Crisis management: Lessons from Gov. O’Malley


“I’d had no course in emergency management or preparedness when I faced my first big crisis.” Former Baltimore Mayor — and, later, Maryland Governor — Martin O’Malley had, as he said, a “crash course” in crisis management when an enormous tunnel fire shut down his city for five days. The water main feeding the entire downtown exploded, light rail and energy halted, no one could work, smoke billowed from both ends of the mile-and-a-half-long tunnel running under the city, and Mayor O’Malley scrambled to manage the situation. He made mistakes and took lessons from them for leading the city and then the state.

O’Malley described to Robert Shea, Grant Thornton Strategy principal, the four critical lessons:

  • Learn by making mistakes.
    When you make a mistake, learn quickly from it and keep making decisions.
  • Choose the right unified command.
    Be deliberate about identifying the people with the most pertinent experience.
  • Failure to communicate is itself a miscommunication.
    Talk regularly to the public.
  • Make yourself the voice of what’s happening and what we should do about it.
    Minimize conjecture and rumor by being the official voice.


Watch “Learning from mistakes in crisis management” to be more prepared for times of crisis.


For more on leadership before and during a crisis, see Crisis leadership: Gov. O’Malley’s 4 questionsCrisis strategy: Gov. O’Malley on taking charge and Crisis inspires innovation, per Gov. O’Malley. See “Is the CARES Act enough?” for highlights of the federal response to COVID-19.






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