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Encyclopedia of Networked and Virtual Or... > Information Disasters in Networked O... - Pg. 717

717 Information Disasters in Networked Organizations Josep Cobarsí Morales Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain I IntroductIon Most disasters, such as wars, massacres or cultural meltdown, are generated or made worse by human acts. For thousands of years, man-made disasters have often been more destructive than those caused by nature, such as hurricanes, floods or earthquakes. Information mismanagement is a major cause of man-made disasters. Incidents and errors are common and inevitable in any system or environment involving humans, and constitute potential threats. Nonetheless, serious damage can be prevented by providing deci- sion-makers with key data in time or by presenting key information in a usable and useful way. In many com- plex socio-technical contexts and situations, optimal practical prevention is not easy. The late industrial age saw a wide range of man-made disasters, where infor- mation mismanagement was the major cause of many catastrophic events, typically produced as the result a massive and unexpected surge of energy--a conceptual framework was established by Turner (1978). In the knowledge society's information intensive organiza- tions and environments, information disasters will be the most common and far-reaching, catalysed by a much greater degree of interconnection and a higher likelihood of situations of information overload. The results may not always be as tangible as energy, and may be as intangible as damage to an organization's prestige, for instance. The need to update the framework for man-made disasters was stressed by a number of authors in the 1990s. A summary of the efforts to update this framework and some key ideas from recent studies and bibliography are set out in the following. Background: InForMatIon dIsasters and tHeIr study In tHe late IndustrIal age A disaster, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary's is "a sudden accident or a natural catas- trophe that causes great damage or loss of life." This definition is focused on the outcome, as are most others to be found in the dictionaries of European languages. As well as definitions such as that quoted, the concept of disaster is traditionally linked to certain "common sense" ideas: the "casual" coincidence of a few initial causes, which are inevitable in real-life conditions. These causes seem "minor" for such a great conse- quences, thus the disaster is seen to be "unfair." The disaster is deemed to have happened "by chance" or to be an "Act of God." Such opinions are summarised, though not shared by Turner (1978). Secondly, disas- ters are considered to be rare events, something that happens very unusually, and thus "it will not happen in our organization" or at least it will not happen in a way that could be effectively prevented. These ideas, although deeply rooted, should be thoroughly revised by providing scientific knowledge and organizational learning about such events. The industrial age provided mankind with un- paralleled capabilities to manage huge amounts of energy and other tangible resources as inputs for the mass-production of tangible and desirable products. Industrial factories, aircraft, railways, mines and other energy-intensive human inventions became part of everyday life. These involve energy management, and thus potential destruction due to mismanagement is far more widespread than ever before in human history. The late industrial age brought with it a "democratisa- tion" of capabilities to produce disasters, as pointed out by Taylor-Adams & Kirwan (1997). In this sense, a disaster can be thought of as an undesired negative production resulting from "negative tasks," that is, incorrect organizational reactions. Beck (1986) proposes a cause-oriented concept for human-originated disasters: "The cause of disasters is not human error, but systems which transform human error into incomprehensible destructive forces" (p. 21). A theoretical view of the system of disasters such as Beck's had been systematically developed earlier by Turner (1978). In his book "Man-Made Disasters," he Copyright © 2008, IGI Global, distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.