the sociotechnical systems. It is not uncommon to find increasing social complexity credited for the generation or exacerbation of major crises, such as nuclear reactor accidents and global climate change, and the need to manage them better, albeit the crises are said to be far more difficult to manage because of the complexity. The costs of leaving discussions of “complexity, crisis, and management” to natural language are compared here to the considerable benefits that accrue to analysis from one of the few definitions of social complexity developed and used over the last 40 years, that of political scientist Todd R. La Porte. Understanding that a large sociotechnical system is more or less complex depending on the number of its components, the different functions each component has, and the interdependencies among functions and components underscores key issues that are often missed within the theory and practice of large sociotechnical systems, including society’s critical infrastructures. Over-complexifying the problems and issues of already complex systems, in particular, is just as questionable as oversimplifying that complexity for policy and management purposes.

Article

Process tracing is an in-depth case study method that can be used to study how causal processes play out within cases. Given its focus on processes and temporality, process tracing is a useful method for analyzing crisis and crisis decision making in the fields of foreign policy analysis and public policy. As can be seen from its name, process tracing involves theorizing a causal process that is then traced by investigating the observable manifestations of the operation of the process as a whole in the more minimalist variant, or for each of its parts in the more maximalist variant. Minimalist process tracing is typically used early in a research program as a form of plausibility probe to understand what types of processes might be linking a crisis event with particular outcomes like policy change. Maximalist process tracing can then be used once there is preliminary knowledge about processes, and where the goals become gaining a better theoretical understanding of how they operate, and making stronger causal inferences using more direct evidence of their operation.

Article

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) cover a wide range of telecommunication devices and applications, which facilitate the flow of information. Within crisis and disaster management, these devices and applications may be used explicitly for hazards or crisis detection, information management, communication, situational awareness, search and rescue efforts, and decision support systems. Everything from cell phones and social media to unmanned aerial vehicles and weather stations are used to collect, disseminate, and monitor various types of information and data to provide a common operating picture. ICTs are continually evolving, with new features developed and deployed at a rapid pace. This development has had a unique impact on crisis and disaster management, allowing for real-time communication and situational awareness, as well as novel approaches to simulations and training. With the near-ubiquitous use of some devices, information is also no longer held solely by government or private sector officials; ordinary citizens are also able to contribute to and disseminate information during and after crises. For some segments of the population, this ability to meaningfully contribute is not only empowering but necessary to highlight unmet needs. Throughout the evolution of ICTs, new research and practical concerns have highlighted persistent unmet needs of more vulnerable populations due to growing interdependence and integration across jurisdictional boundaries worldwide. The continued expansion of ICTs will most likely have a profound impact on this field in the future.

Article

In a globalized world, national-level policymakers make decisions, often during times of crisis and uncertainty, which have implications for neighboring territories. Britain is an example of a nation state that has had to accommodate such a multi-level context in the management of crises. What is clear is that the processes of crisis management rely heavily on the effectiveness and strength of policy relationships at multiple levels of governance. Managing and coordinating crises in these contexts represents a challenge for national crisis managers as these complex governance landscapes produce uncertainties and can reveal ambiguities when it comes to identifying “who” is the dominant crisis manager. For example, the challenges of global health threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight how modern governance arrangements breed vulnerabilities for states due to the interconnection of infrastructures and systems. The lack of clarity with regards to who is accountable for the performance of crisis management approaches within complex government environments open up windows of opportunity for blame and ideological games to take effect. Crisis management research highlights that the effectiveness of transnational crisis management depends on policy relationships within and between networks, including the extent to which national technocratic actors feature in the political decisions that affect crisis governance arrangements. Policy relationships themselves are also shaped by the contexts and dynamics of regional and territorial governance, Europeanization processes, and the internationalization of crisis management—all of which produce their own political tensions for the workings and autonomy of national crisis managers. Understanding such complexities is key for researching British crisis management processes.

Article

Ryan Scott and Branda Nowell

Managing complexity requires appropriate governance structures and effective coordination, communication, and action within the incident response network. Governance structures serve as a framework to understand the interrelated relationships that exist during a crisis. Governance structures can be classified as either hierarchical and managed, autonomous and networked, or a hybrid of hierarchies and networks, and represent a continuum of crisis response systems. As such, effective crisis management is first a function of a leader’s ability to leverage hierarchical, hybrid, and network forms of crisis management governance to manage complex disasters. Second, it hinges on the proficiency of the disaster response network in managing distributed information, coordinating operations, and collaborating among jurisdictions. Combining these two points results in high-performing disaster response networks that operate fluidly between governing structures and across jurisdictions, thus increasing our national capacity to manage complex disasters.

