Drawing the Line: Cross-boundary Coordination Processes in Emergency Management

J.J. Wolbers

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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How do emergency responders coordinate the response operation across the
boundaries of their organizations in fast-paced environments? Coordination
is a key aspect of emergency management that addresses how crisis
managers from police, ambulance services and fire department align their
mutual interdependencies in an environment that is prone to escalate. This
challenges crisis managers to coordinate ad-hoc, under severe time pressure,
with experts from different response organizations who have different skills
and professional jargons.

In this dissertation, Jeroen Wolbers, explores how such cross-boundary
coordination is practiced on the disaster scene based on detailed observations
and reconstructions of exercises and real-life response operations. The results
of this research indicate that the command and control doctrine emergency
organizations employ is based on an integration logic, in which organizational
designs are created, plans and protocols are administrated, and centralized
command structures are instated. Yet, a different coordination logic appears
during the response operation itself. In four empirical chapters Jeroen builds
up a detailed account, which illustrates that cross-boundary coordination on
the disaster scene is actually based upon a fragmentation logic. Emergent
adaptations, the negotiation of the relevance of expert judgments, and
the changing configuration of a multi-organizational response network are
central aspects of this coordination logic. While fragmentation often has
a negative connotation, results of this research indicate it is important not
to dismiss it only as failure. Crisis managers utilize fragmentation to keep
sufficient speed in managing unexpected situations and unknown threats.
As such, fragmentation actually supports the very flexibility, sensitivity to
operations, and improvisation that are claimed to be hallmarks of swift and
effective crisis management.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Groenewegen, Peter, Supervisor
  • Boersma, Kees, Supervisor
Award date7 Jan 2016
Place of PublicationRidderkerk
Print ISBNs9789492332035
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Naam instelling promotie: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Naam instelling onderzoek: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


  • Coordination
  • Boundary
  • Emergency Management
  • Disaster
  • Crisis


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