When the North Tower of the World Trade Center was hit by a hijacked airliner, New York City Fire Department Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer happened to already be on the scene. That made him the first FDNY fire chief to take command.
What we’ve learned since then, he says, is that leaders don’t simply “command and control” during a catastrophic event. They go beyond that.
Today, Pfeifer is the FDNY’s chief of counterterrorism and emergency preparedness. And he uses what he learned from 9/11 about leading during a disaster—whether it’s an emergency response or a business crisis. He calls it C5—command and control, connect, collaborate and coordinate:
First, hastily form networks at the scene of the incident, so teams can communicate and work together. Once in place, people need to collaborate.
“As the stress of an incident increases,” Pfeifer says, “groups turn to their own: firefighters go to firefighters, police go to police. But during a disaster, we need just the opposite. We need them to collaborate.”
Finally, to get the job done, networks have to coordinate resources. “It’s not just one resource, it involves multiple resources,” he says.
For example, during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Coast Guard spotted fires, the fire department fought fires, and law enforcement provided firefighters protection.
In the end, “when we look atduring a disaster, it is the combination” that makes the difference.
— Adapted from “Leading on 9/11 and Beyond: New York City Fire Department’s Joseph Pfeifer,” Knowledge@Wharton.