Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the organizational antecedents and management of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) epidemic in the UK in the 1990s in order to answer the following questions. What organizational factors contributed to the development of the epidemic? How did they do so? What can we learn from the management of BSE that can help us in tackling future epidemics? Design/methodology/approach – The research involved content analysis of the most extensive documentation of the crisis, the Philips Report, and other official and non‐official sources, to gain a phenomenological understanding of the organizational/departmental/financial contexts in which key decisions were taken. Findings – The organization of the institutions charged with managing BSE ensured slow, shortsighted and atomized decision‐making, inappropriate to the management of an epidemic. Organization‐ and department‐specific priorities, budgets and boundaries ensured piecemeal, “locally rational” responses to BSE, which cumulatively exacerbated the crisis. Research limitations/implications – The research is limited by the fact that it is based upon the Philips Report, and other official and non‐official sources. Further studies could assess these research findings through direct interviews with those involved. The implications of the study are that rapid and appropriate responses to epidemics do not necessarily arise spontaneously from co‐operation between bureaucratic institutions. Practical implications – Through identifying the organizational reasons for the inadequate responses to BSE, this research clearly shows the need for pan‐ or super‐institutional emergency teams, able to address future epidemics unhindered by localized bureaucratic imperatives. Originality/value – The phenomenological analysis is new and significant in that it highlights the localized rationality of decision‐making before and during the crisis, and shows how locally rational decisions cumulatively exacerbated the epidemic. The research will be of interest to those involved in the prevention and management of epidemics.
Disaster Prevention and Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Mar 1, 2006
Keywords: Bovine spongiform encephalopathy; Diseases; United Kingdom
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