Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Timothy Sellnow


Analysis and perceived severity of risk influences organizational decisions to anticipated threats. As economic development and technology improve our standards of living, they also create new challenges to conceptualizing concrete and abstract threats. Organizations that face new threats, along with agencies that oversee these organizations, produce tightly coupled systems that increase risks for direct, indirect, and future stakeholders (Perrow, 1999). Natural disasters, political misbehavior, organizational corruption, financial collapse, food and water contaminations, chemical or nuclear accidents, international tension, to name a few, all present risks and challenges. Unfortunately, many of these situations endanger the lives and well-being of persons. The ability of individuals to conceptualize, prioritize, and respond to myriad threats ultimately determines their risk perception and intention to act accordingly.

Individuals often exaggerate some risks, while failing to acknowledge the severity of others (Sandman, 1989; Lachlan & Spence, 2007). This study will contribute to the understanding of subjectively constructed threats by examining three specific perceptual crises: A hoax, near miss, and risk misconstrual event. Each of these cases relies on robust newspaper descriptions, content analysis of media, and confirmatory organizational interviews. They are documented through a level of legislative action to determine real and structural changes incurred from perceptual crises. From these investigations this dissertation articulates how perceptual crises challenge organizations and governments, ascertains the viability of actional legitimacy theory, and observes variance in communication challenges between differing crisis contexts. These expectations encompass both applied and theoretical contributions.