Article

Lan Xue and Kaibin Zhong

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis was the first epidemic caused by a novel virus in the 21st century, killing nearly 774 globally and 349 in China. Started in late 2002, it escalated from a localized outbreak into a national and ultimately an international crisis within just a few months, before the outbreak was finally brought under control in June 2003. The governmental actors were caught off guard before a timely and comprehensive response was put in place in mid-April 2003. As pandemics are becoming both more frequent and more devastating, it is important that efforts be made to intervene early in an outbreak to prevent a potential national and even global threat. The provincial and national governments did not take prompt and comprehensive actions, even after the disease began spreading quickly and taking lives. The Chinese government dramatically revamped their approach to SARS and took very decisive action to respond to the spread of the SARS virus in April 2003; this occurred only when decision makers had been informed of this crisis situation and put on notice to put crisis management on their radar screen and make it a “top priority.” Therefore, it’s necessary to understand what factors influenced the initial delayed response by local and national Chinese governments, from the perspective of information management and governmental political agenda.

Article

Johan Eriksson

What is “threat framing”? It concerns how something or someone is perceived, labeled, and communicated as a threat to something or someone. The designation “threat,” notably, belongs to the wider family of negative concerns such as danger, risk, or hazard. Research on threat framing is not anchored in a single or specific field but rather is scattered across three separate and largely disconnected bodies of literature: framing theory, security studies, and crisis studies. It is noteworthy that whereas these literatures have contributed observations on how and under what consequences something is framed as a threat, none of them have sufficiently problematized the concept of threat. Crisis analysis considers the existence or perception of threat essential for a crisis to emerge, along with a perception of urgency and uncertainty, yet crisis studies focus on the meaning of “crisis” without problematizing the concept of threat. Likewise, security studies have spent a lot of ink defining “security,” typically understood as the “absence of threat,” but leave the notion of “threat” undefined. Further, framing theory is concerned with “problem definition” as a main or first function of framing but generally pays little or no attention to the meaning of “threat.” Moreover, cutting across these bodies of literature is the distinction between constructivist and rationalist approaches, both of which have contributed to the understanding of threat framing. Constructivist analyses have emphasized how threat framing can be embedded in a process of socialization and acculturation, making some frames appear normal and others highly contested. Rationalist approaches, on the other hand, have shown how threat framing can be a conscious strategic choice, intended to accomplish certain political effects such as the legitimization of extraordinary means, allocation of resources, or putting issues high on the political agenda. Although there are only a handful of studies explicitly combining insights across these fields, they have made some noteworthy observations. These studies have shown for example how different types of framing may fuel amity or enmity, cooperation, or conflict. These studies have also found that antagonistic threat frames are more likely to result in a securitizing or militarizing logic than do structural threat frames. Institutionalized threat frames are more likely to gain and maintain saliency, particularly if they are associated with policy monopolies. In the post-truth era, however, the link between evidence and saliency of frames is weakened, leaving room for a much more unpredictable politics of framing.

Article

Shari R. Veil, Chelsea L. Woods, and Ryan Crace

The development and maintenance plans of the three 9/11 memorials and museums are examined to explore how crisis memorials and museums strategically communicate to maintain collective crisis memory. Memorial professionals accept that the location of the memorial is nonnegotiable, engage community partners in the design and development of crisis memorial features, maintain focus on the mission to ensure long-term viability of the memorial, solicit and archive shared stories of remembrance to foster a prospective vision, and concentrate on learning to foster healing and adaptive capacity.

Article

Scott E. Robinson and Junghwa Choi

Crisis management research has expanded to include a wide variety of research tools. Survey research has proven to be a useful tool for investigating key questions ranging from risk perception to the consequences of hazards. The context of crisis management presents particular demands on research tools including the deeply disruptive consequences of crises and the importance of place. Careful attention to question wording, sampling, the choice of survey mode, and ethical considerations should shape the design of survey research in crisis management.

