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Help we are sinking! Stories from Norwegian dispatch centers on decision-making in unfamiliar and ambiguous situations

Leif Inge Magnussen, PhD, Eric Carlstrøm, PhD, Ann-Kristin Berge, MSc, Frode Wegger, MSc, Jarle Løwe Sørensen, DBA


The aim of this exploratory case study was to examine whether sensemaking processes may influence decision-making of emergency call center dispatchers when dealing with maritime crises. This article focuses on sensemaking and decision-making in an emergency services context using Norwegian operators as a case and reports on data collected from five focus-group interviews with emergency dispatchers at five different locations. Each focus group consisted of three dispatchers, representing the three main Norwegian emergency response dispatch centers: police, fire and rescue, and the Emergency Medical Communication Centre (AMK). The study’s purpose was to see whether choices made when responding to maritime crisis calls are influenced by sensemaking processes, and whether these processes may have influenced the dispatcher’s choice of which search and rescue resources to contact. The study found that the sensemaking processes that occurred prior to the decision-making might have been influenced by the dispatcher’s past experiences, in particular, experiences from land-based operations. The findings also suggested that the emergency dispatchers made decisions based on intuitive sensemaking, as they were perceived pressed on time and experienced maritime crisis in a more transboundary nature than everyday land-based emergencies. The effects of sensemaking processes and intuitive decision-making shown in this study are of possible relevance to emergency services educators and managers outside a Norwegian framework.


decision-making, sensemaking, organizational beliefs, dispatchers, sea-land collaboration

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