With the COVID-19 coronavirus threatening to become a pandemic, HKS Senior Lecturer Juliette Kayyem says globalization has changed the nature of the crises we face — and that crisis managers need to respond.

Featuring Juliette Kayyem
31 minutes and 56 seconds

Responding to a threatening virus is nothing new to HKS Senior Lecturer Juliette Kayyem, who played a major role in managing the US response to the H1N1 virus pandemic in 2009 as an official in the Obama administration.

But now as the COVID-19 coronavirus has spread from Asia to Europe and the Middle East and threatens to reach pandemic status, Kayyem says globalization and other factors have changed the nature of crises humanity is facing—and that governments and crisis managers need to adapt.

“The nature of the crises we’re facing on a global scale is that they are very hard to limit,” she says. “They're very hard to contain and their impact is going to be felt across borders, across geographies, and across chain of commands.”

Kayyem tells PolicyCast host Thoko Moyo that there is already a well-established playbook for responding to a local, regional, or even a global crisis. But planning ahead for a so-called “black swan” event—the kind of low-probability, high-consequence crisis that has the potential to change the course of history—is often complicated by wildcards such as irrational fears, misinformation and disinformation, and politics. 

In the world of disaster preparedness and response, she says, measuring success sometimes means being happy that things could have been worse.

“It's not rainbows and unicorns,” she says. “In my world, you're already at the bad thing happening. And if you're lucky, maybe you can stop it.”

Juliette Kayyem is the Belfer Senior Lecturer in International Security at Harvard Kennedy School, a security consultant, entrepreneur, and the author of the book “Security Mom: My Life Protecting the Home and Homeland.”

Hosted by

Thoko Moyo

Produced by

Ralph Ranalli
Susan Hughes

This episode is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

Thoko Moyo: Hello and welcome to the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast. I’m your host, Thoko Moyo. The dangerous COVID-19 coronavirus has spread from Asia to Europe and the Middle East and appears to have the elements of a pandemic. But it's not the first global crisis humanity has faced. And experts say it won’t be the last. Mega storms, cyber threats, rising seas — we live in a world where planning for the next disaster is a key to survival. So is there a playbook for responding to a global crisis? Are disinformation and irrational fear making things harder for disaster planners? Today we’re joined by Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer Juliette Kayyem. Juliette teaches and consults on crisis preparedness and response, and she joins me to talk about the best ways to prepare for the worst.

Welcome to PolicyCast. In recent times, we've had a number of crises that we've dealt with in the world. There's been acts of terrorism, there's been global public health emergencies. You've had national disasters, extreme climate events. And sure enough, we started this year with fears and concerns about the coronavirus and debates about how to respond to it. Coronavirus feels new, but yet there's a sense of deja vu. Is that a fair assessment, and why does it always feel like we're reinventing the wheel when it comes to crises?

Juliette Kayyem: That's such a good question, and it's true. I mean, what you have to remember is it's called a crisis for a reason, right? It's that it's not a mere emergency. Most institutions, government officials or government entities, even families know how to deal with the mundane, even the emergency, right? You know what you need to do and call 911. A crisis is one in which the systems of response do not hold, or as I like to often say, the idea of all you need is to throw more things at the wall just isn't the right answer. It's a leadership art. You have to be nimble, you have to be able to understand what's going on, what we call situational awareness. You have to take politics into account. You have to be able to guide resources and surge and scale them. And so each time we have a crisis, it does seem, why aren't people learning?

Part of it is it's new people or new instances, but I think a larger part of it is that the nature of crises that, I think, we're facing on a global scale now are really hard to limit. So we're sitting at a time with coronavirus, but we could be talking about climate change or some supply chain issue or even terrorism or cyber attack. They're very hard to contain, and their impact is going to be felt across borders, across geographies, across chain of commands. And so to be a strong crisis leader, to be able to manage, you not only need to know the playbook, which has all sorts of wonky terms ...

