How does coordination unfold when a fast-response organization is pushed to its limits and beyond?

In collaboration with: Featured products
Dr. Jan-Kees Schakel Dutch National Police – VU Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Samer Faraj McGill University

Our aim is to develop state of the art knowledge about coordination practices during police vehicle pursuits. Pursuit scenarios offer complex organizational tasks since they are based on collaborations that evolve dynamically and cross multiple jurisdictions and geographical boundaries. Moreover, pursuits require coordination among units that enter the situation ‘on-the-fly’ and allow only technology-mediated contact amongst units. Such coordination requires police units and operators to continuously adjust and translate their actions and communications across different domains.

This is a specialized competence that is difficult to train since it can only be directly performed in-action. It entails ongoing assessment, keeping situational awareness, risk analysis, and real-time decision-making. There is little systematic knowledge on what are good coordination practices to support such a dynamic process. This makes it challenging to train operators and units to perform these difficult tasks in-action. In this research project we aim to identify and codify several of these coordination practices that can offer learning examples, input for training, and for the development of professional skills amongst police units and operators to increase the efficiency and safety of the pursuit process.

From an organizational theoretical perspective pursuits offer interesting scenario’s to study coordination and sensemaking under pressure. During pursuits opportunities for shared sensemaking are scarce, while coordinated action is directly needed and often but not always achieved. In general, fast-response organizations excel in mounting swift and coordinated responses to unexpected events. They have developed standard responses to minimize sensemaking needs during such events. However, occasionally events occur that are developing so fast that they outpace the time needed to collectively make sense. Our inductive study focuses on such situations during high-speed police pursuits. Our first results suggest that police teams move between three different social-cognitive zones, their comfort zone, potentiality zone, and danger zone. Each zone differs in the way coordination is being achieved.

This study offers a theoretical framework toward a greater understanding of how coordination unfolds when the fast-response organization is pushed to its limits and beyond. While many studies focus on how actors coordinate within either routine, exceptional, or chaotic situations, we study how actors in fast-response organizations adapt their ways of coordinating when confronted with losing or regaining control. We regard this as a gradual process in which coordination modes become ineffective and the organization is forced to adopt a more suitable mode of coordination to avoid spinning out of control, or to fall back on more routine ways of coordinating as soon as this is possible.

One of the pursuits we studied in detail featured in the Dutch TV show ‘Wegmisbruikers’: