With the aid of a fresh class of student researchers, START is seeking the answers to how leaders effectively prepare and communicate during terrorist attacks and other crisis situations, as well as how they enable collaboration between organizations during crises.
The project, which is funded by the Department of Homeland Security, is engaging underclassmen in research through the University of Maryland’s First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE) program, specifically the Risk Communication and Resilience team.
“How a leader operates and communicates, especially under duress, is arguably one of the best signs of a good character and leadership,” said Scott Myers, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major.
Myers is part of the Risk Communication and Resilience stream of the FIRE program, which aims to get students involved in the research process and provide mentorship during the first few years of college.
"Because of this program, I am sure that I will be able to succeed in any research group I find myself in and will excel both academically and professionally because of it,” Myers said.
The FIRE students assisting with the crisis leadership project have helped conduct a literature review and develop a list of potential interview subjects. They will also aid in collecting and analyzing data once the process begins, said Dr. Emina Herovic, an assistant clinical professor at START.
“We’re currently juggling a couple of different projects and my FIRE students have shown dedication and enthusiasm throughout the challenges they have been presented,” Herovic said.
Lauren Cain believes that everything she has learned from FIRE will help her in the future, be it the skills she picked up in research methods, professional writing or even teamwork. She ended her freshman year as a cell biology and genetics major but her experience with the Risk Communication and Resilience team encouraged her to switch to a criminology and criminal justice major with a minor in Global Terrorism.
“Initially I went down the Risk Communication path because I wanted a break from my biology courses, but the path taught me I actually enjoy terrorism studies much more than biology and convinced me to change my major,” Cain said.
For the Crisis Leadership project, Cain has been researching about communication networks and inter-organizational collaboration during a crisis.
“Very few organizations have crisis response plans and even fewer are educated in crisis leadership strategies and rhetoric,” Cain said. “We hope that this project can help arm people with the ability to assess – and then fill – those gaps.”
The project is spearheaded by Herovic and Dr. Brooke Liu, the director of START’s Risk Communication and Resilience Program and associate professor of Communication at the University of Maryland.
“Crisis leadership is a research area that is surprisingly underdeveloped,” Herovic said. “Little research has acknowledged the important role played by leadership in times of crisis.”
The project will feature interviews with federal, state and local crisis leaders about their experiences during crises, as well as case studies of crises handled both effectively and poorly, Herovic said.
“Crisis leadership is a communicative process in which individuals verbalize and make sense of contingencies and objectives, establish a purpose and take action,” Herovic said.
Herovic said people turn towards their leaders during any disastrous event to guide them through it with strength and minimal damage, thus, it is important for leaders to be prepared for any crisis they may encounter.
Work began on the Crisis Leadership project this summer and will likely take about a year to complete. The project is funded through the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Office of University Programs.
The FIRE Risk Communication and Resilience team is on Twitter and Instagram “@umdfirercr.”