FUNCTIONAL DECISION-MAKING UNDER CRISIS CONDITIONS

                            Matthew W. Seeger
                        ...
FUNCTIONAL DECISION-MAKING UNDER CRISIS CONDITIONS

1     The purpose of this paper is to describe how traditional guideli...
Although some scholars (e.g., Beach, 1997) question the value of having
groups make decisions and see the act of decision-...
Once a group fully understands what matters it needs to resolve, it needs
      to determine the criteria by which it will...
conditions and have a variety of specific and highly salient features.
      These are outlined below

2.1   Definitions: ...
such as loss of life and property, livelihood and institutional stability,
reputation, damage to infrastructure, etc. In a...
evidence exists that even in an extreme disruption many systems
      maintain an internal resilience, flexibility, as wel...
organizations and citizens; (2) organizational decision problems resulting
    from losses of higher echelon personnel bec...
community-based, such that community, governmental agencies at
       various levels, and private organizations are forced...
crisis decision-making that may occur pre-events and suggestions for
      orientation to decisions during a crisis event....
reduced time for decision-making and the high uncertainty of crisis
      contexts, information collection and processing ...
such as planning, have been undertaken. There are ten steps that
represent a progression from the incipient stage to resol...
Possibilities for engaging in this sort of assessment may be restricted by
      the fact that the time between taking act...
6.4.3 Mass Causalities and Damage to Infrastructure – The NCRP suggests
      that a major radiological episode would resu...
References

Barge, J. K. (1994). Leadership: Communication skills for organizations and
groups. New York: St. Martin’s Pre...
Janis, I. L., & Mann, L. (1977). Decision making: A psychological analysis of
conflict, choice, and commitment. New York: ...
Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann
Gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarter...
July 2002
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July 2002

  1. 1. FUNCTIONAL DECISION-MAKING UNDER CRISIS CONDITIONS Matthew W. Seeger Department of Communication Wayne State University Matthew.Seeger@wayne.edu and Dennis S. Gouran Departments of Communication and Labor Studies Penn State University g8v@psu.edu July 2002 Paper presented at the Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services of the National Center for Environmental Health Risk Communication Workshop on Effectively Communicating Protective Actions and Exposure Information During an Incident Involving a Release of Radioactive Material
  2. 2. FUNCTIONAL DECISION-MAKING UNDER CRISIS CONDITIONS 1 The purpose of this paper is to describe how traditional guidelines and principles for effective group decision-making apply to, function, and need to be modified under the conditions of a crisis. Crises create a set of challenging exigencies and constraints that modify the standard context and parameters for effective decision-making. In many instances, these exigencies essentially paralyze traditional decision structures and, in the process, significantly impair strategic crisis response capacities, with the further result, in many cases, of accelerating harm. These exigencies revolve around high levels of crisis related uncertainty, restricted response time limiting information collection and processing capacity, and high levels of perceived threat. In addition, the strained operation of systems during a crisis create adverse influences on decision-making. These include systemic limitations on information collection, problems of coordination and authority structures, and sharp reductions in systemic flexibility and resilience. We suggest four general strategies for improving decisional effectiveness during crisis. These include pre crisis planning and coordination, maintaining a provisional and flexible posture, and increasing information collection and processing capacity. In addition to these strategies, we review Gouran’s (1982) crisis decision system as a guide for enhancing effectiveness. We frame this discussion specifically in terms of the scenario of a radiological episode that includes the possibility of mass causalities (See NCRP Report 138, 2001). This discussion begins with a review of standard functional approaches to crisis decision-making then offers a review of the conditions and exigencies of crisis. 1.1 Functional approaches to decision-making The functional perspective on decision-making in groups has origins that one can trace to work by Benne and Sheats (1948) focusing on the consequences participants’ behavior can have on the performance of groups. All behavior in groups, of course, serves some set of functions. Early work focused on identifying them. Cartwright and Zander (1968) note twenty-six functions reported by various researchers. As the theoretical perspective became more refined, concern shifted to those functions that have positive consequences for the performance of groups. In the context of communication and group decision-making, this concern directed attention to the requirements essential for making high quality, or otherwise appropriate and effective, decisions (Gouran, 1988) and what participants say, as well as do, to assure their fulfillment.
