Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Lockdown: Reactions of University Faculty and Staff

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Lockdown: Reactions of University Faculty and Staff

Article excerpt


On October 6, 2009, at approximately 3pm, a law enforcement bulletin notified officials at the University of West Florida (UWF; Pensacola) that a suspect in a cold-case murder investigation was spotted at the periphery of the campus. A manhunt ensued and the entire campus was put in lockdown. This study examines a) the specific manner in which faculty and staff (N=52) became aware of the crisis, b) mode of keeping abreast of developments of events, c) perceived threat level, and d) efficacy of organizational response. Results indicated that personnel had several electronic modes of communication (text message, university alerts) initially and during the course of the lockdown (about 2½ hours), experienced little anxiety, but felt somewhat restrained. Although the UWF administration was given high marks for handling the situation, uncertainty about the duration of the crisis was the major concern. Implications for organizational response to crisis management were noted.


The impact of crisis on organizations and individuals has been an area of high public interest over the past century, perhaps first exemplified by the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. However, it has only been in the last 40 years that both natural and man-made calamities have garnered serious research attention and prompted investigatory efforts. Most noted, in the U.S., perhaps, were the Buffalo Creek Dam Collapse in West Virginia in 1972 and the Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant crisis in 1979. Since then, a vast literature base has been created on disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, plane crashes, train derailments, forest fires, floods, chemical plant explosions, oil spills, mine collapses, tsunamis, school and workplace shootings, and more recently terrorist attacks.

The role of crisis management in organizations has been the subject of intense study over the past decade. In general, research findings point to inadequate safety planning, faculty crisis plans, poor training of crisis managers, ineffective management, and uncoordinated communication methods as major areas of concern (Mak et al., 1999; Piotrowski et al., 1997; Reilly, 2008; Smith et al., 2001; Wang, 2008). One area of specific analysis is the function of the strategic management process within the realm of an organization's crisis response system (Pollard & Hotho, 2006). This process was outlined in a recent case of an incident of a food poisoning outbreak at a major hotel chain; researchers identified shortcomings in the chain's crisis response and complexity theory provided a theoretical foundation to address shortcomings in the crisis response system (see Paraskevas, 2006).

A central challenging feature of many crisis situations is the reality that critical, long-term impact decisions need to be made under time pressure with limited, unofficial information (Hale et al., 2006; Moats et al., 2008). In this regard, crisis management plans, a-priori, appear to reduce uncertainty and anxiety about executive decisions in engaging an immediate protocol during a crisis response timeframe. Concomitantly, organization administrations need to implement actions that facilitate effective crisis communication (Reilly, 2008).

Only recently have researchers presented a framework to merge the potential contributions of the field of organization development and the science of crisis management. Lalonde (2007) argues that administrators tend to view crises as separate entities and fail to observe that there are many factors and issues that are common across a host of crisis events. Lalonda suggests that O.D. has the capability to highlight critical features and thus strengthen an organization's ability to adequately cope with stressors during crisis management events.

Universities and Crisis Management

Darling (1994), in this forum, stressed the importance of strategic university leadership during the temporal phases of undergoing a crisis situation. …

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