Date of Award

Spring 1993

Document Type



Communication Studies

First Advisor

Brent Northup

Second Advisor

Kay Satre

Third Advisor

Peggy Stebbins


It is early in the morning at a men's dormitory on a college campus. The residents are in a quiet slumber after a typical weeknight of fun. Suddenly, the calm is shattered by two shotgun blasts and the sound of someone running down the hall for the nearest exit. Two freshmen lay bleeding on the floor. Someone calls 911, campus security, and then the college administrators. Everyone wants answers. Hundreds of students wait anxiously near the scene.

The media will soon arrive and probably won't leave until the troubling questions are answered: Who did it? Who is dead? How did someone bring a gun into the dorm without anyone knowing, or did they know and do nothing about it? People are outraged and want to know all the circumstances. The clock is ticking. The college must take action. Is there a plan to handle this crisis? On May 15, 1990, this scenario actually occurred at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. These were the first murders in the history of the college. No one could believe such a disaster could happen (Associated Press, 1990). Three days later, a deranged gunman walked onto the campus of Carroll College. He drew a .44 caliber revolver and shot two employees of the Marriott Food Service in the Upper Commons, killing one. Again, it was the first murder in the history of the college (Associated Press, 1990).

Although these disasters may seem extraordinary, organizational crises are on the rise and occurring more frequently (Mitroff, Pauchant and Shirvastava, 1989; Udwadia and Mitroff, 1991). No organization is immune to crisis any more (Fink, 1986). There are many crises that an organization may encounter, varying in cause, degree of violence, type and level of damage. Any poorly managed crisis has the potential of causing serious organizational damage ranging from lost money to a damaged reputation. The increased incidence of organizational crises has given rise to the newly developed field of crisis management, a field dedicated to analyzing and predicting such crises. Fink (1986) defines crisis management as, "the art of removing much of the risk and uncertainty to allow you to achieve more control over your own destiny (p. 15)."

Crisis management researchers are slowly learning how to predict the unpredictable - to manage even the worst crisis. At times, these researchers have been able to objectively explain, predict, and control the dynamics of organizational crisis. More organizations than ever before are organizing task forces and writing plans to prepare for crises (Stanton, 1989). There are proven ways to prevent crises from occurring. Also, newly developed methods of crisis communication and damage control have proven effective in limiting the possible negative effects crises may have on organizations.