After an introduction to systems theory, this essay reviews case studies to argue for the use of a systems perspective in hostage negotiation.
Systems theory is an interdisciplinary field that is used as a framework for taking concepts that were previously viewed as disconnected, unrelated, and disjointed and viewing them as whole systems. Although systems consist of diverse parts or subunits, they are interdependent, which suggests that the functioning of one system subunit is dependent upon the functioning of other subunits. In viewing hostage negotiations as a system, this implies that such negotiations are composed of a number of subunits, all of which may have interactions with other subunits. These subunits may include the field commander and various support personnel, such as traffic control, negotiation supervisor, the negotiation team, and intelligence. Depending on the scope of the situation, other subunits may include higher ranking government officials, the chief of police, family members and associates, and the news media. Each of the subunits can also be viewed as a system within itself. Six case studies are briefly reviewed in order to show how they conform to a systems perspective. Implications of a systems perspective of hostage-taking are drawn for training simulations and role-plays as well as assessment of the environmental factors that impact the emergence and characteristics of a hostage-taking system. Implications of a systems perspective for research on hostage negotiations are also discussed, suggesting that it requires consideration of multiple variables that compose a dynamic system of interdependent subunits that all affect the creation and outcome of the crisis. 1 appendix and 23 references
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