  3. 3. Although some scholars (e.g., Beach, 1997) question the value of having groups make decisions and see the act of decision-making itself as an individual cognitive activity, those who subscribe to the functional perspective operate from the presumption that when the issues to be confronted are complex and information-processing requirements are high, groups can perform decision-making tasks more effectively than individuals (Barge, 1994). Indeed, they may become indispensable in many situations if there are to be any reasonable prospects for the successful completion of decision-making tasks. Moreover, when groups do not surpass the performance of individuals, the failure frequently stems from the very conditions an appropriate understanding of the perspective and related principles leads participants to attempt mitigate, if not eliminate (Janis, 1989) In 1983, Gouran and Hirokawa developed a formal theory of how communication contributes to the satisfaction of critical requirements in the performance of group decision-making tasks. The theory underwent considerable modification in light of the research and scholarly discussion it provoked. The most recent version appeared thirteen years later (see Gouran & Hirokawa, 1996). In its present form, given certain assumptions about the capabilities and motivations of group members, as well as the resources to which they have access and other aspects of the task environment, the theory posits that the likelihood of a decision-making or problem-solving group’s making an appropriate choice is at a maximum when communication functions to assure that five critical requirements are satisfied. These requirements are: (1) showing understanding of the matter(s) to be resolved; (2) determining the characteristics any alternative to be endorsed must exhibit (selecting criteria, in short); (3) identifying relevant alternatives; (4) carefully assessing alternatives in relation to criteria; and (5) selecting the alternative that best satisfies the criteria. These, then, represent a set of activities and a process that enhances the likelihood of effective group decision-making. To elaborate, first, if a group is to make sound choices, the members must frame the matter to be resolved, or that is giving rise to the need for some sort of choice, in a careful and accurate manner (Bazerman, 2002). Failure to do so could prove to be unfortunate. For instance, if a group of managers concerned with a flawed manufacturing process frame the problem as a minor disruption to efficient production, they may fail to recognize the possibility that defective products have been shipped to customers. In this case the risk of serious consumer harm may have been overlook in the initial framing of the problem and the group would have little hope of taking actions that would improve the situation.
  4. 4. Once a group fully understands what matters it needs to resolve, it needs to determine the criteria by which it will screen and evaluate alternatives. Failure to do so can leave the members with no reasonable basis for choice or result in the selection of an initially preferred choice (Janis, 1982). In either set of circumstances, the interests of informed decision- making are not well served. When group members have selected criteria prior to identifying alternatives, it is much less likely that they will apply them selectively than would be the case if the alternatives are already on the table. Following the selection of appropriate criteria, decision makers should next generate as realistic and complete a set of alternatives as possible to maximize the chances that the best choice is among those to be considered (Janis & Mann, 1977; Osborn, 1957). In doing this, groups could become a little overly “creative” in their thinking, but excess seems to be preferable to deficiency in this context. When the members of a decision-making or problem-solving group have identified as realistic and reasonably comprehensive set of alternatives as they can, their efforts will be for naught if they do not evaluate each rigorously as they are able in respect to the criteria they have previously adopted. At the very least, choosing under conditions in which such application of criteria has not occurred will seriously limit the probability of making an optimum decision. It would also appear to be irrational (Gouran, 1982). If a group had done its job well in fulfilling the first four requirements, the final one should be easy to satisfy. The members endorse the alternative that best meets the criteria. Although each of the requirements discussed above differs qualitatively from the other four, the role of communication remains remarkably stable. It is to assure that group members are giving the amount and type of attention necessary to be confident that they are justified in moving forward in the choice-making process. Functional theory ostensibly applies to different types of questions (fact, conjecture, value, and policy) and most situations in which members of groups are making consequential choices. The existence, or perception of a crisis, however, introduces some additional considerations. This becomes evident later in the analysis as we begin to review the essential aspects of Gouran’s (1982) model of crisis decision-making and discuss other matters germane to the context of a mass radiological crisis in particular. 2.0 Crises and disasters represent a set of non-routine
