Harvard Public Health NOW

June 26, 2009

Government, Business, and Non-Profit Leaders Gathered for Boston Preparedness Summit Co-Organized by NPLI at HSPH

Representatives from federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as from the private and non-profit sectors, gathered recently to improve disaster preparedness at the Boston Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness. The summit was the seventh in a national series of such events organized by the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and the CDC Foundation with additional underwriting from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. The NPLI is a joint program of HSPH and the Harvard Kennedy School.


From left to right, HSPH's Leonard Marcus, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and HSPH's Barry Dorn.

“This was the first summit to be held in the midst of an actual event,” commented Leonard Marcus, co-director of the NPLI, referencing the H1N1 influenza outbreak. Boston health officials announced the city's first probable cases in April. “H1N1 certainly added a sense of urgency to the conversation,” said Marcus.

The goal of the summit was to use the “meta-leadership” framework developed at the NPLI to build connectivity between different levels of government, as well as across public, private, and non-profit sectors. The meta-leadership framework emphasizes leadership skills such as personal awareness, situational diagnosis, and group leadership, while delivering on the expectations of one’s superiors.

“In a response effort, these different entities have to work together to be effective,” Marcus said. “You don’t want them passing out business cards to each other in a crisis. The summits bring them together so that they can begin building constructive relationships before the crisis hits.”

The more than 200 registered attendees included the commissioners of the Boston Police Department and the Boston Fire Department, the chief of the Boston EMS, and the director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, as well as officials from state agencies such as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. Federal agencies represented included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Boston summit had high numbers of participants from business and non-profit sectors. “After [Hurricane] Katrina, the private sector came forward with tremendous resources, but they often had difficulty navigating the maze of government agencies involved in the response,” said Barry Dorn, associate director of the Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at HSPH. “The summits are designed to alleviate those problems so that, in a crisis, those resources can be used effectively.”

The summit featured two special guests: Richard Besser, who was then acting director of the CDC and a graduate of the NPLI program, joined by telephone to provide an update on the H1N1 flu response and to note the importance of collaborative action to stay ahead of a possible pandemic. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino echoed that theme when he addressed the summit later in the day. “Preparation, working together, and training are critical to responding to an emergency,” he said. “We must look beyond our own business, non-profit, or government agency.”

After exploring the meta-leadership framework, the summit focused on identifying system deficiencies, or “gaps,” how to fill them by articulating “gives” — what one entity or sector can provide to the others — and “gets” — what different entities need in order to be able to respond effectively.

The day concluded with commitments to “gives” in response to the “gets” that ranged from information, equipment, and personnel to familiarization tours of the Boston Emergency Operations Center, medically tailored meals, and the personal cell phone numbers of preparedness leaders.

Upcoming meta-leadership summits for preparedness are scheduled in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD, with others to follow in the fall.

-- Eric McNulty. Photo by Tom Fitzsimmons.