Is the United States Ready for Future Catastrophes? Estimating the Effectiveness of Organizations for Hazard Mitigation since 9/11

Aytül Kasapoglu
Ankara University, Turkey
Dennis S. Mileti († 01/31/2021)
University of Colorado
Mathieu Deflem
Google Scholar | ResearchGate | ORCID

This is a copy of an article published in Journal of Homeland Security, September 2007.

Please cite as: Kasapoglu, Aytül, Mileti, Dennis S., and Mathieu Deflem. 2007. “Is the United States Ready for Future Catastrophes? Estimating the Effectiveness of Organizations for Hazard Mitigation since 9/11.” Journal of Homeland Security, September 2007. Online: (archived)


From an organizational point of view, the events of September 11 share similarities with other disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, which create widespread destruction and involve a great loss of human life. While no natural disaster can be equated with the events that took place in New York City, in Arlington, Virginia, and in Pennsylvania, many lessons can be drawn from the research that has been done on the impact of natural disasters and previous terrorist attacks in order to help societies respond to and recover from such events in the future. In this disaster perspective, we investigate the responsiveness of the United States’ emergency management community. Our research is theoretically driven by an organizational model that differentiates between interorganizational and intra-organizational components and, furthermore, that estimates the impact of various aspects of organizational culture.

Terrorism as Disaster: Theoretical Perspectives

America’s emergency management community, the central focus of our research, may rightly count among the most professional, technically sophisticated, and capable groups of response and recovery personnel in the world. Emergency management personnel in the United States have worked tirelessly, from well before September 11, to incorporate the lessons that both experience and research provided to improve the nation’s ability to cope with events of the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks. The learning process of emergency management can be gathered, for instance, from the changes that were implemented in the national response to disasters after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In the wake of the incident, the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked diligently to prepare for future terrorist attacks, specifically by reaching out to other federal agencies, such as the FBI, and to state and local governments and their relevant agencies and by redeveloping the Federal Response Plan. It can therefore be rightly assumed that, as a result of improvements to the emergency response system that came from lessons learned during prior disasters, the response to the September 11 tragedy was more effective than it would have been otherwise. Yet, at the same time it is undoubtedly true that there was much that was not anticipated or planned for.

Crisis management and emergency response organizations are by definition prepared to handle disasters and crises, but the organizational response to the September 11 terrorist attacks was not a routine event. Instead, the response was jolted because of the high degree of unpredictability of the terrorist incidents. The relation between organizational actions (preparedness and mitigation) and environment was obviously different in the case of terrorist attacks that were completely unexpected. Thus, it is important for research to consider the variable contexts of environments (routine versus jolted) and organizational actions (preparedness and mitigation).

From an organizational perspective, we consider it important to investigate various interorganizational and intra-organizational relationships. Most intra-organizational research does not concern emergency organizations but instead studies in industrial companies.1, 2 Also, there has been a shift of focus in organizational theory from intra-organizational to interorganizational studies,3 most of which deal with industrial organizations.4

Summing up the characteristics of the interorganizational literature, at least three observations can be made. First, many interorganizational studies focus on conflict,5 while others concentrate on learning strategies.6, 7 Second, these studies are thematically diverse and rely on an eclectic amalgam of many theoretical perspectives, including network analysis8 and systems theory.9 Finally, older interorganizational studies focus primarily on vertical relations between organizations, but less on horizontal relations. In more recent research, however, symbiotic and horizontal alliances and the flow of information and electronic data have received increasing attention.10

In our research we will estimate the relative impact of intra-organizational and interorganizational models on the basis of an empirical study without a prior theoretical determination. We broaden this comparative model, moreover, with a focus on the culture of organizations. Culture and structure remain the key concepts in most sociological studies or organizations. This can cause no surprise, as organizations are a basic component of the social structure, reflecting the broader culture of shared belief systems as it is expressed, affirmed, and communicated among organizational members.11 Culture can hereby be understood in terms of values,12 knowledge,13 and practices.14

Applied to organizations, the values specific to organizational life include, as Edgar Schein has argued,15 an emphasis on “doing things correctly” and on identifying and solving problems in a timely manner. Culture can thus be summarized as the mentality of the organization. Thereby, the culture of an organization needs to be an integrated system that can rely on the power of shared visions. An effective organizational culture requires delegation of decisions and effective communications and open and truthful transmission of information. Furthermore, leadership must have a strategic long-range vision, the ability to build a team and to bring out the best in team members, total loyalty to the organization’s primary missions, full commitment from all, professionalism, integrity in dealings with clients, clear rules and an absence of corruption, mental toughness and an ability to absorb failure, openness of communication, and a one-stop service for clients to deal with only one person in the organization.