  5. 5. conditions and have a variety of specific and highly salient features. These are outlined below 2.1 Definitions: A variety of definitions and frameworks have been proposed for the concepts of crisis and disaster. While these definitions generally share a number of central features, they vary widely in terms of the locus and assumed level of impact. In general, however, these views support the contention of Billings, Thomas, and Scaalman (1980) and Gouran (1982) that crisis is to some extent a matter of perception, influenced by such factors as personal experience, framing, culture, and individual tolerance. In fact, a number of observers have suggested that recognition of an event as a crisis is a critical function of crisis management and decision- making (Seeger, Sellnow, & Ulmer, 1998; Billings, Thomas, & Scaalman, 1980). This is not a trivial matter given that recognition of an event or situation as a crisis would be necessary in order to be aware of decisional constraints and would be part of the initial framing of the decision. In a number of cases, those participants who first observe an unfolding disaster must persuade others that the event is actually occurring and that it is sufficiently severe to warrant immediate action. Widespread consensus that an event is a crisis is usually necessary for coordinated action. In some of these cases, critical response time is lost. Moreover, understanding of the basic nature of the event is critical to effective response. While the mass casualty radiological event that is the primary focus of this discussion would most likely be characterized by immediate recognition as a crisis, other scenarios are more subtle. In these cases, recognition of an event as a crisis or as a disaster would likely occur more incrementally. 2.1.1 Among the most widely used and influential conceptualizations of crisis is Hermann’s (1963) model. Working with adverse international events, Herman proposed three conditions for a crisis: “(1) threatens high priority values or the organization goals, (2) presents a restricted amount of time in which a decision can be made, and (3) is unexpected or unanticipated by the organization” (p. 64). Threat generally is seen as the anticipation that a high priority goal or value is jeopardized by the developing situation. A component universal to crisis is this perception of threat arising from an extreme discrepancy between desired and existing states (Billings et al., 1980, p. 306). The severity of the perceived threat is generally related to the nature of the goals and the probability of loss (Billings et al., 1980). In general, the higher the perceived value of the goal and the greater the perceived probability of the loss, the greater the perception of threat. In general, crises and disasters are associated with high levels of perceived threat
  6. 6. such as loss of life and property, livelihood and institutional stability, reputation, damage to infrastructure, etc. In addition, personalized losses, such as threats to friends, family, psychological security and personal property also affect the sense of threat and the perceived severity of the crisis (Seeger, Venette, Ulmer, & Sellnow, in press). The condition of short or restricted response time is Hermann’s (1962) second major condition of crisis. Crisis creates a compression of the time interval between antecedent conditions and the onset of harm requiring immediate response even when the conditions themselves preclude systematic analysis. Gouran (1982) notes that this time compression serves to “blur the distinctions among alternative courses of actions and constrains a group’s ability to compare their strengths and weaknesses . . .” (p. 176). Strategic decisions and responses are often critical in reducing, offsetting, and containing threat and harm. Decision- makers usually must respond immediately with inadequate information about the current situation, about cause and consequences of the crisis, with inadequate resources to collect and process information and inadequate resources to offset the harm (Sellnow & Ulmer, 1995). Time compression is one of the most salient factors in crisis decision-making because it so limits the ability of decision-makers to collect and analyze information. Gouran (1982) notes that when faced with severe time pressure, some individuals respond with a kind of decisional paralysis and are simply unable to make choices. This extreme indecisiveness in the faces of crisis, however, appears to be rare. Organizational decision-makers are almost universally surprised and caught off guard by a crisis, even when crisis planning has occurred and risks are known. Surprise, then, is a consequence of suddenly confronting an unanticipated and unfamiliar circumstance, seen as both unlikely and highly threatening. Crisis theorists often observe that humans are creatures of routine and habit and operate on the expectation that things will continue pretty much as they have in the past. A crisis is by definition non-routine and outside familiar, predictable patterns of day- to-day life (Billings, Thomas, & Schaalman, 1980; Gouran, Hirokawa, & Martz, 1986) as well as dramatically inconsistent with established beliefs and norms regarding risk (Turner, 1976). One defining characteristic of crisis is this fundamental challenging of basic assumptions about risk. This need to examine, reassess and defend core beliefs in light of the disaster often shakes accepted guidelines and frameworks for action. Decision-makers, then, must confront the crisis and, in so doing, a novel, non-routine decisional context. This involves unanticipated sources of uncertainty replete with confusing and incomplete messages and participants who may not share their basic values and assumptions (Weick, 1988). Additionally, during crises, systems are stressed and routines are disrupted, such that they often do not operate as expected. While some
