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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arya Honarmand and Mark Rhinard

In Europe, the management of severe, cross-border crises is shared increasingly among actors and institutions at local, national, and supranational governance levels. The supranational political system of the European Union (EU) allows for substantial delegation of collective powers for public policymaking—and that delegation extends to crisis-management-related policies. Those policies and the crisis management “capacities” they lead to, however, are diverse and fragmented. They span the EU’s institutions, cover multiple sectors, and reflect different degrees of EU legal competence. The European Commission and its agencies house and manage most crisis-related policies, while the Council of Ministers of the European Union has its own capacities and provides a degree of political direction. EU agencies, and the European External Action Service (since 2010), contain yet more crisis-management-related capacities. These developments have grown mainly through crisis-driven expansion, albeit in an incremental and dispersed way, followed by consolidation. Scholars from the fields of international relations, public administration, and security studies have been slow to identify these developments. New research is needed on the subtle dynamics driving policy growth, the effectiveness and efficiency of these arrangements, and the comparative dimension with other regional crisis management systems in the world.

Article

Zoe Ang, Benjamin S. Noble, and Andrew Reeves

In times of crisis, citizens look to their leaders for aid and assistance. In the democratic context, the focal figure is likely the chief executive accountable to the whole of the nation. With a specific focus on the American president and the incidences of natural hazards, public opinion and governmental response to these crises are analyzed. While one may expect such a universal actor to aid each according to their need, new scholarship finds that voter behavior and electoral institutions incentivize the president to support only a small slice of the electorate. Empowered by federal disaster relief legislation in the 1950s, the president targets electorally valuable voters when disbursing aid or allocating resources in response to disaster damage. Voters in those areas respond myopically and tend to vote for the incumbent for reasons ranging from economic to emotional. Thus, elites anticipate voter reactions and strategically respond to disasters to mitigate blame or punishment for the event and capitalize on an opportunity for electoral gains.

Article

The cyber-interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is part of a growing set of case studies in both the world of election crisis management and cybercrisis management. The 2016 electoral cybercrisis, no matter whether it is possible to determine its effect on the election’s outcome, will likely go down as one of the most effective intelligence operations in modern history. As such, the crisis response to the event—its failures, successes, limitations, and shaping factors—will be studied widely moving forward, as it takes its place among the most important cases of both electoral crisis and cybercrisis management.

Article

Arjen Boin, Christer Brown, and James A. Richardson

The response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been widely described as a disaster in itself. Politicians, media, academics, survivors, and the public at large have slammed the federal, state, and local response to this mega disaster. According to the critics, the response was late, ineffective, politically charged, and even influenced by racist motives. But is this criticism true? Was the response really that poor? This article offers a framework for the analysis and assessment of a large-scale response to a mega disaster, which is then applied to the Katrina response (with an emphasis on New Orleans). The article identifies some failings (where the response could and should have been better) but also points to successes that somehow got lost in the politicized aftermath of this disaster. The article demonstrates the importance of a proper framework based on insights from crisis management studies.

Article

For the study of international crisis to yield insights of value to both scholars and policymakers, it is imperative to understand what the term “international crisis” means in the abstract and what qualifies as an international crisis in the real world. It is also important to establish criteria for distinguishing species of the genus. These tasks require clearing up conceptual ambiguities, articulating and justifying a working definition of “international crisis,” demonstrating the utility of that definition for both scholarly analysis and practical policymaking, and exploring potentially fruitful ways in which international crises can be categorized. The working definition proposed is as follows: An international crisis is a decisive encounter between two or more states involving a plausibly elevated danger of imminent war. International crisis so conceived is inherently a decision-making problem and cannot be understood in purely systemic terms, divorced from policymakers’ perceptions of (a) the challenges they face, (b) the stakes involved, (c) the time constraints under which they operate, or (d) the severity of their predicament. While international crisis is not always entirely in the eye of the beholder, it is sufficient to establish that an international crisis is in play if decision makers believe that it is, whether or not their beliefs are well-founded. Without prejudging empirical analysis, it is plausible to suggest that both the analysis and the management of international crises may differ depending upon their genesis, the nature of the stakes involved, their severity, their payoff structure, and whether or not the protagonists have nuclear weapons.

