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In talk with dean, Admiral Thad Allen, SF ’89, explains leadership during crisis

Admiral Thad AllenThad Allen, SF ’89

Two things to expect in a national crisis: media and politics.

Neither can be ignored, and to think otherwise is a losing move, said Admiral Thad Allen, SF ’89, the retired U.S. Coast Guard Commandant who led the response to last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Allen, in a frank conversation with John C Head III Dean David Schmittlein at Alumni Weekend in May, gave MIT Sloan alumni an inside look at the challenge of leading a coordinated response to an unprecedented set of problems.

Allen showed no great love for the political controversies and media uproars that accompanied each of his decisions. But he did not dismiss them, either.

“We live in a world right now where we will never have a major event that doesn’t have public participation,” Allen said. Failure to anticipate, include, and respond to criticism will only “impact the credibility of the response,” he added.

During the Deepwater Horizon crisis, Allen led proactive communications, launching an oil spill webmap on www.geoplatform.gov to put some of the government’s best information in the hands of the general public. He used the same map to brief President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

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