On the fringes of crisis management

Keywords: volunteers, unrecognized crisis management, peripheral actors

This panel is devoted to the study of what goes on outside of the ‘core’ of crisis management. Research on emergency response operations is mostly preoccupied with the core actors, i.e., professional response organizations. However, substantial attention has also been devoted to more ‘peripheral’ and informal actors, particularly volunteers, and the ‘convergence’ of unorganized volunteers at disaster sites has been studied by American researchers since the mid-1950s.

Recently, new forms of volunteering have appeared, both because of technical innovations and as a result of more general developments in modern society. The revolution in communications technology has resulted in the rise of ‘digital volunteering’, where people use the Internet and particularly social media, e.g., Facebook and Twitter, as a means to assist during crises. Moreover, recent developments in modern society, such as increased individualization, has led to greater interest in more short-term ‘episodic’ volunteering (McLennan et al., 2016).

Another interesting aspect of what goes on at the fringes of crisis management has to do with the relationship between peripheral and core actors. Volunteers are often regarded as a ‘mixed blessing’ by professional responders (Barsky et al., 2007), resulting in an ‘involvement/exclusion paradox’ (Harris et al., 2017) where professionals apply ‘boundary practices’ (Kvarnlöf & Johansson, 2014) towards volunteers. Here, the most important problem seems to be the low degree of organization of spontaneous volunteers. However, a study by Schmidt et al. (2016) show how attempts are made to draw the periphery closer to the core by applying new forms of organizing spontaneous volunteers.

Volunteers are not the only actors appearing on the fringes of crisis management. When a crisis occurs, its effects often have to be dealt with by people performing their ordinary work during extraordinary circumstances. For example, teachers have to teach their pupils even if the school has been burnt down, and personnel at homes for unaccompanied young refugees have to attend to the needs of the young even during extreme events such as the ‘refugee situation’ of 2015. This kind of practice in crisis management is still largely unrecognized in the literature (Oscarsson & Danielsson, 2017).

Papers dealing with different aspects of volunteerism and unrecognized practices of crisis management are welcome to this panel.


Barsky, L. E., Trainor, J.E., Torres, M. R. & Aguirre, B. E. (2007) Managing volunteers: FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue programme and interactions with unaffiliated responders in disaster response. Disasters 31(4): 495-507.
Harris, M., Shaw, D., Scully, J., Smith, C. M. & Hieke, G. (2017) The involvement/exclusion paradox of spontaneous volunteering: New lessons and theory from winter flood episodes in England. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 46(2):352–371.
Kvarnlöf, L. & Johansson, R. (2014) Boundary practices at incident sites: Making distinctions between emergency personnel and the public. International Journal of Emergency Services. 3(1):65–76.
McLennan, B., Whittaker, J. & Handmer, J. (2016) The changing landscape of disaster volunteering: opportunities, responses and gaps in Australia. Natural Hazards. Published online. DOI: 10.1007/s11069-016-2532-5
Oscarsson, O. & Danielsson, E. (2017) Unrecognized crisis management–Normalizing everyday work. The work practice of crisis management in a refugee situation. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. Published online. DOI: 10.1111/1468-5973.12176
Schmidt, A., Wolbers, J., Boersma, K., Ferguson, J. & Groenewegen, P. (2016) Are you Ready2Help? Organizing voluntary community response to disaster. Proceedings of the ISCRAM 2016 Conference. Rio de Janeiro, May 2016.

Panel chairs

Roine Johansson is professor in Sociology at the Risk and Crisis Research Centre of Mid Sweden University. His research interests lie within the area of organizational aspects of crisis management, particularly the role of volunteers in disaster response operations.

Erna Danielsson is associate professor in Sociology at the Risk and Crisis Research Centre of Mid Sweden University. Her research interests lie within the area of crisis management, gender and the role of members of non-emergency organizations in diaster response operations.

Olof Oscarsson is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the Risk and Crisis Research Centre of Mid Sweden University. His research interests lie within the area of ‘unrecognized’ crisis management, i.e., organizations performing their ordinary work during extraordinary circumstances, such as teachers who teach their pupils when their school has been burnt down.