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Emergency organizations’ diverging perceptions of terrorist attacks

Annelie Holgersson (Department of Surgery, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)
Veronica Strandh (Department of Political Science, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 3 May 2016




The purpose of this paper is to analyse how the police, the rescue services and the emergency medical services perceive the threat of terrorism and preparedness for a terrorist-induced crisis. It also aims to unravel differences among the emergency organizations and to discuss their potential implications for emergency preparedness.


Data were collected using a questionnaire distributed to operational personnel from the emergency services in eight Swedish counties; 864 responses were received and analysed.


There were significant differences between the police, rescue and ambulance services regarding perceptions of event likelihood, willingness to respond, estimated management capability and level of confidence with tasks to be performed on-scene. Perceived likelihood of events appeared affected by institutional logic; events within their respective domain of responsibility were perceived as more likely. The police stood out in many aspects, with more personnel with experience of violence on duty and a high grading of the probability of terrorist attacks compared to the other organizations. Fewer police had high estimates of their organizations’ management capability and knowledge of tasks on-scene.

Practical implications

Differences in perspectives of terrorism preparedness and response among the emergency services were shown, highlighting the importance of enabling inter-organizational insights on safety culture, with risk awareness and management strategies, as well as knowledge of the other organizations’ institutional logics and main tasks, so as to achieve an effective, collaborative response to terrorism-induced crises.


Little research has been conducted comparatively with regard to the emergency services and their perceptions of terrorism-specific threats and preparedness, particularly in the Swedish context.



Holgersson, A. and Strandh, V. (2016), "Emergency organizations’ diverging perceptions of terrorist attacks", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 82-94.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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