Managing Disasters and Leading through Crises

Faculty Insight

Arnold M. Howitt

Senior Advisor, Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation; Faculty Co-Director, Program on Crisis Leadership; and Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Howitt, who also teaches at the Extension School, speaks with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast about effective crisis management and emergency preparedness. He is the co-editor of the book Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies.

Arnold Howitt, a professor on public policy at Harvard, talks with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast about how the government plans and prepares for emergencies.

Arnold Howitt is the executive director of the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, an adjunct lecturer in Public Policy, co-director of the Program on Crisis Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, and an instructor at Harvard Extension School. He is also the co-editor of the book Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies, which details how to effectively lead a crisis management team and understand emergency preparedness.

Managing Crises features a case study on Hurricane Katrina and what went wrong in the handling of the disaster. Fundamentally, disasters on the level of Katrina are chaotic, hard to manage, and unpredictable. A common characteristic of natural disasters is that half of what emergency response teams think they know about the emergency turns out to be wrong.

One of the challenges of crisis management is that governments spend a lot of money and time on events that may not happen and are vulnerable to funding cuts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided a lot of money to prepare “Hurricane Pam,” an emergency response plan for a potential category three storm in New Orleans. Though Hurricane Pam did address some of the scenarios later experienced in Katrina, funding was cut before responders were able to execute all of the practice scenarios.

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