  7. 7. evidence exists that even in an extreme disruption many systems maintain an internal resilience, flexibility, as well as mitigation capacity, it is nonetheless difficult to predict how systems will function during crisis. The surprising nature of crisis, then, concerns the comparatively high levels of uncertainty these events produce. Fundamental questions about what is happening, why, what are the consequences, and what can be done in response immediately assert themselves. Moreover, the decisional systems have usually been shocked by a dramatic inconsistency between expectations regarding normal operation and the emerging reality of the disaster. This may account in part for the occasional paralysis of decision-makers in crisis situations (Gouran, 1982, p. 176; Weick, 1996) 2.1.2 A second conceptualization of crisis is represented by the work of Weick (1988). He suggests that crises are “low probability/high consequence events that threaten the most fundamental goals of the organization. Because of their low probability, these events defy interpretations and impose severe demands on sensemaking” (p. 305). This view emphasizes the largely novel nature of crisis, the collapse of routines, familiar and predictive structures, and relationships during a crisis or disaster. Basic expectations, beliefs, and sensemaking devices regarding how the world should work, what should happen, no longer hold. Crisis is often described as turning the world upside down. This collapse in sensemaking is distinct, however, from panic responses. In fact, disaster research suggests that few individuals actually experience panic, not to mention exhibit, responses in a crisis. Rather, loss of sensemaking is a form of severe confusion, disorientation, or shock that occurs in response to an entirely novel experience. Once those experiencing the crisis have oriented themselves with a basic understanding or restructuring of the context they appear able to act logically and in appropriate ways (See Quarentelli, 1988; Comfort, Sung, Johnson, & Dunn, 2001) Like Hermann (1963), Weick (1988) sees crisis as creating a basic need for information, communication, structure, actions and related processes to reconstitute a basic understanding or interpretation of the situation. Once such an understanding occurs, members may begin to act to mitigate the harm (Sellnow, Seeger, & Ulmer, in press). This collapse in sensemaking, at least during the interval immediately following a crisis, must be considered as a likely outcome particularly with highly threatening and novel events. 2.1.3 The noted disaster researcher E. L. Quarantelli (1978; 1989) has synthesized three specific sets of problems associated with crisis responses. These include: “(1) Information flow problems in the communication processes within and between organizations, to and from
  8. 8. organizations and citizens; (2) organizational decision problems resulting from losses of higher echelon personnel because of workload, conflict regarding authority over new disaster tasks, and confusion over jurisdictional responsibilities; and (3) problems in interorganizational coordination that results from a lack of consensus about what constitutes coordination, strained relationships created by new disaster tasks and the magnitude of the disaster impact” (p. 6). Information and communication problems develop as an intense need for information intersects with inadequate and often diminished capacity to process and disseminate information. As Hermann (1963) and Weick (1988,1993) both note, crisis creates high levels of uncertainty and, concomitantly, creates increased needs for information. Such information allows decision-makers, as well as others, to structure initial harm mitigating responses and helps participants reduce confusion and disorientation and, thereby, be better able to act appropriately. One study following the events of September 11, 2001 revealed that, on average, individuals reported spending 8.34 hours within the first day collecting related information (Seeger et al., in press). Information and communication are also critical to initial coordination between agencies and organizations. In the case above, confounding factors in the evacuation of the World Trade Center were the incompatible communications technologies used by various agencies. Quarantelli (1989) also notes that the established decision structures are often significantly disrupted by the disaster, particularly in the absence of pre-set authority relationships such as formal Incident Command structures. Disruptions in authority and decisional structures are associated with a variety of factors. These include: losses of senior managers due to the event itself, the workload, or distractions; conflict over who has operational control and authority for various disaster tasks; and confusion over jurisdictions, reporting relationships, conflicting priorities, and budgetary concerns. Such confusion often significantly slows responses as organizations and agencies that may not have interacted before negotiate the parameters of decisional authority. Other investigators have described a kind of contraction and reduction of authority systems during crisis sometimes associated with questions of cause and blame or with a need to focus on the crisis to the exclusion of all else (Seeger, 1986). Contraction of authority has created conditions in which decision-makers are sometimes cut off from critical sources of information at the very moment information is requisite to appropriate action. Such contraction may occur despite the fact that authority structures, even more authoritarian styles of leadership, are often required in a crisis or disaster context. A A third set of defining problems in crisis response involves interorganizational coordination. Crisis events, by definition, are
