Purpose – An analysis of the way the bureaucratic management system responded to the tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004 is used as an example to highlight the severe shortcomings of the bureaucratic model as a paradigm for responding to situations in which the magnitude of the system's task is overwhelmingly complex and the timing process is bounded by urgency. Design/methodology/approach – Evidence of the findings for this research is driven by primary references, namely news reports and web site information provided in the aftermath of the disaster. Findings – These reports from the tsunami disaster highlight the key problems of bureaucracies, including slow decision‐making, inability to absorb and process outside information, and escalation of commitment to failed courses of action. Research limitations/implications – Suggestions for future research are provided. Practical implications – It is this very requirement that may undermine all relief efforts when such a high magnitude event occurs. Originality/value – The tragic irony of this analysis is that most emergency relief organizations of the proper size and complexity to effectively deal with “shocking” events must work within the bureaucratic systems created by large federal relief organizations (such as FEMA) as the “price” for staying in operation.
International Journal of Public Sector Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 1, 2006
Keywords: Bureaucracy; Stochastic processes; Tidal waves; Natural disasters; Management failures
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