Purpose: This paper is concerned with an exploration of crises within the service sector. The paper proposes setting out a thesis that places “management”, as both a function and a process, at the centre of crisis generation and response rather than simply in terms of “continuity management” or service recovery. The paper argues that the nature of interactions within a service sector context generates significant problems of emergence that, in turn, create vulnerability within organisations. The paper aims to conclude by offering suggestions regarding the various points of intervention that are available to organisations. Design/methodology/approach: The paper explores the nature of crisis with particular reference to the service industries. The paper is conceptual in its scope, although it draws on a number of research- and consultancy-based investigations. Findings: This paper has sought to identify three of the key elements of the crisis management literature: namely vulnerability, emergence and the barriers to learning. Each of these offers quite fundamental challenges to the practice of service recovery by highlighting the need to address both the prevention and response dynamics of the crisis process. The paper outlines the theoretical aspects of failure and outlines the process of vulnerable pathways within organisations. Research limitations/implications: The conceptual framework needs to be applied to specific cases of crisis in order to validate the framework. Practical implications: The interdisciplinary approach seeks to outline key issues facing practitioners around the development of contingency plans and the limitations that such plans have embedded within them. Originality/value: The paper seeks to develop understanding of the nature of vulnerability within organisations and outlines a conceptual framework for the analysis of escalation within organisations.