A crisis management expert analyzes global traffic on a desktop monitor.

How Public Leaders Use Crisis Management Skills During a Pandemic

Public Administration

Public leaders in the government sector must have crisis management strategies to address all manner of emergencies from flash floods to data breaches. However, a crisis of the scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic—which has already cost the U.S. government an estimated $6 trillion according to The Washington Post—is unprecedented in modern times. The pandemic has presented unique challenges to even the best-prepared crisis management leaders.

To navigate this pandemic and other serious situations, governments need experts that possess a wealth of crisis management skills including the ability to assess risks, apply critical thinking, formulate recovery plans, and communicate effectively with the public.

Professionals with an advanced degree, such as a Master of Public Administration (MPA), typically possess the advanced skills needed to develop and execute effective crisis management strategies to support the government through unprecedented emergency situations such as the COVID-19.

Crisis Management Planning and Why It Matters

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, the key to effectively managing a crisis often comes down to preparation, which is why it’s so important to have a crisis management strategy in place before disaster strikes.

Crisis management consists of multiple components including risk assessment and recovery planning. A risk assessment involves identifying potential hazards, assessing their likelihood, and analyzing the consequences if they occur. Injury and risk to life are the foremost considerations in a risk assessment, followed by dangers posed to other “assets” such as infrastructure, buildings, and information technology. Risk assessments help leaders forecast potential threats and equip themselves to deal with them.

Recovery plans also are critical to crisis management. Depending on a crisis’s scope and scale, a short-term recovery plan may involve repairing damaged structures, restoring essential services, and returning the community to pre-crisis conditions. Long-term recovery plans focus on restoring the affected community’s economy and investing in mitigation efforts to lessen the negative impacts of future crises, such as land use plans that avoid construction in high-risk areas.

In the case of a pandemic such as the COVID-19, risk assessment and recovery may happen simultaneously. Public officials work to identify immediate risks to public health and safety while focusing on short-term recovery by scaling up public health infrastructure and expanding testing to limit outbreaks.

While the COVID-19 is the latest crisis, numerous other calamities can impact a community including natural disasters, fires and terrorist attacks. Different crises may even occur simultaneously, as what happened when the 2020 hurricane season coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s vital for those in public administration roles to have strategies for coping with all manner of crises.

Crisis Management Skills for Minimizing the Pandemic’s Impact

Though public officials prepare for the threat of a pandemic, the sheer scale of the COVID-19 set many government leaders back on their heels. Hard lessons were learned by many, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, and leaders had to quickly adopt strategies to address the situation. The United Nations underscored the need for leaders at every level to collaborate in times of crisis, particularly during the pandemic that posed unique and complex challenges. The formation of national task forces, incorporating representatives from multiple sectors of public service, has been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19.

Public officials must think quickly and creatively to solve problems during times of crisis. From rapidly constructing makeshift hospitals to developing drive-through testing sites, leaders and others in public service roles were forced to think on their feet to manage the pandemic. By relying on experts across various fields and learning from other public servants, officials are better equipped to combat not only the COVID-19 pandemic but future crises. 

Messaging is another critical component of crisis management strategy. Community members naturally look to public leadership for accurate and up-to-date information during a crisis. The United Nations described access to reliable information as “one of the most needed and lifesaving services during the pandemic”. Officials must communicate directly with the public to avoid the spread of misinformation that can pose a danger to the community.

RealClearHealth reported that misinformation linking ibuprofen with severe COVID-19 symptoms spread during the early days of the pandemic. Fueled by broad, unproven statements from the media and public officials, this misinformation could’ve put people who need anti-inflammatory drugs at risk while contributing to unnecessary anxiety. To combat misinformation, many state and local governments consolidated COVID-19 updates and resources on their websites and posted phone numbers for the general public to call for further assistance, according to FEMA.

Cultivating Expertise in Crisis Management

Though the COVID-19 will eventually pass, new crises will inevitably arise. Norwich University’s online MPA program and its Criminal Justice and Public Safety concentration can help individuals hone the essential crisis management skills needed to become public leaders that navigate the next crisis. Students learn public administration fundamentals and develop the necessary skills to pursue or further a career in law enforcement or other public service professions through various courses.

The following represents a selection of the courses available to students in the MPA program and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety concentration.

Foundation of Public Administration & Policy

Foundation of Public Administration & Policy is a core course that introduces students to the role of leadership and breaks down the theories, policies, governance, and strategic planning elements associated with concepts of public safety.

Public Organization Resources and Processes

Students enrolled in the core course Public Organization Resources and Processes will learn about the three fundamental areas of public administration—legal considerations, human resources, and organizational leadership—and how they contribute to formulating an effective public safety strategy, including during a crisis.

Law Enforcement Administration

Law Enforcement Administration is a course offered in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety concentration that examines best practices for law enforcement, including accountability, police leadership, and internal affairs. In the course, students also learn about the community policy and restorative justice programs.

Critical Incident Management for Public Safety

In Critical Incident Management for Public Safety, a Criminal Justice and Public Safety concentration course, students take a deeper look at the role of public administration in the context of crises, such as pandemics and terrorist attacks. The course covers the federal National Incident Management System and the National Response Framework and explores the roles of community policing and community partnerships in responding to a crisis.

Pursue a Career in Crisis Management

Whether those in public administration are handling a pandemic or another type of emergency, crisis management skills are vital to their roles. Norwich University's online MPA program and its Criminal Justice and Public Safety concentration provide students with the knowledge needed for a career in crisis management, law enforcement, or public safety. Learn more about how these programs provide students with a competitive edge in the world of public administration.

Recommended Readings

Looking for a Position in Crisis Management? Consider These Important Jobs
The Role of Public Administration in Crisis Management
Promoting the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics Through Leadership


The U.S. Has Thrown More Than $6 Trillion at the Coronavirus Crisis, The Washington Post
Crisis Management, Investopedia
On Protection of Towns from Fire, 4 February 1735, Founders Online
Prepare for Emergencies, U.S. Small Business Administration
Risk Assessment, Ready
5 Steps to Assure Your Risk Management Plan is Crisis-Ready, Institute for Crisis Management
Roadmap to Recovery: A Public Health Guide for Governors, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
National Disaster Recovery Framework, FEMA
Taxpayer Spending on U.S. Disaster Fund Explodes Amid Climate Change, Population Trends, The Washington Post
The Role of Public Service and Servants During the COVID-19 Pandemic, United Nations
Misinformation in a Crisis, RealClearHealth
COVID-19 Best Practice Information: Government Engagement with Citizens, FEMA

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