FUNCTIONAL DECISION-MAKING UNDER CRISIS CONDITIONS
Matthew W. Seeger
Department of Communication
Wayne State University
Dennis S. Gouran
Departments of Communication and Labor Studies
Penn State University
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
2.0 Crises and disasters represent a set of non-routine
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
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
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
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
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
Additionally, during crises, systems are stressed and routines are
disrupted, such that they often do not operate as expected. While some
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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