Thoko Moyo: And there is a playbook. And we'll talk about that.

Juliette Kayyem: … Incident command, I can name all the terms. You sort of have an incident command structure. It looks like a chain of command that we see in the military. As you need to surge resources, different operational players come in and fill those needs that gets you, in the kind of crises we're facing, only 50% of the way there. So I do think that we're at a new stage of crisis leadership and management in which we have to begin to take into account a lot of the challenges that we're seeing with the kind of threats that we have, the sort of magnitude, the scalability, the politics of our time, right? Think about Puerto Rico, right? And so that's what I try to do. That's what I study. How do you change the way we respond to crises that better serve the public that you're serving, no pun intended, without blowing up the whole system, right? There's still this plan. As you said, there's still a plan.

Thoko Moyo: So maybe let's go back to... You mentioned that there is a playbook.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah.

Thoko Moyo: And it doesn't sound like it's plug and play. I mean, you'd need to adapt it for the very specific circumstances that you have, but there is a playbook.

Juliette Kayyem: Yes.

Thoko Moyo: So what are some of the elements of it? What are sort of the top things that, if you were advising someone who's just got a job, I don't know, one of our students at the Kennedy School's about to take on this job in a place, he's going to be the president and suddenly there's a natural disaster. Where do you start?

Thoko Moyo: I mean, one is, you make sure that the operational plan, right? How do you get people, how do you save people? It's as simple as that. That it is well tested and understood by your leadership team and by the people who work for you. It's a system called the Incident Command System. It has different names. It could have different names. But it's essentially a way in which you have leadership. That leadership is being advised about what's going on on the ground and then making decisions about driving policy or resources to the appropriate place.

As an example, the BP oil spill, we set up a national incident command because it was five states, right? 60,000 people are working within a system in which their role is known. It's either logistics or it's finance or it's operations or it's planning. They're just plugging and playing and helping out the incident commander who's going to make determinations about how to respond. It's a great system. It's been adapted universally so that we can send, for example, 50 Massachusetts firefighters to Australia. Right? That's what we did. Right. Because they can just show up and the person will say "You are in command sector seven doing logistics," right?

Thoko Moyo: Okay, so it applies regardless of where you are.

Juliette Kayyem: Right. That's the good news. The bad news is there's a lot of elements it doesn't take account for, right? It is irrational fear, like a pandemic. I mean, the number of phone calls or texts I get today by friends, because I'm always... The text I get is always the metrics. I call it the text measure, friends of friends. "Should I do this? Should I be nervous about the coronavirus?" It's an irrational fear, right? So sometimes-

Thoko Moyo: Irrational, though?

Juliette Kayyem: I do. I think so right now as we're talking. We only have 10 cases in the United States. No fatalities. Between here and Connecticut, I'm going to give you a worse fatality count, just by opioids or car accidents. But I'm worried. I mean, I'm not ...

Thoko Moyo: Blase about it.

Juliette Kayyem: I'm not blase.

Thoko Moyo: Yeah.

Juliette Kayyem: And one wants to prepare. I'm a big preparedness person, and you want to make sure that we have resources in place. And the most important thing is, of course, identification. And what I've said a couple times already, situational awareness. Do you know what's going on? The problem with a pandemic like this is it's what we call an emergent crisis, right? It doesn't show up on one day. It showed up in December, people knew that there was a new disease. It starts to go up, and now everyone's panicking because we have over a thousand dead worldwide. So you want to be able to identify what's going on.

Thoko Moyo: You were saying about texts from your friends. So they're texting you, "Should I be worried?" And some of the metrics ...

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah. I call it the text metric, because it is... And normally it often subsides, though lots of time can pass and I don't get any texts about my job. With something like this, and I think also, people worry about their kids and something about it being invisible. A bomb going off in London, you can see it, it feels far away, and it's over. Right? The people panic risk is irrational because they feel like their window of response is closing as the thing is coming towards you. And that's what way people feel about a biological attack.

