Irma, Harvey, the Charlottesville protests, and the Orlando Night Club Shootings. The names of these crises are now a part of our national lexicon along with Fukushima, Katrina, 9/11, and the Boston Marathon bombing. On Sept 14-15, Harvard Kennedy School faculty members Dutch Leonard and Arnold Howitt conducted a two day Executive Education program for state and local leaders in Virginia who would be on the front lines of a major incident.

The 60 participants came from state agencies, urban and rural communities, and from a wide range of organizations and professional disciplines, including the Virginia State Police and National Guard, local fire and police departments, emergency management agencies, university police and fire departments, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).

According to Jeff Stern, the Virginia State Emergency Coordinator whose department provided the funding for the program, “These are leaders who would have to work closely together in a major crisis and some of them have never met each other. Having two world class Harvard faculty teach a program has great convening power. VDEM had 180 applicants for the 60 seats we had in the room. We hope to do follow up programs to meet the additional demand.”

According to Howitt, “It’s invaluable for the participants to have the opportunity to step back from daily responsibilities to think through the big picture of a number of types of emergency responses, as well as form bonds with other responders.”

In two days the program cannot cover all types of emergency events, but through discussion of case studies and personal experiences, the participants are immersed in the logic, skills and actions that would be helpful no matter what the crisis. Leonard noted, “By walking through what happened in the Tuscaloosa Tornado, the Fukushima nuclear incident, or the Boston Marathon Bombing, we can help participants think through how to prepare for, respond to and recover from a variety of different situations. That is the heart of making communities resilient.”

The Virginia program derives from the five-day Leadership in Crises executive program that Leonard and Howitt lead at Harvard Kennedy School each April. They also leverage the 50 cases they have developed for training programs for the National Guard, colleges and universities, and other communities and organizations.