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.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lessons Learned from the Fire

Just over a month after a massive lightening storm ignited more than 2,000 fires throughout northern California fire officials recently announced that 98% of the fires have been contained. Still fire officials warned that fire danger remains high throughout the state.

David Balwin, an adjunct at the San Diego campus of the Center for Creative Leadership, knows first hand what some of the residents of northern California have been facing this past month as fires threatened their homes. He and his wife were among the residents endangered by the 2007 Southern California wild fires that destroyed 1,500 homes and over 500,000 acres.

“As my wife and I hunkered down in our home with windows shut tight, we tuned in to the television for ongoing live footage of houses being burned to the ground. But, every few hours the mayor of San Diego would have a communication press conference and facilitated key leaders from the police, fire, national forest service, helicopter pilots, etc. This communication proved essential especially for my wife who has only been in the San Diego area for a couple years,” said Baldwin.

Fortunately their home survived the fires and one of the key lessons David and his wife learned from their experience was the importance of relying on others is times of crisis.

The Baldwin’s insights echoes much of what the General Honoré who was lauded for shaking New Orleans out of a daze after hurricane Katrina struck observed during the height of the Katrina crisis--- the need to have a “culture of preparedness” where people have a natural civic response to helping others in times of crisis.

According to Honoré, the greatest and largely unlearned lesson of Katrina, Honoré was that despite investments and improvements in federal and state disaster response, civic response remained weak.

"I'm sure you and your wife have a plan to meet at Uncle Joe's house, but does your plan include asking Mrs. Smith next door if she needs a ride?" he says. "We saw a lot of Mrs. Smiths in New Orleans," said Honoré.

Another lesson the Baldwins learned from their experience was to have a plan in place in the event of future disasters. “The crisis made us reflect on what are the key personal items we need to have prepared and ready to evacuate with in our hands. Additionally, we purchased a fire safe as our perspective changed from living in a sense of stability to having an evacuation plan in place,” stated Baldwin.

The need to think ahead is articulated in the book “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why” and reviewed in The New York Times. The Time's piece states:

"There are ways to prepare for more common threats like fires, floods and other emergencies. Take part in evacuation drills at work and at home. Make a habit of changing batteries in your smoke detector on a schedule, like the first of the month or every time you change the nearest light bulb. And get to know your neighbors, who can be a valuable resource in emergencies."

The Times and the author offer a "disaster IQ" quiz online:

How Prepared Are You if Disaster Strikes?

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