Sensemaking questions in crisis response teams

Jori Pascal Kalkman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: When a crisis strikes, responders need to make sense of it to gain an understanding of its origins, nature and implications. In this way, crisis sensemaking guides the implementation of the response. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the sensemaking questions that responders need to address for achieving effective and efficient crisis management. Design/methodology/approach: Data are drawn from six exercises, in which teams of professionals from different crisis organizations were confronted with two terrorist attacks. Just like in real incidents, these professionals convened in tactical response teams and formulated their response collectively. Findings: The exercises demonstrate that crisis responders do not just have to make sense of the crisis, but also of their own roles and actions. They raise and address three sensemaking questions: What is happening in this crisis? (i.e. situational sensemaking), Who am I in this crisis? (i.e. identity-oriented sensemaking) and How does it matter what I do? (i.e. action-oriented sensemaking). Practical implications: Crisis preparation tends to focus on plans and systems that accelerate or improve the construction of a situational understanding, while this study suggests the need of more preparatory attention for crisis responders’ roles and actions. Originality/value: The research extends crisis sensemaking literature beyond the restricted focus on the incident itself by showing that responders are also trying to grasp their own role and how their actions matter when they are engaged in crisis response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-660
Number of pages12
JournalDisaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2019


  • Action
  • Crisis response
  • Identity
  • Sensemaking
  • Situational awareness
  • Teams
  • Terrorism
  • Training


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