Thoko Moyo: But wait, I mean that's... It's irrational, I guess, as we speak today in the US. But if you're in China, it isn't irrational.

Juliette Kayyem: No, I know.

Thoko Moyo: Right.

Juliette Kayyem: So I'm glad that you clarified. So one place can have a crisis. And another ought to be preparing for that crisis. Preparedness is all about preparedness, right? I totally agree with you. I mean, China is in a crisis of... And one hopes they succeed so that the crisis doesn't become global.

Thoko Moyo: So let's just take this idea of an incident …

Juliette Kayyem: Command. Yeah.

Thoko Moyo: … command center that you set up. What would that look like for something like a coronavirus? I mean, who would convene that on a global scale?

Juliette Kayyem: Right. So on a global scale, it's actually the WHO. So in fact, as I say, there's plans. So I don't know if you'll remember this, but a couple of weeks ago, people like me were clamoring for the World Health Organization to call for what's called a public health incident of international …

Thoko Moyo: Consequence.

Juliette Kayyem: … consequence. Right. The reason why is because that would trigger a command system of which there's someone, I don't know who it is, at the WHO, who would be the incident commander for a global scale. Each country will then have their mini incident commands, right? Because they know the specifics. But WHO is sitting at the top, probably focused on Asia for obvious reasons. Probably has policies around the vaccination, probably has a line of response.

Think of it as buckets, right? So you have the incident command. So it's hard to do on a podcast, but you've seen it visually. But think about different buckets that are feeding in to a centralized structure. So one of the buckets would probably be cruise lines right now. Should we just close down the cruise line industry? Another bucket's going to be, how do we get pharmaceuticals to push for vaccine? Another bucket. So that's sort of the way to think about it. And then each country is going to have their own incident command. China's is going to be focused on isolation and quarantine. The United States, with the luxury of time, our incident command, which we haven't established yet, which is frustrating, would have prepared states and localities, I think, for identification. We need to know if someone comes in here with the symptoms.

Thoko Moyo: So there is a formal process.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah.

Thoko Moyo: And so that triggers a number of actions. And I guess that's similar at a local level. If you were looking at a crisis in the US, in a state, a governor may declare state of emergency.

Juliette Kayyem: And we have an incident, yeah.

Thoko Moyo: Those are del ...

Juliette Kayyem: And the public's not seen this. So it's so interesting. I do a lot for CNN, and I remember when the Boston Marathon happened. I had been State Homeland Security Advisor. So I had overseen state planning for the Boston Marathon. I was out by the time of the marathon, and I had just served as assistant secretary of DHS. So to CNN, I'm perfect, right? I know the stake. And I remember standing at the corner of Boylston with Anderson Cooper who's no stranger to crises, and there's about 30 cops standing at the corner of where... The turnpike people in Boston will know this, sort of the turnpike empties at Prudential. And I remember him saying, on air, "Oh, they're just standing around." And because I knew it, because the public doesn't see this, I go, "No, they're just positioning to be deployed." Right? Because the incident command, you all come to a central place and then you get sent out.

That's just the kind of thing I know because I've worked operations enough. It's just something that the public ought to know there is. There is a basis for what's going on. And it struck me like, here's a reporter, one of the top reporters, I mean, he knows it now, who has been to these, but because we have this gap between sort of first responders and civilians, how we work, how first responders' work is not known.

Thoko Moyo: Right. So let's just look at some of what's happened, and I think the coronavirus is a good one sort of as an example because we're sort of living it right now. Some of the earlier responses in China, and I know we're talking today and by the time this airs ...

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah.

Thoko Moyo: … things might have moved on. Included quarantine the region that was affected. I find that quite remarkable that they can achieve that, an actual lockdown. Is that something that you could do, for instance, in the US, and what is some of the things that sort of allow you or constrain you in making decisions like that?

