The Evolution of Crises: Crisis Precursors

November 1991 (VOL. 9, NO. 3)

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Industrial crises, or organizationally based technological disasters that cause major harm to human life and/or the natural environment, may be triggered by industrial accidents, environmental pollution incidents, product injuries, or occupational hazards. While past explanations of crisis causes focusing on technological, organizational and interorganizational failures; as well as simultaneous failures of technological, organizational and societal systems provide us with a good understanding of immediate causes of events that trigger crises, the authors point out that we still lack an understanding of how preconditions for crises arise. Arguing that the precursor conditions of industrial crises are rooted in the historical development of organizations and interactions between organizations and their environments, the authors attempt to determine why these precursors arise. Using an analysis of data on the Bhopal and the Three Mile Island crises, they trace the evolution of crisis precursor conditions, and present the patterns and logics of change in organizational and environmental variables observed in the two cases studied.