Leadership in emergencies is a crucial element of becoming a high-performing Coast Guard ocer. In this article, we argue that emergency leadership is not a single skill or uniform set of organizational competences. Instead, we identify a spectrum of emergency situations, ranging from what we will call “routine emergencies” through “crises,” dierentiated by increasing degrees of novelty in the emergency challenge. Leaders and their organizations must develop capacities for managing in both types of situations.
Over time, societies have developed specialized organizations to deal with emergencies, including emergency management, police, reghters, emergency medical technicians, and emergency medicine. By far the most common form of emergency they face is what we have elsewhere termed “routine” emergencies. These situations are not necessarily small in any sense. In fact, they may be quite large and dangerous. We call them routine because these hazards can be anticipated, even when their timing, scale, and precise location cannot be predicted. Routine emergencies occur frequently enough that organizations can frame and inform expectations about future incidents.
It is this degree of predictability that allows society to prepare in advance and thereby reduce the harm that such emergencies might otherwise cause. This is highly important because the vast majority of emergencies that arise are routine in this sense.
The professionalization of emergency services over the past century and more has made life safer and protected property and other values in ways that earlier generations could only dream of. It also has resulted, in large part, because organizational leaders anticipate emergencies by type and have prepared responses.
Most importantly, leaders prepare by framing plans to avert, minimize, or respond to routine emergency events. They train, equip, and exercise individual responders so they will be ready when needed. They devise coordination methods and practice implementation of response tactics. They also strategically station critical resources—people, equipment, supplies—in appropriate places so a response can be launched rapidly. In turn, when an emergency actually arises, responders can deploy resources eectively. Ideally, over time and through repeated occurrences, organizations, leaders, and individual responders develop experience with many types of emergencies and become highly procient in handling them.