Article

Image repair theory observes that threats to image (for individuals, groups, and organizations, such as companies or countries) are inevitable. Because reputation is important, criticisms usually provoke a response, defense, or image repair message(s). Each attack (each criticism) has two components, offensiveness and blame. Defenses can address either component (e.g., arguing that an act was offensive or rejecting blame for it). Five general strategies and 14 tactics exist for image repair. Perceptions are key in image repair: the audience’s perceived image of the target prompts criticism and attack; the audience’s perceptions of the message influence the effectiveness of a defense. Those who feel impelled to create image repair messages may face one or more audiences; the image concerns of various audiences may overlap or may be different. This means the defender must decide which audiences to address and develop image repair messages with this in mind. One must select one or more image repair strategies that the defender believes will be most effective with the target audience(s) and embed that strategy in one or more messages. Note that a defender should choose the most effective strategy or strategies; adding in more strategies does not necessary improve the defense. The defender must decide which medium or media should be used to get the message(s) to audience(s). Image repair theory was developed to help understand threats to reputation, face, or image. Such threats are commonplace in human interaction, including contexts such as interpersonal communication, public communication, and social media.

Article

Bibi van den Berg, Ruth Prins, and Sanneke Kuipers

Security and safety are key topics of concern in the globalized and interconnected world. While the terms “safety” and “security” are often used interchangeably in everyday life, in academia, security is mostly studied in the social sciences, while safety is predominantly studied in the natural sciences, engineering, and medicine. However, developments and incidents that negatively affect society increasingly contain both safety and security aspects. Therefore, an integrated perspective on security and safety is beneficial. Such a perspective studies hazardous and harmful events and phenomena in the full breadth of their complexity—including the cause of the event, the target that is harmed, and whether the harm is direct or indirect. This leads to a richer understanding of the nature of incidents and the effects they may have on individuals, collectives, societies, nation-states, and the world at large.

Article

Evgeniia Iakhnis, Stefanie Neumeier, Anne Van Wijk, and Patrick James

Quantitative methodology in crisis studies is a topic of substantial scope. The principal rallying point for such research is the long-standing International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project, which from 1975 onward has produced a comprehensive and heavily accessed data set for the study of conflict processes. A prehistory of crisis studies based on statistical methods, which identified connections between and among various conflict-related events, pointed increasingly toward the need for a program of research on escalation. The potential of quantitative methodology to contribute seriously to crisis studies has been realized along multiple dimensions by the ICB Project in particular. For example, quantitative methods have been applied productively to study the effects of both global and regional organizations, along with individual states, upon the process of crisis escalation. Current research in crisis studies is based on the premise that research designs so far have covered only one of multiple relevant stages regarding the process of escalation. This is where the concept of a “near crisis” becomes relevant: a near crisis entails perception of threat and finite time, but not an increased likelihood of military hostilities. Data analysis pertaining to multiple stages of escalation is at an early stage of development, but initial results are intriguing. A further critique of quantitative research begins with the observation that it is mostly state-centered and reductionist in nature. A key question emerges: How can the concept of crisis and associated data collection be revised to include a humanistic element that would entail new and potentially more enlightening configurations of independent and dependent variables?

Article

The Suez Crisis of 1956 is a perfect case for crisis research in the domain of international relations: the events leading to an Israeli attack on Egypt and an Anglo-French military invasion in the Suez Canal area seriously endangered regional and global peace and security. It also had major long-lasting consequences, notably the end of British influence in the Middle East, the expansion of the Cold War into that region, severe damage to the Western alliance, and, related to that, the acceleration of European integration as well as the development of the French nuclear bomb. An analysis of the Suez Crisis allows for a useful comparison of objectivistic and subjectivistic conceptualizations of the notion of crisis. This bears out that different actors attached, and still attach, different meanings to the events of 1956. Consequently, they look back on, and evaluate, the crisis in different terms. Also, Suez invites a confrontation of rationalist and constructivist approaches to the crisis phenomenon in the international relations literature. Furthermore, it invites an assessment of different approaches to foreign policy crisis decision-making, as they are employed in the comparative foreign policy analysis literature. In addition, the crisis serves to dissect important methodological issues regarding crisis research, particularly regarding causality and the issue of the decision unit. Finally, Suez offers insights into the specific legal and normative constraints faced by democracies seeking to go to war.