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Perceiving the effects of scale on command and control: A conceptual metaphor approach

Tony McAleavy, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD


Objective: This study investigates emergency manager’s perceptions of Command and Control to answer the question “how do emergency managers metaphorically interpret Command and Control?”

Design: An interpretivist paradigm, verbatim transcription, and content and linguistic metaphor analysis were used within this study.

Setting: Fifteen interviews per country, three per selected organization were conducted in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Subjects: Purposive sampling identified suitable participants from key organizations engaged in emergency management at local, subnational, and national levels.

Interventions: The study consisted of 30 semi-structured face-to-face interviews conducted within the work-place.

Main Outcome Measure(s): The inductive and qualitative nature of the study resulted in a 300,000-word corpus of data from which the two posited theories emerged.

Results: The UK Gold, Silver, Bronze model and the USA Incident Command System were considered tried and tested although they are conceptually misunderstood. Moreover, they are believed to be essential, scalable, and flexible. Able to manage the perceived chaos of increasing scales of disaster which contradicts the existing literature.

Conclusions: Two conceptual metaphors are theorized to create flexible learning tools that challenge the entrenched nature of these findings. Command and Control as a Candle demonstrates the effects of increasing disaster scale on systemic efficacy. Command and Control as a Golden Thread illustrates problems caused by time, distance, resource depletion, and infrastructure degradation. These tools engender deeper more critical perspectives by linking theory to practice through metaphor to engender perceptual change.


emergency management, Command and Control, gold, silver and bronze, incident command system, disaster scale, interpretivism, organizations, metaphor

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