Juliette Kayyem: Right, and it's such a great question, and this is in terms of, sorry to interrupt you, is in terms of crisis management, you touch on the sort of global theme of crisis management, which is, every crisis has a history and a lawyer, I often say.

Thoko Moyo: And brains and muscle, you also say.

Juliette Kayyem: And brains and muscles, right. So that the lawyer... Or the lawyer, what I mean by, is there's a legal structure that guides how what policies are allowable and what policies are not. So in China, you have an authoritarian government. They can shut down a city. Now, whether that's policy wise, so to speak, whether that's wise policy is a huge to beat within the public health community. I guess I would even say it's not even a debate. I think most people guided by public health would say the way they did it, they announced it but then didn't do it for four days so you've already lost lots of people. It was too late. It was probably not the best-

Thoko Moyo: So the execution, not the decision to quarantine.

Juliette Kayyem: The execution, right. But I think that's true in every case. And we saw this with the case study that was just done on Ebola, same thing. That you can talk tough. Intellectually, it makes sense, right? Of course. Those people are sick. Let's keep them away from the non-sick people. But when you actually try to execute it, it never actually works. The United States has very different governance system, which is, first, the president does not have quarantine powers. Now, this president might find them in some national security law. But generally, and this is the challenge in the United States, public health challenge and benefit. I don't mean it's all negative, but questions around public health and public safety tend to be made by mayors and governors, that the way our constitution is written on the 10th amendment is we delegate those authorities down. Right? So that, when you think about the deployment of the Boston Police Department, you're not thinking of Donald Trump, right? You're thinking of the Boston Marathon. And so that means that if a mayor wanted to do a quarantine, he'd have to enforce it himself, but it would not be your first choice.

Thoko Moyo: But doesn't that then pose challenges in terms, or at least highlight the need for really good information …

Juliette Kayyem: Yes.

Thoko Moyo: Share and coordination, and particularly if we were in a situation where something was happening really quickly, sort of, it's coming from New York, coming up north towards Massachusetts. I mean, you'd want to know that there's coordination and there's information sharing, not just in one piece doing its own thing. I mean, how do you resolve challenges like that? I mean it's, yeah.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah. I mean, I think a student of mine, you learn something new every day. There's a student of mine in my class, but just the way he put it is, we were going through a case study as we often do at the Kennedy School around Ebola. And I was playing the president and said, "Well, you know that this could be harmful." The decision that he was recommending. And he just looked up and said, "Yes, but it's less harmful than not doing the quarantine for the Ebola." And I thought that's exactly how you measure success. It's one of the biggest challenges I have as a communicator is how you measure success in a crisis. It's not rainbows and unicorns. We're well past that in my world, right? This idea of everyone holding hands. In my world, you're already at the bad thing happening. If you're lucky, maybe you can stop it. And you're measuring success by, did fewer bad things happen? Right? So success — I often use this example, the Boston Marathon. Three people tragically, two adults and a child, died at the finish line. That's a tragedy. There's no way I'm saying that's a success. It's a tragedy of intelligence, tragedy of terrorism, a failure of intelligence. But 297 people survived. Some of them with a lost arm, a lost leg, two lost arms, two lost legs, lost hand, in sufficient trauma that they had to go to a hospital. We're, because of the training, because of the incident command structure, whatever, we're able to make it to hospitals in a three-state area. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. If you made it to a hospital, you did not die. Not a single one of those people that I mentioned died. So that's a success.

Thoko Moyo: It could've been worse.

Juliette Kayyem: Could've been worse.

Thoko Moyo: But it wasn't.

Juliette Kayyem: Right? And then you think about resiliency as a city, right? So the difference between 300 dead and three. And I'm not minimizing the three, but just as a magnitude of what that was, is remarkable. And it's a hard thing to… People say, "Three people died," I can't respond, "But 297 didn't," right? It's a very hard thing to do in my field.

