Variations in Organisational and Employee Responses to High-Impact, Low-Probability Events

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


High-impact, low-probability events such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) terrorist attacks have the potential to cause serious disruption to national infrastructure organisations in the UK. Although research examining the willingness and ability of healthcare workers to report to work during an extreme event has been conducted, little is known about levels of willingness and ability for employees of other sectors of national infrastructure.

This thesis presents much needed evidence regarding the likely concerns, behavioural responses and information needs of employees of national infrastructure organisations in the UK during extreme events, with a focus on CBRN terrorist attacks. An interview study revealed that many resilience professionals assumed their staff would be willing to report to work during extreme events and had not placed sufficient emphasis on facilitating staff willingness to return to work during a crisis. An employee web survey revealed that in the case of some CBRN scenarios, less than a quarter of staff reported they would be willing to go to work. A series of employee focus groups revealed that staff will face a variety of barriers during a CBRN incident and will expect a great deal from their employer, including medical interventions and accurate, scientific information. At present, it appears likely that national infrastructure organisations’ plans will not meet the expectations of their staff and will fail to address their numerous practical, psychological and communication needs in the event of a CBRN terrorist attack.

This research has drawn on theories of risk perception and risk communication, alongside theoretical frameworks from health psychology and social psychology, to understand likely employee responses to extreme events. A series of recommendations are suggested for UK national infrastructure organisations’ business continuity plans and activities, including strategies that could be used to motivate and support staff in their return to work during an extreme event.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBrooke Rogers (Supervisor)

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