FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for Response Shares What it Means to Lead During Times of Crisis

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Three men smile and pose for camera.

FEMA Assistant Administrator for Response John Rabin (center) stands with members from the New York Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team.

As we continue to face disasters that are increasing in severity and frequency, the nation calls on responders at all levels of emergency management to be ready to meet the challenge. When so many aspects of a crisis feel out of our control, how much of a difference can one leader make?

On a recent episode of the Leadership Under Fire podcast, FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for Response John Rabin was invited to discuss what it means to be a leader in today’s hazard and threat landscape. From weighing the importance of mitigating risks to increase resiliency, to making far-reaching decisions that directly impact the FEMA workforce and disaster survivors, Rabin said that leaders in emergency management can have a profound impact. 

Rabin outlined key traits and attributes that make up a strong leader during a crisis. Leaders are built over time and the best leaders learn not only what they need to do but also what they don’t need to do. He also highlighted the difference between leadership and management and how in a crisis, there is more leadership than management. 

Throughout the interview, Rabin gave specific examples from his experiences with the ever-changing the world of emergency management. Each disaster is unique, and every new response has a unique set of challenges and complex circumstances. Rabin said that by the end of the response, there are always new lessons learned and those lessons can inspire new ways to mitigate risk and build resilience. 

Rabin also discussed how FEMA not only handles natural hazards and disasters, but a full spectrum of incidents. Incidents like hurricanes and wildfires remain the core of what FEMA responds to but new complex events are on the rise. 

“A full spectrum of emergencies are going to impact the entire nation,” said Rabin. “A whole of government preparedness, a whole of government response, is really going to be critical.” 

This includes everything from international incidents that could have cascading impacts on the United States, to pandemics like the COVID-19 response.  FEMA has been called to support the nation in various times of need.  Because of this, FEMA continues to produce leaders to spearhead those efforts. 

To listen to the podcast, visit the webpage Leading and Managing Through Crisis with John Rabin, FEMA - Leadership Under Fire.

Information provided does not necessarily reflect the views of FEMA or DHS.

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