Thoko Moyo: Yeah, and it's a delicate one because if you have three people are people that you know, they're your family. Yeah, no, I totally get that. And I suddenly understand from whence you're coming. You mentioned as we talked about sort of Boston, you mentioned failure as an intelligence, and I spoke a little bit about that because I was looking at the 9/11 commission report, and they identified four failures. And I think the first one was a failure of imagination.

Juliette Kayyem: That's the first.

Thoko Moyo: So, and then a number of sort of operational management, et cetera. Let's talk about that, because sometimes something happens that's not, and you'll correct me, but that's not sort of slow burn as we see with corona. It's happening. It's happening, and then it becomes this big thing. Sometimes it suddenly happens and you're in it.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah.

Thoko Moyo: And you may or may not have been able to foresee it. But let me go back to my original point. Let's talk about some of the failures that you see. What's behind that? When we say failure of imagination, what's that about?

Juliette Kayyem: So I mean, it's a great point, is sometimes, 9/11 being the most obvious, sometimes there's an event that only in hindsight or in hindsight it seems so obvious that it would have happened. And then 9/11... We call them, in risk assessments, black swan events, right? These are the low probability, high consequence events that change the course of history often, but also seem obvious in hindsight, right?

Thoko Moyo: But how can that be? I mean, what do we mean by that?

Juliette Kayyem: That there was enough... If people had sat around and thought, "Look, there's this guy bin Laden, he's sort of involved in '95 with the first World Trade Center bombing. He's saying these things, he's now gone after two embassies in Africa, '98. In '99, he goes after the USS Cole. In 2000, he calls a jihad against the US. We are picking up intelligence of something big happening. We are stuck in the way we're thinking, that the use of an airplane would only be for hijacking purposes." You and I, I don't know how old you are, but that was what we did and that's what they did in the '70s, right? And if people had thought through, "Oh my God, right, this is their plan." The epic event is putting the pieces together between concerns about airplanes, which they thought would just be hijacked, and a spectacular event.

Thoko Moyo: But this is happening in an environment of noise. And there's other things.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah. That's the problem.

Thoko Moyo: So how do you know that this is different?

Juliette Kayyem: It seems so... I mean, that's the problem with... Well, let me put it a different way. I'm not forgetting. Could it have been stopped? We're going to debate that forever, right? And I think one of the reasons why someone like me who started in counter-terrorism is interested in what we call Right of Boom. So Left of Boom is prevention. Can we stop the bad thing from happening? Boom is the bad thing. It could be sudden or emergent. Or Right of Boom, the area I'm in now in terms of preparedness, response, resiliency, huge, huge issue now, is how hard it is to predict the black swan. Right? I mean, in other words. And also how to mobilize for it.

So if I started in counter-terrorism, the existential crisis for me now, especially as a mother of three kids is climate change, right? I see it coming. It's emergent. We can't seem to galvanize enough political will. It's going to impact the way we live and who we are. And yet we don't seem prepared to try to stop it. And so we better get better at responding to it to save lives.

Thoko Moyo: And would you say the issue is that we're, as you say, in hindsight it seems obvious, but it's very hard to sort of identify it and see it and sort of put a name to it. Do you think that's the problem or the problem is there are some people that are sitting out there and saying, "Oh my gosh, pay attention, pay attention," but no one's listening. Was it a bit of-

Juliette Kayyem: I think it's a combination of both.

Thoko Moyo: Both.

Juliette Kayyem: I think it's just part of it is the inbox. I mean, there was... When the inbox is right in front of you and if I can clear that out by the end of the day, that's a successful day. It's like I sometimes, I had mentioned I'm a mother of three. I find very similarities between my work and being a mother of three. My book is called "Security Mom."

Thoko Moyo: How old are your kids right now?

