Crisis Management in the Twenty-First Century: “Unthinkable” Events in “Inconceivable” Contexts

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Abstract

“Unbelievable,” “unthinkable,” “inconceivable”: the twenty-first century opens a new era in the field of risk and crisis management. Many of the major recent crises, including the unconventional 9/11 terrorist attacks; the swift worldwide contamination by the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, “mad cow disease”), SARS virus, or avian flu; continental blackouts occurring within a few seconds, continent-wide effects of a tsunami in unstable geopolitical zones; and Hurricane Katrina seem to differ fundamentally from the seminal cases that gave birth to disaster research in the 1950s and the 1960s (specific floods, hurricanes, earthquakes) and the crisis management studies in the 1980s (e.g., the Tylenol tampering). The trend seems to be accelerating, so that crises today are increasingly global, intertwined, and “non-textbook” events.