Inderscience Publishers

Signals, signal devices, and signal space in organisations: a conceptual lens to crisis evasion

Given that warning signs precede all crises, it is surprising that not much attention has been given to understand why these signals 'disappear' and may not appear again until after some 'avoidable' calamity has reoccurred. Disasters are often anecdotally anteceded by stories involving unheeded predictions. It is commonly recognised that the path a signal traverses through has significant bearings on whether the right decision maker will receive the intended information, given the many opportunities the path affords the signal to be lost or rendered useless. This may reflect on the notion that no amount of technology can overcome recognised frailties in the human thought processes. Organisations that are aware of this condition have an advantage. In the following paper, we draw from the literature on electrical engineering, signal processing, information theory, cognitive psychology, and communication theory to explain the crucial reasons signals can be lost in an organisation. To this end, we propose a conceptualisation of signal devices in organisations, the collection of which along with signals makes up the signal space of the organisation. Following this we look at key issues in dealing with signals of impending crises. We also use case studies of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the 9–11 terrorism attacks to ground our model.

Keywords: pre-crisis, signals, amplification, crisis management, information, entropy, cognitive dissonance, emergency management, warning signs, disasters, impending crises, crisis avoidance, disaster avoidance

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