Article

Edward Deverell

Crises shake societies and organizations to their foundation. Public authorities, private companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and members of the general public all have a role to play in managing crises. From a public administration perspective, however, responsibility clearly falls on politicians and strategic decision makers in public authorities. The task to manage crises is getting increasingly challenging, with more actors and sectors involved, unclear lines of accountability, and close connections between risks, organizations, networks, and interests. This means that the fundamental opportunity to improve structures for crisis management and preparedness, which requires learning from previous experiences, is increasing in salience. Previous research into the political dimensions of crisis management holds that learning is a key part of crisis management and a fundamental challenge to crisis leadership. The criteria that set crises apart from day-to-day work—that is, core values at stake, time pressure, and substantial uncertainty—also challenge the learning parts of crisis management. Learning in relation to crisis is essential for earnest investigation into what went wrong and why the crisis occurred, and, moreover, to make sure that it does not happen again. As organizations play a key role in crisis management, organizational learning is a useful concept to explore learning in relation to crises. Furthermore, the concept of crisis-induced learning has proven salient in bridging the literatures of crisis management and learning. Crisis-induced learning is understood as purposeful efforts, triggered by a perceived crisis and carried out by members of an organization working within a community of inquiry. These efforts, in turn, lead to new understanding and behavior on the basis of that understanding. The concept of crisis-induced learning can help add clarity to what learning is in relation to crises and who the learning agents are in these processes. Other important theorizing efforts in bridging crisis and learning include categorizing learning into its cognitive and behavioral aspects as well as its temporal aspects including inter- and intra-crisis learning. Finally, relating to issues of methodology, it is useful to distil ways to measure and analyze learning and to explain how crisis-induced learning is distinguished from other types of experiential learning.

Article

Eric J. McNulty, Leonard Marcus, Jennifer O. Grimes, Joseph Henderson, and Richard Serino

Meta-leadership is a framework and practice method for broad, overarching leadership that meets the demands of modern organizations that have evolved beyond purely hierarchical structures and face complex crisis situations. The meta-leadership framework consists of three dimensions: the Person, or the characteristics and behaviors of the leader; the Situation, or the context in which the leader operates with its inherent challenges and contingencies; and Connectivity, the relationships and interconnections among the full range of stakeholders. Such an overarching model guides self-assessment by the leader, multidimensional analysis of the problem, and collective action to achieve a shared goal. It assists the leader in navigating complexity, understanding diverging perspectives, and recognizing opportunities to leverage overlapping interests as well as distinct capacities and capabilities among stakeholders in order to generate benefits for all. Using the dimensions as lenses for thinking and levers of action, the leader envisages and encourages cohesive efforts within the organization and encourages buy-in from potential external collaborators. Meta-leaders take a systemic view, exercising formal authority as well as influence well beyond that authority, leading “down” to subordinates; “up” to superiors; “across” to peers; and “beyond” to entities outside of the organization. Encompassed within each dimension are leadership techniques and tools for navigating the difficulties of competing interests, framing solution sets to influence the trajectory of events, and maintaining order amidst seeming chaos. The desired outcome is a “swarm,” where autonomous entities operate in swift synchrony to address threats and seize opportunities, overcoming the limitations and confounds of a “command-and-control” approach amidst the confusion of crises. This evidence-based framework has been envisioned and refined by both interdisciplinary research and the pragmatic experience of crisis leaders and organizational executives. While well suited to the intense environment of crises, meta-leadership has also proven useful in everyday leadership in situations involving diverse stakeholders facing a shared challenge.

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

Storytelling is a common and pervasive practice across human history, which some have argued is a fundamental part of human understanding. Storytelling and narratives are a very human way of understanding the world, as well as events, and can serve as key tools for crisis and disaster studies and practice. They play a tremendously important role in planning, policy, education, the public sphere, advocacy, training, and community recovery. In the context of crises and disasters, stories are a means by which information is transmitted across generations, a key strategy for survival from non-routine and infrequent events. In fact, the field of disaster studies has long relied on narratives as primary source material, as a means of understanding individual experiences of phenomena as well as critiquing policies and understanding the role of history in 21st-century levels of vulnerability. Over the past several decades, practitioners and educators in the field have sought to use stories and narratives more purposefully to build resilience and pass on tacit knowledge.

