CRISISOLOGY: Beyond Crisis & Prevention Management
By Vernon Rupert Grant
The purpose of this article/commentary is to help create actionable interest among crisis professionals, and others, who could assist in bringing into clearer focus, the rapidly growing body of knowledge in the field of Crisis & Prevention Management (CPM).** This effort should help establish the viable and worthwhile discipline of Crisisology.
Although this article/commentary, in part, reflects a business and organizational bent, the relevancy of the subject matter extends to fields of interests that have traditionally embraced the study of various crisis issues.
The world still waits for the field of crisis management to be elevated to the professional/academic level of a discipline. For too long, crisis management professionals have been slow in adopting a new discipline that could significantly re-position all aspects of the crisis industry. The time has come for those professionals to step up and take action in making Crisisology an accepted discipline. The future is inevitable and thus it will not wait. Its promise will allow us to grow, and the suitability of Crisisology will also allow us to move forward with certitude. This challenge, if heeded, could result in the greatest benefit the industry has ever seen – a resulting cohesiveness. Cohesion is desperately needed among the different segments of, crisis management, emergency management, disaster management, and a complex litany of related issues.
The focus on Crisisology as a discipline, ought to allow for the sustenance of growth in the area of Crisis & Prevention Management (CPM).** CPM contemplates that all literature and courses in the field having references to: crisis management; crisis prevention management; emergency management; disaster management; recovery/continuity management; and other variations thereof; are all either the same, or parts of the same subject. As such, these management variations should not only be examined via a single constructive confab, but must also be practiced under the aegis of one discipline. This would certainly encourage the advancement of a comprehensively seamless and well focused body of knowledge and ‘best practices’ for frontline practitioners, theoreticians, researchers, academicians, and pundits alike.
An overarching expectation of purpose will allow us to understand that we must peripherally explore the following six areas:- (1) a working definition of Crisisology; (2) the meaning of crisis, especially in the context of this writing; (3) an overview of the wider problem relating to Crisisology—covering several areas of concern; (4) why CPM – the pivotal force behind Crisisology – should be adopted as introduced; (5) a commentary regarding Problemology and avoidable crises/prevention management; and finally, (6) a summary: pulling it all together for a critical look into the future.
Crisisology: A Working Definition
Crisisology, as presented in this writing, is the rigorous and well organized micro-periscopic study of differing permutations relating to, and guided by, an established set of comprehensive tenets, drawn from a diverse mix of practices connected to crisis, emergency, and disaster issues and their dynamic processes. Any individual who is (or has been) professionally committed to the study or practice of Crisisology, and who further has a record of accomplishment in the field, would be considered a
Crisis: A Defining Relevancy
The definition of a crisis, for the purpose of this writing, is an event that requires immediate intervention, in order to stem the tide of chaos and disruption, which could result in irreversible damage, uncontrollable expense, or even the loss of life, if it is not handled with care, sensitivity, and common sense, with a view towards the preservation of health, livelihood, and the welfare of people, organizations, institutions, and infrastructures.
Overview of the Problem
There is an urgent need to institutionalize a persuasive set of comprehensive guiding principles in the field of crisis management. These principles would help redirect the daily practice and intellectual discourse of an overlapping, and repetitive sea of crisis, emergency, and disaster management issues and information. A sovereign nation’s Constitution governs its people by being a roadmap for interpretation and debate. Similarly, Crisisology's governing principles should guide us safely through the grueling expanse of crisis issues. With their numerous classifications and major principles, the disciplines of psychology and biology, for example, have withstood the test of time since their creation. Resultingly, those disciplines have served society quite well. Before we can set in motion the combined guiding force of Crisisology, crisis professionals need to pause and reassess what has been produced so far by way of Crisisological Studies (CS). # # (Crisisological Studies, where mentioned in this work, shall mean all the variables dealing with, crisis, emergency, and disaster issues.)
Agreeably, there have been a number of wide-ranging unfathomable crises that have taken place around the world in recent times. We have seen a rise in unimaginable types of terrorist activities on a global scale. There is also the fear on some people’s part that global warming will only intensify and cause increasingly devastating natural disasters. Accordingly, our senses must be heightened in how we urgently address these events and their accompanying issues. Shouldn't we then embrace the establishment of Crisisology, which has the potential to create a unifying perspective on how we understand and successfully handle those different horrific events? As eclectic as those occurrences may be, and as varied as our analyses may be of them, the common thread among them is the fact that they are all crises.
