Evolution of culture among warning system organizations

Nagele, Danielle
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University of Delaware
Thousands of natural hazards affect the United States each year, many resulting in loss of life, injuries, and damaged property. These hazards make obvious the need for an effective warning system with the ability to reduce losses. A warning system can be thought of as the actors, resources, and processes involved in detection, prediction, and communication of impending disasters. Understanding the way this system works and the interactions between each component is imperative if we are to determine what is effective and what needs to be improved. This dissertation explores a conceptual model of the weather warning system in order to extend our understanding of the organizations and tasks involved. In addition, this analysis examines the inter- and intra-organizational variations that can arise among warning systems in different regions. Building on the idea of disaster subculture, it is proposed that repetitive impacts from the same hazard can lead to changes in the communication structure, the roles and influence of the actors, and the available resources and their uses. This research was conducted using a multiple case study design where organizations located within National Weather Service Warning Forecast Office regions were interviewed. Two of the cases represent areas in which the organizations face repetitive impacts from tornadoes. While all regions are at risk to some degree, the other two cases represent areas that do not have a particular hazard consistently impacting them. The subjects in each case study were drawn from six types of organizations within each area. Interviews addressed tasks and activities associated with the warning system, inter- and intra-organizational communication, roles and responsibilities, and the use of resources. All interviews were transcribed within Atlas.ti and analyzed using open, process, and values coding as well as pattern development. A final conceptual model of the weather warning system including major tasks, activities, and communication methods is presented. Additionally, results address the organizational culture present among warning system organizations in each of the cases. Ultimately, analysis led to three broad conclusions: 1) Prevalent similarities between the cases suggest many aspects of organizational culture remain the same across different regions. 2) On the other hand, results did indicate some evolution of culture due to frequent hazard impacts. These areas developed deeper, more established relationships and exhibited collaborations rooted in exchange of opinions and ideas rather than just information. 3) There is also evidence to suggest a continuum of culture rather than discrete differences. In other words, warning systems likely evolve continually and organically rather than in a step-wise manner.