To the edge and beyond: How fast-response organizations adapt in rapidly changing crisis situations

Jan Kees Schakel, Jeroen Wolbers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Fast-response organizations excel in mounting swift and coordinated responses to unexpected events. There are a multitude of conflicting explanations why these organizations excel. These range from acknowledging the strengths of centralized command and control structures, towards stressing the importance of decentralized, improvised action. Though this dichotomy is derived from studies offering either structure or action-based explanations, we were able to reconcile these insights by looking into the process of how fast-responders organize themselves during an unfolding crisis. We analyzed 15 high-speed police pursuits crossing multiple administrative units and jurisdictions, and interviewed and observed officers at work in multiple operations centers, police cars, and helicopters. Our analysis uncovered that fast-responders regularly transition between designed, frontline, and partitioned modes of organizing, each characterized by practices that shape command, allocation, and information sharing. Success and failure are rooted in the ability of the responders to adapt their mode of organizing by tacking back and forth between these practices. Based on our findings, we constructed a process model that provides a deeper understanding of fast-response organizing that informs future studies on organizing in extreme contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-436
Number of pages32
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number3
Early online date19 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Command and control
  • coordination
  • crisis management
  • fast-response organizing
  • situational awareness


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