There are few opportunities to see great leadership and lack of leadership/chaos together so apparently than during an emergency. Emergencies require both an instinctual and trained leadership. There is no “faking it” during a disaster. The stakes are too high to spend time figuring out best practices or chains of command. After the event, so much of the quality of recovery is dependent upon emergency leadership shown in those initial moments. Even those that we might consider “natural born leaders”, will fall short during a disaster, unless they are trained to lead in those circumstances.
The terrorist bombings in Boston proved this to be true. Just a few days after this horrible attack, news outlets were already praising leaders in Boston. A report for The Atlantic Cities said: “The scene on Boylston Street was an admirable display of bravery, skill and calm by first responders and volunteers. But less remarked, and equally remarkable, was the value of the city’s foresight. Few U.S. cities could have been better prepared for the events of this week. “Everything that you saw happen within seconds of the explosion,” says James Baker, the president of security consultancy Cytel Group, “was all because someone thought they should be prepared for that.” Baker would know. In the past 24 months, he has helped Boston run two massive, 24-hour worst-case scenario simulations that bore no small resemblance to the situation unfolding this afternoon in Watertown.” (Boston Is One of the Best Prepared U.S. Cities to Handle a Crisis)
Those devastated by the tornado in Moore, OK and and other surrounding states were calmed by the leadership of those delivering the news as well as the competency of the first responders. Their emergency alert system began by giving the area as much warning as possible. People took the warning seriously and understood their leadership. This is a trust people living in tornado alley have with their meteorologists. Local leaders and school officials have emergency plans that are rehearsed and practiced. Like Boston, worst case scenarios are thought through and chains of command established. The National Guard is a perfect example of trained leadership in these situations. Brig. Gen. Emery Fountain from Oklahoma who lives very close to Moore said, “The National Guard, and the country, has never let down a community. So we’re always there. I think they know that. As soon as the public sees uniforms, it’s a calming factor. And their Guardsmen are their brothers and sisters. They get a call and they report to duty, and they suit up, and they take on Citizen-Soldier mode and get after it, and stay on the mission until it’s done.”
Most leaders during emergency situations are the reluctant kind. They train to be able to respond and lead, all the while praying they will never have to lead at all. This is a unique leadership role in life or death situations. We call them heroes when they follow their training and serve with compassion. We are grateful for these brave, well trained, men and women, who show us their best in the worst situations.