Further, it is evident that the voluminous nature of all the crises and related information that exists, also gives credence as to why we should turn our attention to the official recognition of Crisisology as a new discipline. The establishment of Crisisology will not only give vigor to the emergence of new guiding principles, but will also pull together a wide assortment of specialty areas as well. Those principles, without question, should have the capacity for sustained legitimacy over time. In conjunction with those requirements, we have a growing need to solve rare but complex problems in any area of life. Again, the establishment of Crisisology, as a discipline, should also help in addressing that pressing need.
The landscape of crisis, emergency, and disaster information is not only vast, but also relatively loose. As of now, there are no alluring processes that would successfully tie the diverse range of crisis and related issues together. The landscape encompasses multiple sub-specialties within the areas of: prevention management; preparedness/contingency planning; response/eruption management; and recovery/restoration/aftermath management. In spite of a wide coverage of information, no extraordinarily bold or excitingly new and understandable concepts have emerged in recent years. If such concepts existed, they would help create a new vision for the field. Some of the crisis information that exists seems to be a mere repeat (sometimes with a new spin) of the same disconnected and familiar material we hear and read on a regular basis. Some studies that have been published are indeed scholarly. However, they are hardly being translated into practical terms by organizations in general—including institutions of higher learning. The obvious purpose for translation of such seminal work is for the practical application of new ideas on the frontlines.
Many books, research papers, articles, and other good works have been published in the area of Crisisological Studies (CS). However, we continue to look forward to the production of interestingly riveting and translatable intellectual product. Such material should have the effect of galvanizing those who are dedicated to the aggressive advancement of generally effective knowledge in the field. The parallax view could easily be adopted in terms of how we create principles, theories, or concepts in the areas of “crisis management” and “crisis prevention.” A good place to start is with the creation of a fulfilling urgency to explore new imperatives, as well as new and compelling components relating to Crisisology.
Among the growing number of colleges and universities that offer crisis management and related programs, not many have offerings close to be being comprehensively innovative. Most of the programs that are offered, come under a hodgepodge labeling of crisis, emergency, and disaster management, or some combination thereof. Such programs would include (although not limited to) specialties relating to: Prevention Management; Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity Management; Counter-terrorism Planning & Management – including Hostage Crisis Negotiation; Health and Environmental Emergency Management; and Contingency Planning. Those who are interested in exploring colleges and universities that provide training programs in “Crisis and Emergency Management” should consult the U S, FEMA Emergency Management Institute’s –The College List at, www.training.fema.gov/EMIweb/edu/collegelist. An additional listing of U S schools may be obtained from: the Emergency Management Institute,
Most business schools generally do not incorporate crisis management courses in their curricula. Those schools that are innovative and forward thinking, could offer Crisis & Prevention Management as a likely concentration within their programs. However, the problem could be finding the right professors to teach those courses. Junior management talent coming out of various business schools and entering the workforce, still seems ill-equipped to deal with complex problems. What’s worse is when those problems turn into crises. Many senior executives are also ineffective in addressing crisis issues. When daily activities are calm they show an air of confidence, as they should, but when the chips are down these executives unfortunately freeze. When they have adequately recovered from the momentary thundering of reality, their approach once again is to handle these matters on a hit and miss basis. This ‘by the seat of the pants’ practice, occurs even though many of these executives sit on meager contingency plans that are sometimes never used. These folks certainly need to be retrained.
If we draw particular attention to how the words crisis and emergency have been used in the “industry,” we see an interesting dimension to the scope of our problem. These two words are often used interchangeably as a matter of habit, preference or confused interpretation. Could this practice cause confusion of understanding especially among new frontline managers? You bet it could, and it often has caused such confusion. For the sake of novice practitioners (as well as the need to look at the larger scheme of solving problems) we must settle on what these terms “truly” mean. It is not good enough for us to pontificate about what we think these two words mean, or worse yet, what we want them to mean at any given moment. Should we draw solid distinctions between the two, or should we blur the line between them? Either way, these terms should come together as part of one discipline. Compounding the acute progression of confusion is the thought of what crisis or emergency means in the area of infrastructure/organizational disaster, versus human/personal tragedy. Any further discussion of this issue here could become quite lengthy. Nonetheless, it deserves further examination, at some later point, via additional discussion on the subject of Crisisology. Raising the matter at this juncture however, gives us food for thought.