In many of the existing interorganizational studies, the concepts of organizational culture and climate are used interchangeably. In other studies, however, climate and culture are differentiated, for instance by applying culture at the team level of organizations and, conversely, by linking organizational climate with individual-level variables such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and perceptions about work.16 On the basis of the latter distinction, our research would mostly focus on organizational climate rather than culture. Yet, because we focus sociologically on groups instead of on individuals, we consider the concept of organizational culture more appropriate.


Research Questions

With a focus on interorganizational and intra-organizational models and on organizational culture in accounting for disaster response effectiveness, this article seeks to address the following questions:

1. Comparing interorganizational and intra-organizational models of organizational responses, which model is the strongest predictor in the case of the September 11 terrorist attacks?

2. How do “values,” “commitment,” and “work politics” as elements of the organizational culture (see the Measures section below) impact disaster preparedness and mitigation actions following the September 11 terrorist attacks, and which of these variables is the best predictor of organizational response?

3. How do “ performance” (achievement), “professionalization” (employment practices), and “commitment” as elements of the organizational culture (see the Measures section below) impact “innovation” as well as the organizational response to the September 11 events? And can innovation be a predictor of September 11 organizational response? Or what are the relationships between these influences, and which acts as the best predictor of the September 11 organizational response?

4. Are there differences among organizations in terms of their attitudes and behaviors, ranging from taking no action to discussing action, discussing and planning action, and, finally, discussing, planning, and taking actions? If there are differences among organizations in these terms, what is the predictor of these differences? What is the level of adaptation of organizations to jolted (non-routine) events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks?

Researching these questions, we also seek to formulate suggestions to improve organizational effectiveness in emergency management response and, additionally, to estimate to what extent emergency organizations and their members in the United States are ready to respond to future disasters.


The research subjects in this study are drawn from a nationwide list of subscribers of the bimonthly journal Natural Hazards Observer, published by the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among all subscribers, 1,800 were selected who were members of various federal, state, and local organizations and nongovernmental organizations. Indicating the range of organizational representation, 106 readers came from the Department of the Interior (the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Bureau of Reclamation); 114 from the Department of Commerce (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, and National Bureau of Standards); 188 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Family Independence Agency, Federal Health Architecture, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development; 22 from Health and Human Services (the National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Public Health Service, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); 298 from the state emergency service, mental health, community affairs, local affairs, and the National Guard; 839 from local governments, county and city hospitals, and elementary and high schools; and, finally, 185 from national and international relief organizations (such as the Pan-American Health Organization, Red Cross, Mennonites, United Nations Disaster Relief Organization, Salvation Army, World Council of Churches, and Search and Rescue Dog Team).


The theoretical conceptualizations of this study are based on the organizational culture and effectiveness literature that is well established for the analysis of the objectives of organization. Additionally, we constructed novel measurement devices on the basis of insights in the field of risk management and communication. Thus, our approach relied on the existing literature on the use of scales on organizational politics and organizational commitment,17 but we also seek to contribute to the literature by developing new scales, based on additional statements, that are based on theoretical concepts relating to decision-making processes, interorganizational and intra-organizational relations, and values.

Demographic characteristics of the respondents are derived from questions about age, gender, type of education, years of education, number of years worked in the organization of employment, type of employment (full-time, part-time, or temporary), job status (member, worker, or combination thereof), and information about the nature of the organization (federal , state, county, city government, and national and local nongovernmental organization).

Other measures in this research relied on questions and statements that were developed as Likert five-point scale questions, which, unless otherwise noted, were scored as follows: one point for strongly disagree, two points for disagree, three points for neutral, four points for agree, and five points for strongly agree. Following accepted rules of scale construction, reverse items were also taken into consideration. To ensure clarity of the questions upon which the scales were based, additional clarifying statements were provided, such as “Each of the following questions are about the organization that you work or volunteer for. Please indicate how much you agree with each of the following statements.”

The complete lists of statements used in this study are in Appendix 1. The measured characteristics of intra-organizational relationships were based on 19 statements, inquiring about the nature and quality of the relationships in the organization and intra-organizational communication, coordination of activities in the organization, and technical and budgetary capacities. Four statements were used to measure the nature of interorganizational relationships in terms of overlapping goals, competition, cooperation, and communication between organizations. To measure work politics, our study adopted the scale used by Eran Vigoda18 that inquires into favoritism in the organization, the organization’s reward structure, and the influence of politics in organizational decision making.