  9. 9. community-based, such that community, governmental agencies at various levels, and private organizations are forced to cooperate in their management (Kreps, 1984, p. 312). An incident may require that agencies interact for the first time, may make new issues and audiences salient, or may exacerbate existing rivalries between agencies. Moreover, the relationship between various groups and agencies is often strained by the event itself. 3.0 These conceptualizations of crisis suggest a set of likely disaster induced influences and constraints on crisis decision-making. These are described below. 3.1 Restricted time for collection and evaluation of information – Crises significantly limit the available time decision-makers have for collecting, processing, evaluating, discussing, and interpreting information. In some cases, decision-makers may believe that they have even less time to respond than the situation actually dictates. In some extreme cases, restricted response time creates a kind decisional paralysis. 3High uncertainty - The novelty of a crisis situation, the abnormal state of affairs, loss of sensemaking, the loss of basic assumptions, the lack of clear authority relationships, among other factors, creates a high uncertainty condition for decision-makers. Moreover, information deficiency, as a consequence of restricted time, may significantly compound the condition of high uncertainty. 3.3 Threat – The decisions made under crisis condition are often perceived to be high consequence decisions given that high priority goals are perceived to be in jeopardy. Such threat enhances the level of decision- maker stress and may contribute to maladaptive responses such as indecision. 3.4 Restricted resources for information collection – Disasters typically disrupt established methods for collecting and disseminating information. This includes loss and distraction of personnel, disruptions in established channels of communication, and loss of specific resources, such as records, computers, and facilities. 3.5 Issues of authority and coordination – Crises, by precipitating a new set of tasks and by stressing systems, usually create confusion concerning authority relationships and associated problems of interagency coordination. This is particularly evident when agencies do not have pre- crisis relationships and where authority for a likely crisis has not previously been determined. 4.0 General guidelines for crisis decision-making - We suggest four general strategies or stances for improving decisional effectiveness during crisis. These strategies concern both preparation for
  10. 10. crisis decision-making that may occur pre-events and suggestions for orientation to decisions during a crisis event. 4.1 Planning: Presetting decision criteria; Prioritizing; Determining basic contingent responses; Establishing incident command structures and authority relationships – Crisis planning is an almost universal recommendation for successful crisis management (Quarantelli, 1978, 1989; NCRP, 2001). While crisis planning is beyond the scope of this paper, several planning principles have particular relevance to crisis decision-making. First, crisis planning can facilitate undertaking some kinds of decision-making without the time constraint of an actual event. By pre-setting some decisions, valuable time can be used for event-specific decisions. Second, basic decision criteria can be established pre-event. This may similarly streamline decision-making during a crisis. Third, prioritizing during planning may help decision-makers determine which issues are of principal concern. Fourth, planning usually includes clarification of authority relationships, incident command strictures, as well as specific crisis responsibilities. It is also possible to insure that appropriate expertise and resources are available for responding to an event. Planning is most often undertaken by a crisis management team or incident command group, which also usually functions as the principal decision group during a crisis. This structure has the added advantage of establishing working relationships and patterns before any crisis event actually occurs. 4.2 Pre-crisis coordination: Familiarity with agencies; Pre-event relationships and coordinating structures - In addition to planning its is also possible to improve the likelihood of effective crisis decision-making by establishing functional relationships with those agencies and groups that may be involved in any event. This strategy serves to reduce uncertainty by enhancing interagency familiarity, which, in turn, enhances coordination, and may provide additional channels for communication and information during an actual event. 4.3 Provisionalism: Maintaining flexibility in light of the dynamic crisis situation – Crisis involves a dynamic set of circumstances that are outside established predictable routines. Decisional responses, to the degree possible, should seek to maintain flexibility in light of what is often an evolving situation. Once decisions have been made, their efficacy should also be assessed as the situation changes. In addition decision-makers should focus on developing and maintaining sets of contingent responses that can accommodate changes. 4.4 Information collecting, processing, communication capacity: Enhancing the ability of the decision system to monitor the dynamic situation; To collect information; To critically evaluate that information – Given the