Juliette Kayyem: Now they're older, but 18... Oh my God, don't ask. That's a trick question. 18, 16, and 14. We just had their birthdays, move them up. So they're older now, but I've been a working mom throughout. My book really tries to get the connectivity between the home and Homeland Security. But this question of, could we do better? And why aren't we seeing positive? Sometimes those emails you get about your kids that, it's like longterm, like camp. I always think those camp emails feel like climate change, and they're so far away, they seem so far away and you're just, the tyranny of the inbox makes it hard. I think, and I mean, we could say the same about gun violence. I mean, I'm on air every time there's a darn school shooting, and I think, this is the one where, I don't think that anymore, but I used to think, "This is the one that's going to get every person to wake up and realize." It's never the one.

Thoko Moyo: And so how ...

Juliette Kayyem: It's the politics.

Thoko Moyo: It's the politics. I was just about to say how ...

Juliette Kayyem: So the politics of this ...

Thoko Moyo: Yeah. Let's talk about that.

Juliette Kayyem: What the problem with politics... There's good things about politics and you know from my work, politics can actually drive resources. They can get things that aren't working to work, right? A yelling governor in Puerto Rico or whatever. But the problem with politics often is that they screw up the risk calculation. So Islamic terrorism today, on a scale from zero to 10, if I'm putting climate change at eight, I'm putting Islamic terrorism in the Homeland as a existential threat, something of great magnitude, at a two.

Thoko Moyo: At a two?

Juliette Kayyem: Now, that doesn't mean there's not going to be lone wolves or people who are inspired, but something of the magnitude of 9/11, at a two.

Thoko Moyo: Really?

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah.

Thoko Moyo: Well, I'm sitting here thinking you were definitely going to say a seven.

Juliette Kayyem: No, no. I mean, I think, in terms of the risk assessment. I mean, the ability to organize, the lack of leadership, the ability to get goods and people here is difficult, right? I mean, it's not like we haven't done anything since 9/11. Actually, the apparatus is better. And in fact, if... I'm only talking about the whole of the United States, but one of America's greatest counter-terrorism stories in some ways and one that I worry about present leadership is not aware of, is the fact that the Arab and Muslim community in America feels American. Europeans do not have that, right? In many parts of Europe, right? Isolated Muslim communities in which no hope, in which rattle radicalization occurs. Muslims and Arabs in this country are success stories and that's what makes us safer. Right? They're as committed to our security as I am. I'm Lebanese American as everyone else. It's not a higher rate of crime from the Arab and Muslim community. And my guess would be it's lower.

Thoko Moyo: So politics plays a huge role. What about the role of misinformation? I mean that, when you think about going back where we started with the coronavirus, a lot of experts are saying that the problem with the misinformation, the hoaxes and all the sort of panic, is that people end up doing things that actually are not helpful. For example, wearing masks, as opposed to doing the things that actually are helpful, like washing your hands and making sure you're... Just the sort of hygiene fact. Talk a little bit more about that and what can be done in situations like this knowing that you have social media that just spreads this stuff so quickly.

Juliette Kayyem: Right. Yeah. It's disinformation as a part of crisis management is hard, both on the front end and then Left of Boom and Right of Boom. On the Left of Boom, what the Russians did in terms of sort of poking into divisions already in our country in particular.

Thoko Moyo: And they may do again.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah, but in particular white supremacy and the racist violence that we're seeing as the greatest terrorist threat in the United States now, as certainly the FBI director would agree. Certainly white supremacy. The fake information creates and the divisions creates a sense of belonging by those who have these horrible ideas. Right? So I actually don't believe, I don't use the term lone wolves anymore. I believe that Facebook and 4chan or Echan, they create a community of hate that then creates violence, Right? And that is fed by a disinformation campaign. Look at the vaccine, look at the anti-vax movement we found, which, anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I literally have no tolerance.

Thoko Moyo: And what's your Twitter handle, just in case someone wants to follow you?

Juliette Kayyem: @juliettekayyem. I mean, literally no tolerance. There's no nuance. If you don't want to vaccinate your kids, then they shall not go to school with mine. I'm not debating this anymore. But the anti-vax movement is fed by Russian disinformation. They see these seeds of division.

