Skip Navigation Links

Leadership in Crises: Preparation and Performance

Program Session(s):
April 15, 2018 - April 20, 2018

Application Deadline(s):
February 15, 2018

Program Fee:$8,500

Program fee includes: tuition, housing, curricular materials, and most meals.

Click here to see this program’s Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) alignment.

This program qualifies for an Executive Certificate.

Faculty Chairs: Arnold M. Howitt, Herman "Dutch" Leonard

Program Director: Laura Simolaris

Request Brochure Apply


To view a previous program schedule, please click here.

The learning in Leadership in Crises centers on the Harvard case study method, supplemented by lectures, exercises and small group work. Case studies give exposure to real-world issues and help participants work through possible approaches and solutions to the problems that actual managers confronted. It is in case teaching that the power of a diverse learning group comes to the fore. Using the experience in the room, the case teachers set the stage for open and lively discussion.

“This has been an awesome educational experience for me. I was ‘familiar’ with all of the topics, but this course made them ‘unfamiliar’, causing me to look at and understand them better.”

Jim Featherstone, General Manager, Emergency Management Department, City of Los Angeles, Leadership in Crisis 2008


Each morning before classes begin, participants are organized into small discussion groups of six to eight people. This gives everyone the opportunity to review the day’s readings and have the opportunity to work more collaboratively and intensively than can be done in the larger class group. It is also an opportunity for “peer consulting” on a particular issue that you are facing.


Samples of cases used during the program include:

Emergency Response System Under Duress: The Public Health Fight to Contain SARS in Toronto
This two-part case examines the response of the Toronto and Ontario public health and hospital systems to the outbreak of SARS in the spring of 2003. It describes both the public health system in place at the time SARS came to Toronto and the stress and adaptations which resulted from the onset of the disease--introduced to Toronto by a lone airplane passenger from Hong Kong who, by terrible coincidence, had contact with a SARS victim (the so-called "index patient" who'd brought the illness from mainland China) at a Hong Kong hotel. This crisis management case makes clear that Toronto had great difficulty in coping with the respiratory virus. It emerged as the second hardest-hit city in the world and was slapped with a World Health Organization travel ban, a virtually unprecedented turn of events for a major city in a developed country. The case raises the questions of whether Toronto's problems were the result of long-term under-funding of the public health system and highlights systemic communications problems which came to play a dramatic role in the SARS story. It focuses, as well, on the question of whether quarantine is a useful weapon in the modern struggle against disease and, if so, what form such action should take.

"Almost a Worst-Case Scenario": The Baltimore Tunnel Fire of 2001
In the late afternoon of a hot day in July, 2001, an accident beneath the streets of Baltimore threatened to turn into a disaster. A freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire inside a tunnel that ran beneath one of the city's main streets. Not only did the tunnel accident block the major north-south train route for the eastern United States, it also released clouds of possibly toxic vapors into downtown streets. Incredibly, the first accident was followed by a second one a break in a major water main, in exactly the same area, into which cascaded hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. It was a combination which a city official would call "everyone's worst nightmare." This case describes - blow-by-blow and meeting-by-meeting- the public emergency response to the tunnel fire and its aftermath. It details how a dozen different jurisdictions - including city, state and federal agencies - had to find ways to coordinate their response in the absence of established procedures for dealing with a situation which had never been specifically contemplated. Among the themes explored in this crisis management case is the role of the local chief executive (Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley), the conflicts and cooperation amongst agencies (including and especially fire and public works), and, more broadly, the question of how a series of crucial tactical decisions must be made in the absence of complete information (such as the level of toxic hazard). Although this case portrays a city responding to an accident, the dynamics of the response relate to those that might be faced in the event of a terrorist attack - and the case can be used in considering such possibilities and the role of public safety first-responders in confronting them.

Command Performance: County Firefighters Take Charge of the 9/11 Pentagon Emergency
The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 on the Pentagon brought death and destruction to one of the nerve centers of American power, a site where top military officials came to work every day. When terrorists deliberately crashed a commercial jetliner into the southwest wall of this giant government landmark, it rendered a large portion of the building unstable and started a ferocious fire inside, where--rescuers hoped--Pentagon workers might be trapped but still alive. Despite the serious nature of the attack, the emergency response to the disaster was led by neither a high political official nor a four-star general. Instead, remarkably, the response and rescues at the Pentagon were led by James Schwartz, the assistant chief of a county fire department in the State of Virginia. A few hours into the emergency, Schwartz was, in fact, introduced to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "the man who owns this ground" by one of Rumsfeld's own generals. This case describes the unprecedented emergency response operation and many of its key turning points and places it within the broader context of a national system in which authority is widely decentralized. Specifically, the case tells the story of how Arlington County, Virginia Fire Department used the "incident command system" to oversee the Pentagon emergency response and how it responded when the professional mandates of far higher-profile agencies--including the Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Environmental Protection Agency--collided with those of the firefighting and rescue effort. Despite years of practice and preparation, fire officials would face a string of predicaments at the Pentagon emergency that had never been foreseen. The case can serve as a platform for discussion about inter-jurisdictional cooperation in emergency response and, by extension, cooperation across units of government in a wide variety of situations. At the same time, it allows for discussion of the specifics of incident command in one of the highest-profile emergency response situations in American history.

A complete listing of all Kennedy School of Government cases can be found at:

Recent Faculty News and Publications

Read the report co-authored by Arnold Howitt and Herman "Dutch" Leonard examining the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt. Why Was Boston Strong? Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing, highlights factors that contributed to a largely successful response, emphasizing what made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy.

>> Read the Report
>> Listen to Dutch Leonard on NPR

Arnold Howitt and Dutch Leonard, piece on the threat of large-scale Systems Failure.

Dutch Leonard, faculty co-chair, piece on Preliminary Observations on the Japanese 3/11 Earthquake and Tsunami.

“Leadership in Crises was a superb program.  It was the best executive education experience of my life.  Dutch and Arn covered topics in detail that directly relate to my current duties in emergency management and I learned immensely from the cohort of other emergency management and response professionals. “

Sally Bishop
Director of Emergency Management
Pinellas County, Florida


Copyright © 2016 The President and Fellows of Harvard College