Managing risk and information asymmetry in cross-sector networks: The case of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion
Keywords:risk communication, cross-sector networks, technological hazards, managing shared risk
Technological hazards threaten public safety, and related risk cuts across jurisdictional boundaries, requiring a multiorganizational effort to mitigate. Yet, for those involved, ineffective risk recognition inhibits appropriate action. Using an embedded single-case study design, this article examines the 2013 West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion and the networks of organizations responsible for disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and response. Aspects of risk detection, communication, and interpretation and a series of self and collective mobilization efforts were analyzed. Findings demonstrate that information gaps between key actors, ie, information asymmetry—particularly the company, regulators, and local officials—hindered effective decision making. The case reveals the limitations of contemporary bureaucratic structures for the collective management of risk and the need for network governance that takes a more flexible and adaptive approach. The discussion section concludes with an outline of essential steps to improve the management of similar systems.
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