Emergent Coordinators in the World Trade Center Disaster

November 2008 (VOL. 26, NO. 3)

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In this paper, we investigate coordination within responder radio communication networks during the World Trade Center disaster. We identify agents who are involved in high levels of coordinative activity, classifying their roles as institutionalized (i.e., mandated by formal position) or emergent. The extent to which coordination is effected by agents in institutionalized or emergent roles is then compared across networks of specialist and non-specialist responders. We find that, regardless of specialization, the great majority of coordinators occupy emergent roles. At the same time, where agents with institutionalized coordinative roles are present, they are substantially more likely to become actual coordinators. This uniformity across responder specialization suggests that event context may be as important as background factors in determining the emergence of coordination during times of crisis. As with past findings regarding improvisation in disasters, our results suggest obstacles for response policies that treat institutional status as an effective proxy for post-event role performance.