Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Imagine an entire community emotionally paralyzed with indecision. Now, consider the impact during a crisis. This phenomenon occurs when communities suffer the sudden or traumatic loss of things that define them. It’s called Mazeway Disintegration. At their peril, most organizations do not anticipate the devastating impact of these crisis management cultural issues in their response planning. Fortunately, you can mitigate mazeway disintegration. We will walk you through how to address these cultural waypoints in your emergency response and crisis management plans.

crisis management cultural issues

Consider what happens to affected groups in an emergency or disaster.  In normal situations, our cultural reference points make it easier for us to comfortably conduct every-day life. This changes if a crisis disrupts or eliminates those cultural connections. Entire groups of people can be disoriented and even immobilized if they lose touch with cultural norms. Correspondingly, this limits their ability to cope with a disaster, compounding the difficulty of the crisis response.

If we do not mitigate mazeway disintegration’s effects, these groups may not be able to psychologically cope with the disaster. Accordingly, effective response plans need to address these crisis management cultural issues before a disaster occurs. The alternative is simply not acceptable since disoriented communities will only serve to prolong and magnify the crisis.

What is Mazeway?

First, let’s make sure we understand the term mazeway. Most of us have an organized and predictable way of doing all the things in our lives. It’s the pace, pattern, rhythm, and manner in which we interact with the world around us. It’s our mazeway.

The American anthropologist, Anthony F. C. Wallace, proffered the term, mazeway, six decades ago.  He wrote about what happens in a disaster from a different perspective.  He told the story of a Petun Indian tribe whose warriors returned home to find their village burned to the ground and every man, woman, and child a victim of a violent death or abduction.  Likewise, everything they knew, including their home, family, and possessions no longer existed.  He described their “shock” with the term mazeway disintegration.

mitigate mazeway disintegration

Socio-Cultural Disorganization

This is important because victims of other disasters often react in similar ways.  Think of people displaced by sudden onset natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes.  They didn’t see it coming. Therefore, they were emotionally unprepared for a disaster taking away homes, lives and entire communities. Interestingly, this is true even if they live in an area prone to such hazards.

In these circumstances, normal mazeways disappear or become unconnected…. disintegrated.  These groups no longer have the things that connect them to the world in a way that is orderly. Moreover, being psychologically (and physically) unconnected can be severely debilitating.

Crisis management cultural issues can make it impossible for affected groups to engage in activities that would normally help. The crisis response needs to address and restore enough of the cultural reference points to allow communities to function normally. Otherwise, the response will not mitigate mazeway disintegration.

Planning for Crisis Management Cultural Issues

Preparing to mitigate mazeway disintegration is an essential component of an effective emergency response or crisis management plan. If the objective is to resolve the problem, restoring people’s lives to normal needs to be part of your planning. If you don’t do this, the problem will fester and perpetuate the crisis.

To mitigate mazeway disintegration, you need to have some understanding of what their maze looked like before the disruption.  Likewise, rendering assistance beyond basic first aid can either support a return to normalcy or add exponentially to the problem. In fact, you may exacerbate the problem if you fail to address the group’s cultural norms and crisis management cultural issues.

crisis management cultural issues

Business and Cultural Interactions

Think of all the different cultures affected by a large multinational miner, manufacturer, producer, refiner, or transporter.  Some examples are business cultures, national cultures, ethnic cultures, regional cultures, local cultures and then subcultures.  Businesses interact with these cultures every day. Nevertheless, these cultural interactions are far more complex in an emergency or disaster.

Consider a Chinese company that has a U.S. citizen as the country manager for their U.S. operations.  Many people assume this will provide sufficient understanding of the U.S. culture.  In fact, that may be true for normal operating conditions when the public isn’t affected by an emergency. However, that assumption is no longer true when things deviate from the standard.

Imagine restoring normalcy to a displaced Quaker community after a pipeline rupture that caused fires and a toxic H2S release. Contrast that with an undocumented immigrant community in a city, a casino resort on a Native American reservation or a massive subdivision of expensive homes.  Each one of those has its own culture and requires different considerations and types of assistance.

Three Ways to Mitigate Mazeway Disintegration

  1. Go Beyond Cookie Cutter Correctness. The political correctness mindset limits and hinders the effectiveness of response efforts. This makes a thorough discussion of risks, solid vulnerability analysis, and subsequent preparation essential. Even the most brand-aware organization will be rendered ineffective if they fail to identify crisis management cultural issues in their response.
  2. Know the Mazeways of Affected Populations. Determine the characteristics of the cultures, inside the fence and out. Do this now before you need it in a crisis. If you don’t know their cultural context before it is disrupted, you can’t effectively mitigate mazeway disintegration after the disaster. If you wait until impacted populations demonstrate crisis management cultural issues, it may be too late. In fact, after the disaster, affected communities may not be able to articulate what they need to restore normalcy.
  3. Get Independent Assessment. Don’t pawn this off on an overworked or unprepared employee. While it’s not feasible to have cultural anthropologists conduct exhaustive studies of every population, there are cost-effective options. In most cases, you can use professionals who understand this dynamic. They should identify those special populations and describe their needs using accurate descriptors. If they uncover difficult issues, you can address them at that time. Also, prepare the cultural assessment in a context that won’t be misconstrued. This will more effectively mitigate mazeway disintegration in a crisis.

The public now expects companies to avoid culturally insensitive collateral damage. This approach demonstrates your company’s interest in your stakeholders and guards against charges of corporate callousness. Preparing to mitigate mazeway disintegration doesn’t need to be a huge, resource intensive program. Modest programs utilizing knowledgeable resources can identify crisis management cultural issues and develop plans to address them. By following these steps, you can mitigate mazeway disintegration risks and ensure a much more positive resolution.

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Houston, Texas 77002