To measure organizational commitment, a four-item scale based on Vigoda’s was used to estimate pride in, care for, and satisfaction with the organization. To measure organizational values, statements are used on the basis of Edgar Schein’s conception of organizational mentality that implies a belief and trust in people whereby subordinates know that they are valued and trusted.

The dependent variable of this research—organizational behavior or response to the September 11 terrorist attacks—was measured on the basis of a series of statements that inquired into the response to the 9/11 events by the respondent’s organization, ranging from no action at all to discussing actions, discussing and planning actions, and taking certain actions (scored 1 through 4, respectively).

Finally, we designed a question to understand respondents’ level of satisfaction about their respective organization’s behavior on a five-point (strongly agree to strongly disagree) Likert scale: “Please indicate how much you agree with the following statement: Overall, I am very satisfied with the response my organization took because of the September 11 terrorist acts.”

After a pilot study and upon receipt of human subjects approval from the Institutional Review Board of the University of Colorado, requests to complete the survey online were sent out by email to the respondents on December 26, 2002. During the pilot study, we especially focused on clarifying the work status and positions of respondents in a particular type of organization (federal, state, local, or nongovernmental organization). Because online surveys are a relatively new technique in social science research, the Institutional Review Board wanted extra assurance that the anonymity of the respondents was protected, which was accomplished by aggregating all responses in the survey. The survey took a relatively brief time to complete (about 5 to 10 minutes on average), which appears to have positively impacted the participation rate. Of the 1,800 people contacted, 399 responded.


The demographic characteristics of the respondents in our study were as follows. The majority of respondents were government workers (70.7%). There were also 15.8% nongovernmental organization and 7% volunteer workers. Only 3.8 % replied to the questionnaire as “others,” including “academic training and research organization” (one person),” “trainer for municipality” (one person), “public university” (one person), and “consultant for private firm” (one person). The respondents were 67.9% male, and the mean age was 48.97 with a 9.89 standard deviation. The educational level of the respondents was quite high, and the mean was 16.30 with a 4.9 standard deviation.

Only 3.7% of the respondents reported that their organization did nothing, while 7.8% only discussed, and 13.3% discussed and planned actions. The majority of the respondents (72.9%) stated that their organization discussed, planned, and took action. The majority of the respondents was satisfied about their organization’s behavior: 22.1% were strongly satisfied and 53.1% were satisfied, while only 2.3% were strongly dissatisfied.

A factor analysis was calculated for the variables of the intra-organizational model, revealing four factor groups (see Appendix 2). The first group can be labeled “communication and coordination”; the second, “goal achievement”; the third, “capacity”; and the fourth, “decision making.” Advanced statistical analysis indicated various statistically significant relations. One can most easily notice that work or organizational politics was the key variable. Not surprisingly, organizational politics has emerged in the past decade as a factor of increasing significance to understanding managerial processes.19 In many studies, organizational politics is defined as individuals’ perceptions of the influence of politics in the work environment. As discussed by Gerald Ferris et al.,20 work politics also refers to the degree of respondents’ view of their work environment as political and, therefore, unjust and unfair. In the present study, organizational politics was one of the most important variables that was negatively correlated with many other variables, such as intra-organizational, interorganizational, commitment, values, and satisfaction.

As shown in Table 1, organizational politics was related positively only to respondents’ choice about their position (.192). The variable about the respondent’s position (governmental, nongovernmental, or voluntary) was recoded as a dummy variable, whereby governmental workplace was computed as 1 and the alternatives as 0. Therefore, the high positive correlation coefficient between organizational politics and respondents’ choice of their work as governmental or not (“views”) indicates that work politics was higher in governmental organizations than in other types of organizations (NGO and voluntary).

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics, Reliabilities, and Inter-Correlations (Pearson’s r)

Independent variables Mean Std. Dev. Alpha 1. Intra-organizational 2. Inter-organizational 3. Work politic 4. Commitment 5. Value 6. Gender 7. Education 8. Age 9. Views 10. Behavior
1. Intra-organizational 59.4 9.4 .88

2. Inter-organizational 15.2 2.2 .51 .524


3. Work politics 16.5 5.0 .81 –.576 (P<.000) –.434 (P<.000)

4. Commitment 15.8 2.9 .75 .524


–.457 (P<.000)

5. Values 16 2.8 .81 .616


–.659 (P<.000) .605 (P<.000)

6. Gender (female=1) –.016 .125

–.031 –.028 –.009

7. Education 15.3 4.9 .024 –.099 .021 –.003 .086 –.157 (P<.000)

8. Age 48.9 9.8 .150

–.011 .025 .111

.121 (P<.01) –.071 .333 (P<.000)

