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CHDS Thesis Series: Making Sense in the Edge of Chaos: A Framework for Effective Initial Response Efforts to Large-Scale Incidents

Cynthia Renaud [11 Nov 2010]

A review of response efforts to 9/11 revealed considerable challenges to resolving an event of this magnitude. To cope with these challenges, the federal government created the National Incident Management System (NIMS), an organizational structure intended to manage resources and channel communication between disparate agencies working together to solve a catastrophic crisis. Yet, first responders who have been on-scene at large-scale events know there is an initial phase of chaos during which the forms, checklists and organizational structure of NIMS offer them little help for making sense of the situation. A large-scale event moves through the four phases of the cynefin framework: chaotic, complex, complicated and simple. First responders must insert themselves into the initial chaos and begin to move it toward complexity. NIMS, then, becomes a valuable tool in the complicated arena to help restore the simple order of pre-event normalcy.

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