How do you teach teamwork, crisis management, creative problem solving, communication, and leadership—those soft skills that are essential to any top-level business position? The Texas A&M University Executive MBA Program at Mays Business School has a unique answer to that question: send the students for a day of exercises at Disaster City, the premiere crisis training facility in the nation, located in College Station, Texas.

Disaster City is a full-scale mock community designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage, such as a train derailment and building collapse. Rescue workers from around the world use the facility for training purposes. The A&M Executive MBA students took part in a specialized day of training that tested their leadership skills instead of their business acumen on August 5, 2009.

Disaster City is a full-scale mock community designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage. In this 2008 photo, MBA students participate in drills designed to test leadership and management skills during a crisis.
Disaster City is a full-scale mock community designed to simulate various levels of disaster and wreckage. In this 2008 photo, MBA students participate in drills designed to test leadership and management skills during a crisis.

Incorporating this exercise into the EMBA curriculum was inspired by the students’ involvement in crisis management for their companies during Hurricane Ike in September 2008. During the exercise, the EMBA students were divided into teams to complete tasks such as rescuing “victims” from a train wreck, a high speed GPS scavenger hunt, and a “slab drag,” moving a 1,200-pound block of concrete with team effort and pulleys. They also practiced responding to the media and other external audiences during crisis.

As they learned how to respond during a physical crisis, the expectation is that those skills will transfer to a business setting—from natural disasters like Ike, to stock crashes and business take-overs.

“The Disaster City experience is about putting our Executive MBA students in a physically challenging, high stress environment that will test them in every way,” said Julie Orzabal, director of the Executive MBA program. “The lessons they learn through these exercises will translate into how they work together in their teams, how they communicate, and how they lead their organizations.  We are excited about incorporating this unique opportunity into our curriculum.”

Top local and national response experts instructed and facilitated the EMBA challenge. These instructors have responded to some of the largest disasters in U.S. history, including the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, and the space shuttle Columbia incident.

The EMBA training at Disaster City is part of their “Residency Week” program, which introduces the new class of students to the A&M program and campus. After Residency Week, all EMBA classes are held in The Woodlands, near Houston, Texas.

For more information about Disaster City and the Texas A&M University Executive MBA Program at Mays Business School, contact Kristin Cooper at (979) 458-4571 or kristincooper@tamu.edu.

About the Texas A&M Executive MBA Program

The Executive MBA Program equips today’s working leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in a rapidly changing organizational environment. The unique program is built around an ongoing study of how value is created in all aspects of an organization’s operations. Peer discussion and real-world case studies replace the typical lecture-driven classroom format. The result is a highly interactive learning environment that provides each participant with knowledge they can put to work immediately. The 18-month program begins a new class each August. For more information, please contact the Executive MBA office at emba@tamu.edu.

Mays Business School currently enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduate students and 875 graduate students. Mays is nationally ranked among public business schools for the quality of its undergraduate program, MBA program and the faculty scholarship of its 105 professors in five departments.