Joseph Pfeifer is a Senior Fellow with the Program on Crisis Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and teaches in several of its Executive Education programs, including Leadership in Crises, the General and Flag Officer Homeland Security Executive Seminar, Leadership in Homeland Security, and China Crisis Management. He has also led a research team from HKS and partner organizations to examine the response to the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris attacks. His focus is on international collaboration across major cities for disaster preparedness and crisis leadership in organizations during extreme events.
Pfeifer has appeared in major media interviews and has spoken at conferences at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, the Wharton Leadership Conference in Philadelphia, the National Guard Joint Senior Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., and other major events. He has taught senior leaders from around the world about crisis leadership, disaster management, critical decision-making, counterterrorism, and crisis communication at extreme events. He has conducted hundreds of simulations to test public and private sector response capabilities, capacity and coordination. In addition, he has advised fire departments, law enforcement agencies, EMS, hospitals, building owners and managers, military organizations, and others within the U.S. and abroad on managing a network response to large scale events. He has testified in front of the U.S. Congress about the threats cities will face in the future.
Pfeifer was the Chief of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness for the New York Fire Department (FDNY) before retiring in July 2018. During his career he commanded some of the largest fires and emergencies in New York City’s history: he was the first chief on scene at the World Trade Center attack on the morning of September 11, 2001, played a major command role during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, served as an Incident Commander at the Metro North commuter train derailment in 2013, and assisted in developing the Ebola response in NYC in 2014.
Pfeifer is the founding director of the FDNY’s Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness. He served as a strategic leader assessing the Department’s response performance, identified new budget and policy priorities, helped overhaul management practices, created partnerships to supplement the Department’s existing competencies with new expertise, shaped new technologies for emergency response, and developed the FDNY’s first Strategic Plan, Terrorism Preparedness Strategy, and Continuity of Operations Plan. He produced weekly analyses of threats and crisis response throughout the world and was also a Citywide Command Chief, responsible for commanding major incidents.
He is also a senior fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, an adjunct senior staff associate at Columbia University and a visiting instructor at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. He has spoken about crisis leadership and disaster management at Harvard University, Columbia University, Wharton, the Naval Postgraduate School, the United States Military Academy, the FBI, and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School, a Masters in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, and a Masters in Theology from Immaculate Conception. He has written widely in professional journals and books.