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G.B. Reschenthaler & Fred Thompson

* Emergency and crisis management functions are likely to be seen by most organizational members and certainly by the public with a relatively high degree of dread accompanied by serious legislative and public attention deficit disorder. This has important implications for how public discourse is shaped and evolves.

These background factors color all attempts to develop both confident, well exercised emergency management capacities, and the less familiar institutional processes of  “crisis management”.  In the first instance, a good deal of emergency management (EM) involves working out the processes to identify the on-set of recognized operational deviations, nurturing highly reliable organizational responses to these, and establishing damage control actions and means to limit organizational liability for unavoidable disruption.  

Another EM dynamic of particular salience here is the tendency for overseers to press emergency managers to add areas of monitoring and response (often initially made evident in a crisis) where “loss of control” become seen as posing serious risk and damage to agency operations, mission accomplishment and fitness for the future.

And, as formal demands grow for responding more effectively to crisis, these conditions also  affect the dynamics (within and between organizations) of developing capacities to respond to dangerous, uncertain hazards, and, recently, destructive predator intent.  

Another key lesson learned from experiencing crisis is that institutions are confronted with such ambiguity and the “fog of technologies gone opaque” that responses this side of chaos require:

-- highly flexible capacity to recombine, unexpected organizational capabilities to address novel, essentially previously unknowable challenges, and often

-- seeking out lessons that allow new domain to be included in emergency management processes.4

Perhaps the most interesting insight from these experiences is that crises are (perhaps by definition)  novel, surprising developments for the affected institutions and are intrinsically difficult to absorb in the context normal operations, especially for large, complex (technically oriented) organizations.   The implication is profound.  Learning will be mostly on basis of the inductive experience of failures in the face of past, “surprise response management” for there can be little credible deductive basis for future oriented, proactive preparation.  

Further, crises vary markedly in the characteristics that could confront institutions in developing capacities for confident responds to these worrisome surprises.  But the situation remains that success, so to say, will rest on understanding the institutional conditions that maintain the capacity to recombine capabilities in the face of unpredictable, potentially dire circumstances, i.e., rude surprise.

4 An example, is the realization that a major post-emergency responsibility is the provision of mental health services to the affected communities.

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