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An empirical study on approaches to ambiguity in emergency and disaster response decision-making

Christian Uhr, PhD, Henrik Tehler, PhD, Misse Wester, PhD


Results from previous research suggest that the ability to manage ambiguous problems during acute emergency and disaster management is a desirable quality among decision-makers. Ambiguity is a perception that arises when the problem-solver is dissatisfied with his or her understanding of the structure of the problem, and consequently of the problem-solving process. This article presents the results of an empirical study of ambiguity tolerance among Swedish fire commanders. Two different personality tests have been employed. The findings show that the sampled fire commanders are no more ambiguity tolerant than other individuals with no experience of emergency and disaster management; consequently, there appears to be no correlation between ambiguity tolerance and this professional role. Commanders who see themselves as practically oriented are more ambiguity tolerant than those who see themselves as academics. Increasing professional experience and age decreases the frequency of situations in which commanders experience some form of ambiguity. However, experience and age do not affect tolerance if ambiguity is perceived. No correlation between risk tolerance and ambiguity tolerance is found. More research needs to be conducted on how ambiguity tolerance affects performance among decision- makers during emergency and disaster responses.


ambiguity, ambiguity tolerance, uncertainty, decision-making

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