9. Views (government=1) –.172 (P<.000) –.129

.192 (P<.000) –.179 (P<.000) –.181 (P<.000) –.018 –.076 –.062

10. Responsive behavior 3.6 .8 .103


–.068 .028 .035 .067 –.055 .019 –.002
11. Satisfaction 3.9 .9 .528


–.411 (P<.000) .340 (P<.000) .457 (P<.000) .050 –.008 .029 –.149 (P<.000) .344 (P<.000)
Based on the findings in Table 1, also, organizational politics was negatively related to intra-organizational (–.576 [P<.000]), interorganizational (–.434 [P<.000]), commitment (–.457 [P<.000]), values (–.659 [P<.000]),and respondents’ satisfaction with the response of their organization (–.411 [P<.000]). It could be interpreted that respondents were mostly working in a less-political workplace and therefore experienced less unjust environments. The mean for work politics was 16.5 with a 4.9 standard deviation. The minimum score was 7 and the maximum score 30 for on the work politics scale.

Intra-organizational attitudes were mostly positively related to interorganizational factors (.524 [P<.000]), commitment (.524 [(P<.000]), values (.616 [P<.000]), age (.150 [P<.000]), behavior (.222 [P<.000]), and satisfaction (.528). Intra-organizational factors were negatively related to only two variables: work politics (–.576 [P<.000]) and view of work climate of governmental organizations (–.172 [P<.000]). From this can be concluded that the climate of governmental organizations was more political and unjust.

Interorganizational relations and their correlation coefficients indicate that the patterns were similar to intra-organizational attitudes. Therefore, governmental views and work politics were negatively related to interorganizational attitudes.

Organizational behavior toward the September 11 terrorist attacks was related significantly to intra-organizational factors (.103 [P<.05]) and interorganizational relations (.222 [P<.000]). It can thus be inferred that the September 11 attacks made all organizations alert and responsive regardless of their work politics or other variables. The mean for responsive behavior was quite high (X=3.6).

The positive correlations among satisfaction and several other variables (intra-organizational, interorganizational, commitment, and values), apart from work politics, imply that respondents’ satisfaction with the response of their organization to the September 11 terrorist attacks was related negatively to work politics.

The results of regression analysis supported the zero-order correlations. The structural factors, such as intra-organizational and interorganizational relations, had a higher impact on responsive behavior and satisfaction than did other, attitudinal variables, such as commitment and values (see Table 2). Based on the regression analysis, also, only interorganizational factors were influential for organizational responsive behavior in such a way that the organizations who did almost everything (discussed, planned, and took action) were most represented among the organizations where interorganizational relations scored the highest (chi-square = 22.541, df: 6, p<.000). According to the non-parametric statistical analysis and cross-tabulation results, also, the results of our research showed that strongly satisfied members were getting high scores from intra-organizational relations (chi-square= 115.634, df.: 8, p<.000).

Table 2. Regression Analysis on Dependent Variables

Independent Variables Response Behavior Satisfaction
Gender (female=1) .025 (453) –.005 (–.116)
Education (years) –.023 (–.392) –.007 (–.148)
Age (years) .036 (.618) –.028 (–.571)
Views (governmental=1) .016 (.289) –.090 (–1.960) (P<.05)
Intra-organizational .038 (.514) .320 (5.177) (P<.000)
Interorganizational .280 (4.115) (P<.000) .202 (3.548) (P<.000)
Work politics –.019 (–.264) –.043 (–.705)
Values –.095 (–1.120) .087 (1.236)
Commitment –.063 (–.901) .036 (.612)
R2 .066 .350
Adjusted R2 .041 .332
F 2.598 (P<.000) 19.779 (P<.000)

(Standard coefficients beta and t test results in parentheses)

There were similar findings between interorganizational relations and satisfaction. With interorganizational relations classified as low (8-11), medium (12-15), and high (16-20) and calculated as cross-tabulations, results showed that strongly satisfied members were getting high scores from interorganizational relations (chi-square = 102.98, df: 8, p<.000). Statistically significant relations were also found between satisfaction and respondents’ views (chi-square = 26.221, df: 4,p<.000). Workers or members of governmental organizations were less strongly satisfied (16%) than workers in nongovernmental organizations and volunteers (39%).

Since views of one’s primary job as being in the government sector was found to be related negatively to satisfaction, it can be concluded that respondents in governmental organizations were also less satisfied (as shown in zero-order correlations).


