Organizing First Responders' Crisis Response: Facilitating or Limitating?

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Helge RENA, Department of Administration and Organization theory, University of Bergen, Norway
An obvious advantage of organizational routines is efficiency. Routines give instructions on how similar type of stimuli should be treated in terms of behavioural strategies and how the different actors (individual or group) in the organization should communicate and interact. But what about hands-off situations like a crisis, events characterised by low probability and high consequences? Then the stimulus is of a kind that not has been experienced repeatedly in the past, thus, a situation where organizational design and routines do not necessarily fit.

Theoretically this paper is interested in how organizational and individual features interplay in times of crises, more specifically: non-routine behaviour and coordination. In particular, we are interested in how they function on the local level in times of crisis, and ask: How does organizational design and routines affect crisis coordination and crisis response of first responders at the local level, and why?

Drawing on new-institutional theory, sense-making literature and recent theoretical developments on organizational routines we develop a theoretical framework for understanding and explaining organizational behaviour in crisis situations. Subsequently we examine how the police, pre-hospital emergency care services and civilians responded once alerted about the shooting massacre at the island Utøya in Norway in 2011. There is a vast data material (logs, transcripts of line communication, GPS data, interviews) describing in detail what happened. The paper draws on this data, plus additional interviews and document studies. Preliminary findings show that the response of the professional first responders (police and pre-hospital emergency) were routine-following, but significant variation in how. Some responded reactively (blindly following the routine), others responded proactively (deviating from the routine). The civilian response, a spontaneous self-organised rescue operation, worked effectively. We conclude the findings suggest a need to adjust our understanding of how organizational design (central-local) and routines function in crisis situations.