Many crisis-oriented professionals are performing important work on the frontlines on a daily basis. Such work include: first-responder logistical planning; first-responder/victims’ trauma response; general life-stress mitigation; personal-loss trauma management; and nonprofit/government disaster planning, response and recovery. Also included in such frontline work are: business and organizational risk assessment; prevention; and disruption/continuity management. Many of these noble professionals have historically referred to “crisis prevention” within the shadow of “crisis management.” For long enough, the concept of “prevention” was under-emphasized. Evolving discussions and research were commonly centered on how best to respond to, and recover from crises. It is only in recent times, that detached emphases have been placed on “crisis prevention management” as a meaningful specialty. As a result, it has spawned a life of its own.
“Crisis prevention” seems hardly a subject that should fall outside the traditional domain of “crisis management.” "Crisis prevention" should thus enjoy a preeminent position within any reference to the coinage of Crisis Management (CM). Significant emphasis on “crisis prevention” will eventually reduce any involvement in “response” and “recovery” of the vast amount of avoidable crises. Today, every High Impact Organization (HIO) has some kind of contingency plan set up to be part of a process they continue to casually call, “crisis/emergency management.” Why shouldn’t we appropriately refer to this significant process as, Crisis & Prevention Management (CPM)? ** Naturally, CPM inevitably becomes the cornerstone of Crisisology.
Problemology and Avoidable Crises:Complexities
Before proceeding with a discussion of this sub-topic, the curiosity factor would naturally lead one to inquire about the meaning of Problemology. Problemology may be considered either as a “classification” or a “field” within the discipline of Crisisology. As a sub-category of Crisisology, Problemology in this context is the study of problems specifically for the purpose of determining their: origin; type; life expectancy; effects; severity; crisis linkage probability; and actionable status. This process is generally expected to help generate a pool of solution-based options for reducing the frequency of problems, and, ultimately promote Crisis Avoidance (CA).
It will not be possible to enter into an expanded discussion here regarding the subject of Problemology. However, a few additional comments on the subject may be in order. Problems in and of themselves are not crises, but the former can certainly lead to the latter. Therefore, when a crisis is in play, it carries with it an entire host of problems. In a pre-crisis setting, we need to inject Problemology into our operational configuration, and solve those problems and concerns quickly. During a raging crisis, however, one does not have the luxury of time. In such an instance, it may not be possible to undertake Problemological analyses in order to solve the swirling problems. Those problems must be exigently categorized and isolated during the crisis so that short-term crisis-response solutions may be applied. Once the crisis is over, a thorough post-crisis examination or Problemological inquiry must be initiated, and longer term solutions implemented.
The use of technology to bridge cultures, solve problems, and bring about crises resolution and prevention, has been a well established fact. The internet’s ubiquitous nature and the emergence of advanced technologies and globalization as a whole, has allowed geographical borders, political boundaries and personal prerogatives to become virtually extinct. Consequently, all of us should now see our problems in more common terms. We are often faced with the unfortunate reality of dealing with either natural or manmade disaster; interpersonal or regional political conflict; organizational, business, or personal tragedy. The nature of these crises, coupled with their obligatory philosophies, cry out for us to find common ground in solving problems. If we have sufficiently considered all we’ve learned, it would not be difficult then to understand that Crisisology should be the professional catalyst to help us find commonality. Clearly, crisis issues have consistently cut across geographical, political, and industry lines; and regularly engulfs every occupation, as well as every discipline. No individual or entity is immune. Thus, any crisis could be aptly termed, an Equal Opportunity Nightmare (EON).
If we agree that problems permeate our daily lives, then we must also agree that we will inevitably react to valve off such pressures by whatever means possible. One school of thought advocates that leaving some problems unresolved will automatically cause them to disappear. But what are the universal or convincing principles we use that would allow us to decide which problems to act upon, and which ones to ignore? Regrettably, too many individuals and organizations suspend handling manageable problems, while others completely ignore the existence of more difficult ones. (Procrastinitist anyone?) In essence, the need to engage in diagnoses to determine the origin of problems, often escapes the sensibleness of organizations and individuals alike. This disturbing and never-ending cycle, leads us to the belief that we never seem to learn from our mistakes.
