About the Crisis Leadership Forum

To better understand the leadership dimensions of crisis situations, the Center for Creative Leadership convened a forum with formal and emergent leaders who played a role in Hurricane Katrina. We overlaid this conversation between crisis leaders with the perspectives of discussants with expertise in disaster, terrorism, public health, and leadership. This blog site is intended to continue this conversation.

To read the report on the Crisis Leadership Forum, please click here.

To read CCL's Leading Effectively newsletter on the Forum, please click here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lessons Learned: FEMA Response to Midwest Floods

Nearly three years after their highly criticized response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster FEMA is receiving positive feedback on their relief efforts for the victims of the Midwest Floods. Democratic senators in Missouri and Illinois are giving favorable reviews of FEMA’s early response to the crisis along with other government officials, disaster response personnel and citizens.

The highly-charged public criticism of FEMA during and after Katrina provided an impetus for FEMA leaders to scrutinize their response and apply lessons learned to future crises. A USA Today article indicates that FEMA has learned from Katrina. Glenn Cannon, FEMA assistant administrator for disaster operations states:

"The lessons we learned from Katrina we've taken very seriously. We've changed the way we do business. We don't wait to react."

As we heard at the Crisis Leadership Forum on Hurricane Katrina, there is a need for greater decentralization of relief efforts. This was articulated by Colonel Tom Kolditz at the Forum who stated “Disasters push the operational focus [down to the grassroots level]. It is the same in military operations—the faster the tempo and the higher the danger, the more decentralization is necessary.”

This shift occurred in FEMA’s response to the floods as noted by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill:

"I think they've made a world of improvement both in terms of their preparedness and in terms of their attitude. My sense is they are no longer thinking they can deliver disaster relief from a cubicle in Virginia and are fully engaged on the ground."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Leadership Emerges From the Rubble

If there is a silver lining in the tremendous tragedy of last month’s earthquake in the southwestern province of Sichuan, China it is not only the unprecedented openness of the Chinese government to outside aid but the upsurge of volunteerism and philanthropy within the country's borders. Now, less than a month since the earthquake, soldiers are beginning to control sensitive areas and local media restrictions are increasing, however, the extraordinary response by China’s citizens and NGOs will not likely be suspended any time soon. This surge of volunteerism and philanthropy which is considered atypical for China is not uncharacteristic in times of great disaster.

Much like the Hurricane Katrina crisis in 2005, the earthquake in China overwhelmed the capacity of formal systems and structures, opening the door for emergent leaders to step into the void, and play critical and improvised roles in rescue and rebuilding efforts. Grassroots leaders stepped up and plunge into the fray to assist others.

This unusual grassroots spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy can be summed up by Li Tong, a 28-year-old nightclub manager in Beijing who organized a series of benefit concerts for the quake relief.

"I think the reason (for the widespread response) was simple. The earthquake was just too big and devastating for anyone to ignore. So we all felt we had to get involved.”

"I'm not sure about the long-term impact. For now, there's this sense of joint participation -- and that could continue. Before, I think, people felt more isolated and selfish and they thought the same about strangers. But the relief work has broken through that. So I hope we don't go back to how it was."

Just as individuals affected most by Hurricane Katrina refer to life after the storm as the “new normal”, the people of the Republic of China’s “new normal” may be a rise in grassroots leadership, volunteerism and philanthropy.