Miscommunication during the anthrax attacks: How events reveal organizational failures

Karen M. O'Neill, Jeffrey M. Calia, Caron Chess, Lee Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This study of the anthrax attacks of 2001 treats risk communication as a series of events that can be analyzed to discern the strengths and weaknesses of organizations charged with responding to emergencies. To investigate how organizational practices shape risk communication, we use a method developed primarily for comparative-historical case studies called event-structure analysis. We analyze events leading to false media reports of anthrax infections in one New Jersey town soon after an infection by a potentially lethal strain of anthrax was confirmed in a nearby postal facility. This analytic method highlights the failures of organizations to institutionalize public health practices, which allowed contingent events to determine risk messages and responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-129
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Ecology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Bioterrorism
  • Event-structure analysis
  • Institutions
  • Organizations
  • Risk communication


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