More often than not, a persistent and thus annoying problem that is not addressed today, is often percolating, and will become the precursor of a crisis tomorrow. One could also say that it is best to take care of important matters today, before they become urgent tomorrow. There are always direct or indirect warning signs, or “red flags” that precede most crises. However, many never connect the "dots," either because of: bureaucratic constraints; overwhelming responsibilities; competing interests; complacency; territorial superiority; fatigue, or some other kind of excuse – legitimate or otherwise. To be fair, in some instances, the "dots" cannot be detected by those close to the brewing crisis. Instead, those dots could possibly be recognized by objective observers. Absent any detached observation, those undetectable "dots" are the ones that contribute to unavoidable crises. Nonetheless, once a crisis explodes, we tend to enter a predictably reactive mode. We will work either to successfully resolve the matter, or in our zeal to reach a conclusion, inadvertently make the crisis worse. The unavoidable trek toward a worthwhile anatomical conclusion as to the cause of such an event, should lead us back to the pre crisis stage. Upon a thorough examination of related problematic circumstances, one will find that such a crisis was preceded by those persistent and annoying problems that so easily beset us. Whether we are examining infrastructure/organizational or human/personal crises, the dissection process needed to determine what’s at hand is the same. Any philosophical discussion as to how we improve our approach to deciphering problems – before they become crises – has to fall within the purview of Crisisology.
Consider a few examples of some of the world’s most recognizable crises that could have been avoided: the Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania nuclear accident in 1979; the Bhopal, India chemical plant explosion in 1984; the Chernobyl, former USSR, nuclear explosion in 1986; the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989; the September 11th tragedy in 2001; the Enron Corporation financial collapse which began in 2001; the Sago Coal Mine accident in West Virginia in January 2006; and the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict of July 2006 (U.N. Resolution # 1559 adopted in 2004 after Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 was never enforced, hence the crisis). One could always pick any of the above events, and based on a particular philosophy, attempt to argue as to whether or not it could have been avoided. Those who are familiar with the facts of those occurrences, would reach the natural conclusion that such horrifying events could indeed have been prevented.
If we conclude that the above mentioned crises could have been avoided, we would then have to wonder about the folks who were front and center of those events. If these individuals were paying attention to the signs and symptoms that were darting around them initially, disaster could have been averted. This is why crisis prevention programs are so vital. We must pay attention to the signs of gathering ‘threats’ for example, and take appropriate action to head off crises. Threat Indicators (TI) that target the security of Information Technology, for instance, could result in catastrophic infrastructure failure if those TIs are not recognized and handled forthwith. The ultimate cost of complacency, ignorance or inaction, could be dramatically greater than the cost of prevention. Just merely thinking about the complexities that may have been involved in the various crises cited above, should make it easy to understand why having Crisisology as a discipline is so important. That importance would also be justified, if we can imagine the millions of crises (and their collective impact) that take place around the world on a daily basis.
Predictably, any progression toward more “prevention,” will render organizational entities more productive or highly profitable. Prevention methods will also spark a quality of life that would promote growth and well-being, both organizationally and individually. An experientially reasonable guess is that at least half of all the business, organizational, physical plant, regional/political, and personal crises that have occurred, could have been prevented. Let us say that a profit-making corporation, for example, reduces its annual problems/crises by fifty (50) percent. Could we then imagine what the resulting growth and profits would look like? What could the possible increase be in productivity or profits due to problem/crisis reductions, 10%, 20%, 30%; maybe more? With those kinds of possibilities, the best bet is that these companies would be convinced that they have discovered the formerly illusive Crystal Ball.
Everyone would most likely agree that proactive management is preferable to reactive management. In order to reduce or eventually eliminate those crises that are avoidable, we must get aggressive in promoting “crisis prevention management.” Some kind of established flavor of Crisisology should help in that regard. Would we consider “crisis management,” – as we know it – only as a reactive process? Not entirely. Although, if one takes the two words literally, it would be easy to reach that conclusion. Many lay individuals often believe that the concept of “crisis management” typically does not carry a preventive component. Crisis/Emergency Management (C/EM) has traditionally been known to have four (4) components: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. On the other hand, “crisis prevention management,” as a standalone concept, would obviously be considered a proactive process. Instead of being helter-skelter, the only workable alternative, as an official terminology, would be, once again, Crisis & Prevention Management (CPM). **
Few organizations, for example, take the approach of being actively engaged in the practice of “crisis prevention." Most of these entities talk more about contingencies and less about prevention. Obviously, contingency plans are vital, especially for unavoidable and unexpected crises. Despite what some may think, the two processes are just not the same. There are those who claim to incorporate prevention methods in their contingency plans. It is no wonder most of those plans never work when tested. Prevention programs require very aggressive and direct management activities aimed at driving down the probability rate of problems. A number of these problems have the potential of leading to crises. Many organizations operate on a hit and miss basis (winging it by the seat of one’s pants, as it’s called). They regularly reach out to public relations firms who cannot practically hold their hands in the trenches forever. Yet, these organizations continue the practice of plausible deniability with respect to battling problems. Such deniability will generally go on, until a given situation turns into something worse—a crisis. Many of these entities seem as though they will be forever haunted by their own inherent proclivity to constantly self-destruct. Crisisology, however, could help wake up those sleeping organizations.
