Understanding and Interpreting Crises

Posted by fayefaye on September 28, 2011
Sep 282011

In order for us to address crisis victims via artistic interventions, we must first fully understand the terminology of “crisis” and the implications, methodologies, histories, and speculations surrounding it.

Comments and discussion are welcome and appreciated!


Understanding and Interpreting Crises: Some Definitions

What are the defining characteristics of a crisis?

  • Disruptive (ex: earthquake)
  • Heightens levels of risk and uncertainty (ex: viral epidemics)
  • Threatens present standards of living, security, freedom, or aspirations (ex: rising national unemployment levels)
  • Finite thresholds at risk of being breached (ex: ozone layer levels)
  • Need for immediate human intervention in a preventative or reparative capacity (ex: deep sea oil spills)

What categories of crises are there?

  • Large scale (ex: World War II)
  • Small scale (ex: personal, such as bankruptcy or a mid-life crisis)
  • Natural (ex: disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina of 2005)
  • Man-made (ex: global warming)
  • Sudden (ex: occurs without warning, such as a heart attack)
  • “Smoldering” (ex: anticipated, such as a volcano eruption)

Based on these parameters, it seems that a plethora of crises currently exist on our planet today.


Understanding and Interpreting Crises: Crisis Management Methodologies

How to identify a crisis:

  • The current situation escalates negatively when left unattended
  • The media or a regulatory agency pays more attention to the situation than usual
  • The situation begins to interfere with daily, normal activities

How to anticipate a crisis:

  • Gain a thorough knowledge of the subject and know its history, precedents for crises, strengths and weaknesses
  • Based on history and precedent, be watchful of any signs or anomalies suggesting an imminent disturbance
  • Define what is “normal” and prepare a contingency plan for any “abnormal” circumstances

Developing effective modes of communication specific to a crisis:

  • Establishing commonly known distress signals (ex: Mayday, SOS)
  • Creating emergency protocols (ex: stop, drop & roll, “use stairs in case of emergency” signs)
  • Developing responsive technologies (ex: fire alarms, robots that announce “Danger, Will Robinson!”)

Other questions to consider:

  • How do we effectively manage a crisis?
  • How do we evaluate the success of actions taken to address a crisis?
  • How do we decide when the crisis is over?


For more information about crises and its management, check out some articles in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management.


Farre Nixon, Sep. 28