12 Years after 9/11: New Leadership Needed

On Thursday, September 12, the Wilson Center hosted an informative event on the Bortz Library’s fourth floor that centered on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mark Gerencser, a Booz Allen Executive Vice President, stopped by The Hill to discuss how we can combat terrorism with a community approach, and ultimately a new kind of leadership. Mr. Gerencser has also held roles as an advisor to government, private and non-profit task forces in building up “megacommunities” to solve infrastructure nuances. He is the co-author of the book Mega Communities, and is a member of the National Security Education Board, just to name a few of the positions he’s held.

Mr. Gerencser opened up with a statement regarding how the United States (US) is doing since the attacks, and he stated that the country is faring “fairly well, but not adequate.” The country’s ports and information sharing techniques have improved, but not to a standard of ‘superb’ security.

He then went on to discuss three simulations in which he played a significant role. These simulations were different kinds of terror attacks on US soil, and were intended to improve preparations for any potential attack in the future. A couple months after 9/11, Mr. Gerencser’s first simulation was an airborne attack of the pneumonic plague in two locations of the country: one at a college basketball game and the other at an NHL game. Throughout the simulation, the unawareness led to one million virtual deaths.  This simulation was rerun twice, and in the third trial, the death rate had dropped to about 10,000 virtual deaths.  The results of this simulation included better business interactions, faster decision making, a need for a better alert system regarding airborne events and this simulation played a role in the formation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Gerencser then discussed his second simulation: a faulty port inspection giving way to a radioactive scare in 2002. In this simulation, a container with a hazardous device entered the Port of Los Angeles, was cleared and eventually shipped into the US. While in transit, the container fell over and the hazardous device emerged, causing authorities to investigate, and upon further inspection in the simulation, the hazardous device turned out to be a “dirty bomb.” During the investigation, all ports were shut down by US agencies, including the Coast Guard, FBI and Customs. Eventually, the ports were reopened after a virtual confusion on who had the authority to reopen the ports. This simulation helped point out flaws in the authority of ports reopening and the economic effects of closed ports. It also helped with the creation of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT).

From here, Mr. Gerencser got to his main point: a need for a new kind of leadership.  He mentioned that the new kind of leader needs to think about the larger picture and not be self-centered anymore. Ultimately, this new kind of leader should not have a “command and control” mentality but should have a lighter touch, charismatic, inspirational, compassionate, and be able to walk in another person’s shoes.  And where can this new kind of leader begin?  Megacommunities.  Megacommunities, as Mr. Gerencser pointed out, are networks where everyone involved has a vital capacity of the network across multiple entities. In essence, a megacommunity follows the guidelines of Metcalfe’s Law.  As the network grows, the connections exponentially increase, allowing limitless opportunities to collaborate and think of improved ideas to solving specific problems.

So 12 years after 9/11, there’s a call for a new kind of leader in our nation: one who can see the whole picture.  One who learns the tools of the trade in a sound environment, geared toward equipping tomorrow’s leaders with the necessary tools; an environment that—Mr. Gerencser pointed out—is just like Hampden-Sydney.

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