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.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Bottom-Up Response in the Mumbai Attacks

I’ve just returned from India. The country is still grappling with the terrorist attacks in Mumbai that claimed nearly 200 lives. In India, where mass casualties are not unusual – in train accidents, stampedes, or floods – the shock revolves around the inability of India’s institutions to protect even its most elite populations at an iconic hotel in its central commercial center.

There were many failures that enabled the scale of the attacks. Quite telling was that the elite commando force took 10 hours to arrive at the scene of the attacks, ferried the last miles to the scene of the attacks on borrowed public buses. Clearly the Indian government was completely unprepared for this kind of attack.

Also telling was the role that ordinary people played in rescues. The heroes were hotel waitstaff and cooks who put their lives at risk to hide hundreds of guests instead of bailing out through the back door with their own lives – many staff perished (watch a segment on Charlie Rose). A tea vendor at the train station that was attacked saved dozens of lives by repeatedly rushing in to get paralyzed commuters out. The one AK-47 toting terrorist who was captured alive was taken down by constables wielding bamboo sticks.

In the national soul searching that has followed the attacks there is much blame being levied against the government for the lack of intelligence, the lack of preparation, and the tardy response. Nevertheless there is appreciation too that guarding this vast country from terrorism is going to take the vigilance of all people. It is a lesson India can learn from Israel where ordinary citizens foil the majority of attacks by taking swift action. In the Mumbai attacks the 10 terrorists came ashore at a fishing village and walked past the dock official who passively watched them go despite all the signals that something was amiss.

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