Handling coordination in an extreme situation: Tensions in electronic communication and organizational emptiness during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response


  • Anouck Adrot Télécom Ecole de Management/Institut Mines-Télécom
  • Marie Bia-Figueiredo Télécom Ecole de Management/Institut Mines-Télécom




Electronic communication, Coordination, Disaster, Crisis response, Grounded theory.


This study focuses on email use in extreme situations, in particular organizational crises in disaster settings. Despite abundant empirical evidence of intensive email use in crisis response, the question of the overall support from email to coordination in critical settings has remained unanswered. Filling this gap, we draw on grounded theory principles to conduct an exploratory investigation of email use during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response. We propose a thorough analysis of the crisis responders’ electronic communication practices when they attempted to address what we label organizational emptiness. Through the narration of four episodes, our findings outline electronic communication tensions during the 2003 French heat wave crisis response: email was used by the crisis responders in a helpful as well as damaging way. Our discussion outlines four contradictory behaviors among email users - immediate communication but delayed action, centrality in information processing but absence in collective action, email use and avoidance, efforts for resilience despite persistent patterns of communication – that impeded organizational emptiness resolution, thereby burdening coordination during crisis response. This study enriches literature in three manners. First, we extend the scope of investigation of extreme situations. Second we propose organizational emptiness as an original conceptual lens to comprehensively analyze IT use in crisis coordination. Third, we offer insights on technology enactment in extreme situations.


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