Summary: Pulling it Together for a Forward View
As was discussed, much has been written, and enough has been learned over the years in the field of crisis/emergency/disaster studies. The opportunity now exists, for us to embrace the creation of the type of framework, which would consolidate a multitude of interdisciplinary functions that regularly incorporate crisis issues. These functions would be placed under one master discipline. That discipline will have, as its primary multi-force dynamic, the different subdivisions and tentalitic branches of crisis, emergency, and disaster management. Much like the disciplines of biology, psychology, economics, and mathematics, to name only a few, Crisisology would unequivocally fit the bill of being that master discipline. It would have many classifications that would cover all crisis and related issues across the widest possible spectra.
Indeed, more colleges and universities need to begin delivering programs in Crisisological Studies (CS). At the very least, they should regularly provide individual crisis courses that directly address related issues in various fields of interests. These CS programs could easily be developed as Crisisology disciplines. The schools that have consistently offered solid crisis programs, should lead the way in exploring the type of construct that would make the concept of Crisisology ring true. The significance of consolidating the many components, issues, and activities of crisis management, emergency management, and disaster management under one discipline, cannot be overemphasized. Business and other professional schools, without doubt, should regularly incorporate Crisisology/crisis management courses in their curricula.
Again, crises have always been part of our lives, and that will never change. It would behoove us therefore to prevent them where necessary, and if unable to do so, intelligently confront them before they consume us. Responsible organizations and individuals generally yearn for the proper training that will allow them to successfully handle crisis situations. The discipline of Crisisology can bring it all into focus for many who desire such training. It is precisely for that reason, and many more, why we need to get on board to make Crisisology a mainstay of corporate training. Equally important, is the delivery of crisis training for individuals from the perspective of traditional education development.
We are currently witnessing a certain level of maturity in the crisis industry. Not only are crisis professionals experiencing such maturity, but the production of Crisisological Studies (CS) material is also reaching a significant impact level. With that acknowledgement, we can now establish a meaningful and well-respected discipline relating to all crisis issues. Again, more than enough crisis studies material exists (with more continuing to appear) and that should allow us to move with confidence and excitement toward an emerging Crisisology.
While some crisis professionals are dedicated to researching and writing about crisis issues, there are others on the frontlines who are equally vested in solving these matters. The combined efforts of these contributing-professionals are no doubt having a supportive impact on the positive reshaping of all our lives. We look forward to their input in this new Crisisology venture.
Not all the nuances and complexities relating to the study of crises could be dealt with in this article/commentary. Its purpose is to help raise the awareness of crisis professionals and others, by presenting an overview of why we need to embrace the concept of Crisisology. The very thought of establishing such a discipline may appear to be a daunting task. Apparently, the thinking was the same when engineers were faced with the initial challenge of ushering in the age of digital technology. As we now know, such technology is here to stay.
Innovation in every sense is a part of society’s fabric. As such, those who dare to be on the cutting-edge of framing this new discipline, must not allow themselves or the subject to be silenced into obscurity. Crisisology will eventually become the future’s next major discipline—provided that we keep our focus and remain relentless. We need to seize the opportunity now and make that future real. One thing is certain; as Crisisology over time becomes a settled discipline, it will prove to be of great benefit to society at-large.
** The term “CRISIS & PREVENTION MANAGEMENT” (CPM) as an official industry coinage, was first identified in an article penned by this author and published in Management Logs – Crisis Management Forum on
++ This is an original advocacy for the use of the term “CRISISOLOGIST” as an officially established category in identifying a certain professional.
## The word “CRISISOLOGICAL”(as an adjective) is being presented here as an original introduction and functional terminology relating to the discipline of Cisisology, or crises and related issues and events.
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