On the other side, one of the challenges of disinformation is on the other side of the boom. So it's sort of what in fact is happening? I've been talking a lot about situational awareness, sort of. To be crude, where are the bodies? Where do I need to drive resources to protect people? And we've seen disinformation in that regard. Sometimes it's just a sense that the one guy with four followers on Twitter is fact, right? He's saying this is happening and it's not. And other times it is sort of purposeful sort of disinformation. So.

Thoko Moyo: It's tough. I want to go back to, when you said earlier that if you were to compare climate change versus sort of terrorism, sort of on a scale of one to 10. So that sort of assessment is what would inform a policy maker in terms of where to drive resources, force, planning, and preparing. But that's quite a difficult one in this environment that we're living in sort of where fear has been sown so much in this community, that as a politician, and maybe this is, we were talking politics and I'm taking us back there again. To convince someone that I'm going to spend more on sort of longterm climate change, even though we know we can see what's happening with the extreme weather events, but it still feels far off versus what most people feel like is an imminent sort of risk that we have living in the US. I mean, I'm probably answering my own question, but that is at the heart of the challenges, right-

Juliette Kayyem: It's hard.

Thoko Moyo: For policy makers and politicians.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah, it is. I mean, if I just looked at numbers and you said to me, "What's the greatest Homeland Security crisis?" It would be guns and opiates. Right? You don't think of those as Homeland Security issues, I bet, right? No, those are public health or criminal issues. But if I just looked at the numbers, right? But part of that is the way that politics have structured the gun debate, the way we think about opiates. But part of it is we're not counting things cumulatively. So cumulatively, lots more people are dying of opiates in fact because of Homeland Security gaps in our borders and our postal service and stuff. And that's something that's just very hard to conceptualize. So the boom moment, the sudden crisis, a bomb at the Boston Marathon, a tornado going through Joplin-

Thoko Moyo: A mass shooting.

Juliette Kayyem: A mass shooting. That, we get. It's the themes that are really hard to capture and then to mobilize. It's not just capturing it, right? It's not just noticing it and saying, "My God, we have a problem." Then how do you mobilize? And that's something we're still working through.

Thoko Moyo: And we're almost out of time, and I want to make sure... I asked you this question earlier, but we sort of got talking about different strands of this. I want to come back to the question of, if you were advising someone who's just about to walk into a position and they have this disaster that's looming that's pretty evident, where would you say they should start? What is sort of the-

Juliette Kayyem: Oh, that's good. Okay, yeah.

Thoko Moyo: The things that you know for a fact you have to do.

Juliette Kayyem: Yeah. So I totally get you. I started with sort of the training of the incident command. The number one thing. So if there's only one thing that a leader will say, what are your systems of capturing what I've been saying called situational awareness.

Thoko Moyo: Yeah. Understanding what's going on.

Juliette Kayyem: If you don't understand what's going on, right? All the mistakes that are made in crises, right? And all the commercial airlines that are shot down, the Iranians for example. How is information getting to you? Make sure it's getting to you. And what are the processes? And then the second is, and this is just something that I've done when I've been confronted and doing stuff operationally is just, how can you extend the runway? The worst decisions. We know this as parents and individuals, the worst decisions are ones that are made when you feel like you're pressed, right? So as a leader in a crisis-

Thoko Moyo: Pressed in terms of time, pressed in terms of resources-

Juliette Kayyem: Time, pressure, resources, everything.

Thoko Moyo: Pressures. Uh-huh.

Juliette Kayyem: So how can you extend the runway, right? How can you give yourself and your institution, whatever, more time, right? To be able to organize and mobilize and all sorts of things like that. Because it's in those moments of pressure time that things fall apart, unfortunately.

Thoko Moyo: Wonderful.

Thoko Moyo: Thanks for listening. I hope you’ll join us for our next episode. And if you’d like information about other recent episodes and to more about our podcast, please visit us at hks.harvard.edu/policycast.