The findings of our research revealed that the interorganizational model is a better predictor for organizational responses to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Of all considered variables, work politics impacted disaster preparedness and mitigation actions the most after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Unlike other cultural elements such as performance (achievement), professionalization (employment practices), and commitment, work politics thus appears as a predictor of organizational response. In our research, no statistically significant difference was found among respondents’ views regarding the level of organizational response to the September 11 events. The majority of the respondents expressed the view that their respective organizations did almost everything that needed to be done in response to the attacks.

On September 11, 2001, the men and women involved in the emergency management community were called upon to show leadership and vision. And, indeed, many of these people once again rose to the occasion. We can find comfort in knowing that many of our relevant organizations have the skills and abilities to deal with the impacts of such events. Looking into the future, we should be aware that there is no completely safe place in the world. Our world is not built on standards of safety. We have to invent safe places and make places safe. From a more realistic point of view, therefore, effective risk communication must be conceived as a continuous process. In this sense, the results of our research can be understood to have contributed to finding ways in which governmental and nongovernmental organizations and their members can prepare for future catastrophes.


The authors are grateful to Thomas Dickinson of the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado for preparation of the web-based survey. We also thank Diana Smith for providing relevant addresses and the respondents for their kind participation.

Appendix 1: Variables and Statements for Scale Construction

Intra-Organizational Relationships

“This organization can adapt to almost anything” (environmental adaptibility)

“Policy decisions are usually made by top level decision makers” (decision making)

“Operational decisions are made in departments and/or those doing the work” (decision making)

“Communication between people in the department I work in is good” (horizontal communication)

“Communication between people in different levels of the hierarchy in my organization is good” (vertical communication)

“There are rules about how people in my department should communicate with each other and with people in different levels of the hierarchy in my organizations” (communication formation)

“There is coordination between the work that different people do here” (work coordination)

“There is coordination between the work that goes on in different departments and/or levels of this organization” (task coordination)

“New ideas from the people who work here are welcomed” (idea innovation)

“New goals for this organization are well received” (goal innovation)

“We have the equipment we need to do our work” (equipment capacity)

“There are enough workers here to get the work done” (employee capacity)

“Our budget is adequate” (budget capacity)

“On the job training is sufficient” (training capacity)

“This organization almost always reaches it goals” (organizational goal performance)

“My department almost always reaches its goals” (department goal performance)

“Most of the workers here almost always achieve their goals” (worker goal performance)

“You have to be qualified to get a job here” (employment professionalization)

Interorganizational Relationships

“The goals of my organization often overlap with the goals of other organizations” (goal overlap)

“The competition my organization has with other organizations limits our ability to get our work done” (competition)

“My organization actually does cooperate with the other organizations it should cooperate with to get the job done” (cooperation)

“My organization actually does communicate with the other organizations it should communicate with to get the job done” (communication)

Work Politics

“Favoritism rather than merit determines who gets ahead around here”

“Rewards come only to those who work hard in this organization”

“There is a group of people in my department who always get things their way because no one wants to challenge them”

“People in this organization attempt to built themselves up by the tearing others down”

“I have seen changes made in politics here that only serve the purposes of a few individuals, not the work unit or the organization”

“There is no place for yes-men around here: Good ideas are desired even when it means disagreeing with supervisors/leaders”

Organizational Commitment

“I am proud to tell others that I am a part of this organization”

“I really care about the faith of this organization”

“I would accept almost any type of job assignment in order to keep working for the organization”

“For me, this is the best of all possible organizations to work for”

Organizational Values

“My organization respects my diversity (age, gender or ethnic) and that of wider society”

“In my organization we are valued and trusted member of the team”

“My organization expects me to exercise total integrity without corruption in dealing with clients/costumers”

“Mistakes are tolerated as long as I learn from them”

Dependent Variable: Response to September 11

“We did nothing in response to the September 11th terrorist act”

“People in my organization only discussed possible actions that we should take because of the terrorist act”

“People in my organization discussed and planned actions to take because of the September 11th terrorist act”

“My organization discussed, planned and took actions because of the September 11th terrorist act”

Appendix 2: Rotated Component Matrix for Intra-Organizational Relations

Intra-organizational Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 Factor 4

New ideas .730

Communication .744

Coordination .728

New goals .721

Coordination .702

Communication .686

To be qualified .595

Operational decisions .577

Goal achievement

Departmental goals

Organizational goals

Personal goals




Number of workers



Decision making


Top-level policy decisions

Eigen values 4.381 2.678 2.441 1.258
Variance explained 24.338 14.878 13.563 6.990
Cronbach alpha (adjusted) .8789 .8065 .7571 .3104
KMO measure of sampling adequacy Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin=.891

Barlett’s test of sphericity Chi-square =2796.9 DF=153 P<.000 (P<.000)



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See other writings on (counter-)terrorism.