  11. 11. reduced time for decision-making and the high uncertainty of crisis contexts, information collection and processing capacity become critical. This capacity can be strategically enhanced in both pre-crisis and crisis contexts. This may involve protecting and insuring critical sources of information, insuring adequate channels of information during a crisis, and maintaining diverse participation in decision-making so that a variety of perspectives are available for the critique of both information and alternatives. In addition, decision-makers should maintain an awareness of how much time is available for improving the information base. Enhanced information collection is also relevant to risk recognition. Although a detailed examination of risk monitoring and warning messages is beyond the scope of this discussion, it does appear that most crisis events include some form of warning, albeit often subtle and frequently in a form that does not reach appropriate decision-makers. 5.0 Gouran’s (1982) model of crisis decision-making: To address crisis situations effectively, Gouran (1982) has proposed a model that reflects the circumstances discussed above that complicate the decision-making process. On the whole, the model is highly congruent with the general approach to group decision-making embodied in the description of Gouran and Hirokawa’s (1996) most recent version of the Functional Theory of Communication in Decision-Making and Problem- Solving Groups. The model, in visual form, appears below (See appendix A). The model begins with recognition that decision-makers either perceive or do not perceive the signs of an impending crisis. If they do, then they presumably will take preventive actions. The preventive action can either be (or appear to be) effective or ineffective. If it is or appears to be effective, then decision makers should assess why the actions taken seem to have worked, whether or not chance factors were operative, and whether or not they may simply have misread the signs in the first place. If preventive actions are not successful, as with a failure by decision- makers to perceive signs initially, the onset of a crisis is apt to follow. Whatever the cause of the onset of the crisis, decision-makers will have moved from a stance of crisis prevention to crisis management. Responses to crises, the model suggests, are either maladaptive or adaptive. Maladaptive responses are likely to take the form of inaction or reflexive action, neither of which has much chance of producing a favorable disposition of the crisis. In some cases, however, reflexive actions can provide an initial structuring of the event allowing for more substantive subsequent analysis and adaptive responses. Those schooled in crisis management are generally more apt to make adaptive responses. This is particularly the case if pre-crisis activities,
  12. 12. such as planning, have been undertaken. There are ten steps that represent a progression from the incipient stage to resolution (or at least an acceptable degree of management). The first four steps involve attempting to assess the questions that have to be addressed and answered by the decision-makers contending with a crisis. Next comes enumeration of possible answers. Third in sequence is the determination of what the decision makers presently know that will help them answer the questions and what else they need to know. Pursuant to this assessment, they will have to calculate the time they have for improving their information base. It is at this point that the decision-makers can move in one of two directions. If the assessment is that time is insufficient to become better informed, those involved in the management of a crisis will have to rank options they have identified in terms of apparent risk and then select the one with the lowest perceived risk. That choice will either result in containment or failure. Containment, in this case, usually means a reduction of harm, a limitation on further escalation of the event, or, in rare instances, actual resolution of the crisis. Failure, in contrast, usually results when harm continues to accrue or in some cases, where it actually escalates as a consequence of the decision. In either event, the decision-makers need to take time to assess what has occurred and consider further possible action. This need obviously would be considerably more urgent in an instance of unsuccessful management of the crisis or outright failure. In the event that decision makers addressing a crisis determine that they have more time to acquire information before acting, they should proceed to do so and to take as much time as conditions permit. They should utilize that information to consider the probable consequences of the alternatives, select the most promising one in terms of potential for successful management of the crisis, form contingency plans, float a trial balloon to an appropriate audience, reconsider the initial choice, and implement the final choice. It should be noted that efforts to enhance the information-processing capacity of decisional systems pre-crisis, as well as maintaining a stance of openness to new information and perspectives during a crisis, are particularly important. Additionally, floating trial balloons and developing contingency plans may help maintain decisional provisionalism. Following implementation, as at other action points in the model, the outcome will be as desired or fall short of aspirations. In either case, assessment again is the order of the day. Should the crisis be successfully managed, it would help to have a firm grasp of the reasons why. Similarly, should the action taken prove to be unsatisfactory, the parties to the decision should be interested in determining where they went wrong and, thereby, prepare themselves to avoid such difficulties on future occasions.
