From Earthquakes to Pandemics: Arnold Howitt and Dutch Leonard on Crisis Management

January 7, 2009
From the Ash Institute's Communiqué, Winter 2009

During the past decade, HKS Faculty Members Arnold Howitt, an Ash Institute executive director, and Herman “Dutch” Leonard have developed a multi-faceted research and executive education program on leadership in crises. Looking at situations ranging from natural catastrophes and industrial accidents to pandemics and terrorism, they focus on pre-event preparedness, “in the moment” crisis response, and the long-term issues of disaster recovery.

Their HKS executive education programs are oriented towards both emergency response leaders who work on the front lines in a crisis situation and elected and appointed officials who set policy and provide resources for preparedness. Participants have come from all over the United States and a number of other countries, represent diverse professional fields, and have experience with many types of crisis issues. They come not only to learn from Harvard faculty but to share insights and effective practices.

Howitt and Leonard have also written a number of articles in professional and scholarly journals, hosted faculty at HKS in international scholarly exchanges, have several ongoing research projects, and have completed a forthcoming book, Managing Crises: Responses to Large Scale Emergencies (CQ Press, 2009).

A recent major initiative has expanded the reach of the program internationally. In mid-November, they piloted a one-week executive training program for senior Chinese emergency management officials. The program was run in collaboration with former Ash Institute visiting scholars Professor Lan Xue, dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University, and Professor Zongchao Peng along with other colleagues at three leading Chinese institutions: Tsinghua University, the China National School of Administration, and Beijing Normal University.

The program brought over 40 emergency management leaders from different levels of government and parts of China for classes and discussion at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Presentations compared and contrasted the problems of response to “landscape scale” disasters: Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the major snow storms that tied up China early in 2008, and the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province this past May. The program also focused on emergency preparedness for major “fixed events,” such as the national political conventions in the United States and the Beijing Olympic Games. The participants also heard from officials planning for major upcoming events in China – the Shanghai World Expo 2010 and the Asian Games in Guangzhou that same year.

The China Crisis Management program in Beijing was funded by a seed grant from the Harvard China Fund, along with support from the China Association for International Expert Personnel (CAIEP) and Tsinghua University. It is hoped that the executive education program will become an annual event, with sessions both in China and at Harvard. Howitt, Leonard, and their collaborators also plan comparative research on crisis management issues in China and the U.S., development of case studies and other curriculum materials, and international research conferences. During 2009, as part of this effort, the Ash Institute will host visiting scholars Dr. Jianxun Chu, University of Science & Technology of China, and Dr. Huan Zhang, School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University.

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Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies

During the past decade, Arnold Howitt and Herman “Dutch” Leonard have focused on pre-event preparedness, “in the moment” crisis response, and the long-term issues of disaster recovery.