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NEWS | Sept. 11, 2009

Mayor shows exemplary leadership during 9/11

By Col. Donald Sedberry 779th Dental Squadron commander

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's actions following the 9/11 attack on the New York World Trade Center towers have been held by many to be a flawless example of crisis leadership. I believe there is much we can learn from the leadership behaviors he demonstrated during that trying time.

On and after 9/11, Mayor Giuliani was out in front of the public and very visible. He visited ground zero at least six times on 9/11 and, as he states in his book "Leadership," "I needed to see with my own eyes the disaster site and our rescue operations, and get a sense of what we would be dealing with in the months to come."

Being this visible and seeing the situation himself was his hallmark for all crisis responses during his term as mayor. The following day, he appeared on the Today Show to reassure citizens that they would overcome the disaster and recover. Being visible gave reassurance and showed concern for all involved. While making those many visits to the disaster site to encourage the search and recovery response team Mayor Giuliani stated, "at the same time a leader provides strength and inspiration to those he visits, he also draws strength and inspiration from them."

He was a great communicator. He took charge of the message, and it was one of hope and optimism. He was calm and composed. Mayor Giuliani wrote that he "had to communicate with the public, to do whatever I could to calm people down and communicate with them."

He held timely press conferences accompanied by key officials from the police, fire and emergency management agencies, as well as Governor George Pataki, City Councilman Peter Vallone, and other officials as needed. He looked to each for their expertise and as a strong team leader was quick to praise and show appreciation for their contributions. David Sirota, Ph.D., notes that "the briefings were remarkable, not only for the information dispensed, but for the striking message they conveyed of a group of leaders working as genuine partners on monumentally important, complicated and time-sensitive tasks that required the utmost in collaboration." Mayor Giuliani controlled the message and instilled confidence in the public through his unified team.

Another key to the management of this crisis was his exceptional ability to collaborate with the numerous institutions and people supporting the disaster response. A short list would include the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department, Governor Pataki's staff, members of the Center for Disease Control, representatives from utilities and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Additionally, within a few short days, his team was able to open a family assistance center that ultimately assisted over 20,000 people during the crisis.

Mayor Giuliani was prepared. In his book, he discusses the need to "prepare relentlessly." He realized as his career progressed that preparation, "was the single most important key to success, no matter what the field." He was passionate about learning - a voracious reader - and found the value of "careful preparation, thoughtful experiment and determined follow-through." His foresight led to the 1996 establishment of the Mayor's office of Emergency Management, which was key to planning and preparing contingency responses for New York City.

While mayor, he conducted numerous table top and actual exercises in New York to test response times. Guidance was developed for each person in each agency as to how they would respond to a chemical or biomedical attack. An airplane crash in Queens and a sarin gas attack in Manhattan were simulated. This preparation and training for the people around the mayor were key to Mayor Giuliani's clear and purposeful response to this catastrophe that no one had envisioned.

As Mayor Giuliani has shown us, leaders facing a crisis can be successful when they are out in front, calm, composed, take charge of the message, are optimistic for the future, collaborate and are prepared.