  13. 13. Possibilities for engaging in this sort of assessment may be restricted by the fact that the time between taking action and acquiring feedback is often not conducive to immediate assessment. This is particularly true when the reasons for the crisis may not be evident. Nonetheless, whenever possible, post-event assessment can be of considerable value and is strongly recommended. Gouran’s model provides a general framework for how to proceed under conditions in which a crisis appears to be imminent and how to respond should the crisis reach the point of onset. Each crisis, or type of crisis, however, has unique features that place decision-makers under additional constraints. The possibility of a mass radiological disaster is no exception. Hence, in the following sections of this document, we examine what appear to be further considerations that decision-makers involved would be well advised to be prepared to address 6.0 A number of additional contingencies and considerations are also proposed for decision-making during a radiological episode. 6.1 Need for Expert Knowledge - Given the nature of a radiological event, specialized knowledge, equipment, and expertise would be necessary for effective decision-making. Some of this expertise might be identified in pre-crisis planning and in coordination with other groups and agencies. 6.2 Pubic Perceptions and Fears – Radiological episodes can be expected to engender very high levels of fear among the public. Such fear may result in especially high levels of maladaptive responses on the part of the public. Effective decision-making during a crisis of this sort should consider public perceptions as one set of contingent issues. 6.3 Additional Threats – It is likely that heightened levels of concern regarding additional events would accompany a radiological episode. Decision- makers should be award of both this possibility and of public perceptions of this possibility as a decisional issue. 6.4 The National Council on Radiological Protection and Measurements (NCRP) has identified five additional confounding factors for a terrorist event involving radiological materials. These are described below: 6.4.1 Law Enforcement - A radiological episode that is also a crime can be expected to complicate decision-making by making creating issues of evidence and by making the dissemination of information more sensitive. 6.4.2 Public Health and Safety – A radiological episode, depending on the nature of the event, could create both immediate and long-term public heath concerns. Consequently, close coordination would be required with both the medical and public heath communities.
  14. 14. 6.4.3 Mass Causalities and Damage to Infrastructure – The NCRP suggests that a major radiological episode would result in chaos. They suggest that an event would likely overwhelm medical facilities, disrupt communications, damage infrastructure, and disrupt transportation significantly complicating decision-making. 6.4.4 Psychological Impacts - NCRP (2001) notes that “radiation incidents have a powerful potential to create fear and dread” (p. 9). As a consequence, one of the principal challenges for decision-makers is to develop a communication strategy that effectively addresses these concerns. 6.4.5 Environmental Concerns – Issues of contamination, disposal of materials, monitoring of impact, site restoration, as well as other environmental concerns, will also complicate decision-making. 7.0 Conclusions: Crises and disasters of various types appear to be increasingly more frequent. Moreover, the conditions of crisis create significant challenges as decision-makers seek to remain vigilant in the pursuit of effective responses. In a number of cases, crises have been avoided by effective decision-making. In other instances, post crisis decision-making and management have been highly effective in reducing harm and mitigating the negative impact of the event. Although there is no way of assuring that a crisis can be successfully managed, if not prevented, enough is presently known that those involved can take meaningful action in responding to crises, imminent and incipient, with reasonable prospects of succeeding.
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