Disaster Communication and the Finnish School Shootings. Analytical Approach to Organizational Complexity in Crisis
Two socially significant tragedies occurred in Finland, a Nordic welfare society, within the space of a year. A school shooting in Jokela in November 2007, and a second in Kauhajoki 10 months later, claimed 20 lives in total, mainly young people. Local crisis communication response lasted several days and required cooperation from all authorities, NGOs and churches involved in the incidents. The Support Function’s Command Element (Tuje in Finnish) was used for information-gathering. This model of crisis management has already proven its worth in previous crises in Finland. It governs the division of labour and information dissemination by gathering representatives of all participating organisations for regular meetings to share real-time information. This research has an organisational communication and crisis leadership approach in the context of social sciences. The focus is on the management of disaster communication requiring interagency coordination. The theoretical framework used is complexity theory. In this research, crises are treated as processes rather than events (see e.g. Jaques 2007, Roux-Dufort 2007). The focus, however, is on crisis response in managing information: decision-making by crisis management teams as well as the management of post-crisis meanings: healing and renewal (Coombs 2010, 479). The information gathered for the study was collected some weeks or months after the shootings through a series of individual and focus group in-depth interviews with individuals involved in the aftermath of the shootings (Jokela N= 38, Kauhajoki N=28). The interviewees consisted of local municipal authorities and staff from the local Red Cross and other charities, as well as members of the local Lutheran parish. Each interview lasted 1-2 hours and usually took place in the offices of the interviewees. All participants were asked the same questions. Narrative analysis was used to provide an in-depth view of a unique experience and to give respondents a venue where they could articulate their viewpoints and evaluative standards. The main research question posed is: how could the inter-agency of public organisations’ simultaneous disaster communication and crisis management be consolidated? The emphasis is on communication because crisis tends to create an information gap, leaving crisis workers, victims and the media in need of up-to-date information. The research shows that, in a disaster situation, adaptability, resilience and innovation emerge more often than in “normal”, stable times. Without cooperation, however, there cannot be efficient and structured help for the bereaved and survivors.