Article

When a crisis manifests, the problem or situation is often at a terrible point where sage and timely decisions are of critical importance. Ideally, the particular emergency has been known previously and various challenges, roadblocks, and solutions workshopped in a tabletop or other exercise. Whether in advance or at a sudden precipice, a whole-of-government approach can navigate, mitigate, and alleviate the disaster in a holistic and comprehensive manner that is tailored to the task at hand. Whole-of-government crisis management—at the local, state, national, or international level—involves several elements. First, those in command need to know the myriad of players who may have roles and responsibilities to play at pivotal moments. Every organization will not be required in every crisis, and a strategic mix and match is often valuable. Second, each agency needs to understand how it fits into the larger puzzle and adjust their internal culture accordingly to support interagency operations, regardless of who is providing a lead function and who is supporting. Then, the agencies must have the staff available to fulfill their tasks and surge capacity, making provisions for alternative personnel or a “backbench” to execute everyday operations while the frontlines are busy. Elements of whole-of-government approaches appear throughout all aspects of crisis management. A relatively recent term, whole of government is an expansive framework for coordinating interagency responses that is often invoked in policy documents, as well as examined in academic studies. As it is adopted by various administrations and organizations during times of calm and emergency, the whole-of-government approach has aspects that are enduring, countervailing, and aspirational. The instruments of national power—diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME)—provide one lens through which to examine whole-of-government crisis management. Past interagency responses demonstrate best practices and difficult lessons learned for future whole-of-government operations. A broad analysis of whole-of-government crisis management enables government leaders, practitioners, scholars, researchers, and others to create comprehensive and flexible strategies with delineated roles for dedicated interagency partners in advance of the next hurricane or terrorist attack.

Article

Patrick S. Roberts, Shalini Misra, and Joanne Tang

Digital technologies have fundamentally altered emergency and crisis management work through increased potential for role ambiguity, role conflict, distraction, and overload. Multilevel approaches to improve congruence between crisis managers and their environments have the potential to reduce cognitive and organizational barriers and improve decision making. The future of crisis management lies in reducing the misalignment between personal, proximal, and distal environmental conditions.

Article

Peter Viggo Jakobsen

In war-threatening crises, the contestants face a crucial dilemma: Should they yield to the opponent’s demands to avoid war or risk war to protect their interests? Coercive diplomacy is a holistic “stick-and-carrot” crisis management strategy devised to tackle this dilemma and enable policymakers to resolve crises by means of mutually acceptable compromises short of war. It is in focus here because it integrates the three principal strands of crisis management theory into a single strategy. The first component is coercive. It involves threats to do harm (political, economic, or military) and action that would hurt the adversary in order to influence it to stop/undo its hostile activities. Hurting action may involve political, economic, and military measures, but actual use of force must be limited and serve signaling and influencing purposes only. Its purpose is to bring the opponent to the negotiating table, not to defeat it or render it incapable of continued resistance. The second component is conciliatory and accommodating. It involves the use of positive incentives for compliance with the coercer’s demands. Their purpose is to reduce the cost of compliance and thereby increase the prospects for finding a mutually acceptable solution to the crisis short of war. The third component is the use of assurances to convince the adversary that the coercer will keep three promises: (a) that it will stop hurting the adversary if it complies with the coercer’s demands, (b) that the promised compensation for compliance will be forthcoming, and finally, (c) that compliance will not result in new demands in the future. This combination of coercion and accommodation situates coercive diplomacy in the middle of the crisis management continuum, which has winning at the one end and war avoidance at the other. It also sets coercive diplomacy apart from strategies relying solely on coercion, such as compellence and deterrence, or solely on accommodation and positive inducements, such as appeasement. Coercive diplomacy is a hard-to-use, high-risk strategy with a low success rate—especially with respect to solving crises without any use of force. Success hinges on a favorable context, skillful diplomacy, and psychological factors beyond the coercer’s control. The many factors affecting its successful use and the holistic nature of the strategy involving coercion, positive inducements, and assurances have produced a rich but also fragmented and dichotomous literature, which has been marred by a number of theoretical, methodological, and definitional disputes. Since 2010, a new generation of scholars has taken promising steps to overcome some of these problems using sophisticated mixed-methods research designs. Significant progress can be made if scholars begin to use such designs to better understand how the interaction of coercion, positive inducements, and assurances affects the scope for resolving crises short of war.

Article

Disproportionate policy response—which is composed of two core concepts, namely policy overreaction and under-reaction—is typically understood to be a lack of “fit” or balance between the costs of a public policy and the benefits deriving from this policy and/or between a policy’s ends and means. The disproportionate policy perspective introduces an intentional component into disproportionate response. It represents a conceptual turn whereby the concepts of policy overreaction and under-reaction are reentering the policy lexicon as types of intentional policy responses that are largely undertaken when political executives are vulnerable to voters. In times of crisis, disproportionate policy responses may be intentionally designed, implemented as planned, and sometimes successful in achieving policy goals and in delivering the political benefits sought by the political executives who design them. The premise underlying this argument is that crises vary in many respects, some of which may incentivize a deliberate crisis response by political executives that is either excessive, or lacking. For example, when crises occur at times of electoral vulnerability, the relevancy of policy instruments’ visibility, theatricality, spectacularity, and popularity may dominate the calculus of crisis management decisions. The same applies in cases where strong negative emotions emerge, and subsequently, political executives may opt to overwhelm hysterical populations cognitively and emotionally, trying to convince them that the policy system is viable.