Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Timothy Sellnow


Chaos theory holds that systems act in unpredictable nonlinear ways and that their behavior can only be observed, never predicted. This is an informative model for an organization in crisis. The West Virginia water contamination crisis, which began on January 9, 2014, fits the criteria of a system in chaos. Given the lack of appropriate response from the established organizations involved, many emergent organizations formed to help fill unmet informational and physical needs of the affected population. Crisis researchers have observed these ephemeral organizations for decades, but the recent proliferation of information communication technologies (ICT’s) have made their activities more widespread and observable. In West Virginia, their activities were indispensable to the affected population and helped restore a sense of normalcy. In this chaotic system, the emergent organizations functioned as strange attractors, helping move the system away from bifurcation and towards normalcy. This dissertation uses a qualitative approach to study the emergent organizations and how their presence and efforts were the mechanism that spurred the self-organization process.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Included in

Communication Commons