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Disaster Dynamics: Understanding the Role of Quantity in Organizational Collapse

Jenny W. Rudolph and Nelson P. Repenning
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar., 2002), pp. 1-30
DOI: 10.2307/3094889
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3094889
Page Count: 30
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Disaster Dynamics: Understanding the Role of Quantity in Organizational Collapse
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Abstract

This article examines the role that the quantity of nonnovel events plays in precipitating disaster through the development of a formal (mathematical) system-dynamics model. Building on existing case studies of disaster, we develop a general theory of how an organizational system responds to an on-going stream of non-novel interruptions to existing plans and procedures. We show how an overaccumulation of interruptions can shift an organizational system from a resilient, self-regulating regime, which offsets the effects of this accumulation, to a fragile, self-escalating regime that amplifies them. We offer a new characterization of the conditions under which organizations may be prone to major disasters caused by an accumulation of minor interruptions. Our analysis provides both theoretical insights into the causes of organizational crises and practical suggestions for those charged with preventing them.

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