Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

Bryan Koon Brings Extensive Private-Sector Experience to Florida

Koon went from managing disasters that affected Wal-Mart’s 2.2 million employees to heading emergency management for Florida.

Bryan Koon was named director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management in 2010. He joined the division after years as the senior operations manager in Wal-Mart’s Emergency Management Department.

At Wal-Mart, he managed events that affected the 2.2 million associates at the company’s facilities and nearly 100,000 vendors and suppliers throughout the world. Koon was a surface warfare officer in the Navy and worked at the White House Military Office for seven years.

Emergency Management magazine caught up with Koon at a recent conference to discuss his experience and the transition from the private sector to the public sector. 

Question: What’s it like following in the footsteps of FEMA Administrator and former Director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management Craig Fugate?

Answer: It’s daunting but frankly it’s a tremendous opportunity and that was one of the primary reasons I took the job in Florida. It was an opportunity to go to a state that already had a fantastic reputation. It’s daunting to follow Craig. He has reached the place where he’s known by one name like Bono or Prince — it’s just “Craig.” But far surpassing that, is the ability to learn from the organization and to take what has been a great success so far and make it even better.

Are there things you’d like to do differently than Fugate?

We still have lots to improve upon, so we are working on numerous things. One is taking the effectiveness that was achieved and continuing on with [it], but improving the efficiency of it. Recognizing that the financial climate we’ll be dealing with in the next 10 years is going to be tough.
How do emergency management organizations or a state achieve the same results or better with less money and more streamlined efforts?

Continuing to engage the “whole community,” to use FEMA’s language, in emergency management and recognizing that in those large-scale situations, it is not government-centric and it should not be a government-centric focus. Everybody in the community should be engaged in that process.
We’re taking a much more proactive effort to engage the academic community, which is a vastly underutilized resource in Florida. We have great colleges and universities that have lots of emergency management and homeland security programs, and many bright, young students that want to be engaged. There are lots of internship and research opportunities. Colleges have physical infrastructure that could be of use to us. They have some of the best communication systems as far as alerting notification. Engaging the academic community more fully is something we are working on.

The challenge in Florida is that we can’t be all Facebook all the time because we have an elderly population that relies on local TV news; their neighbors in the condo and their bridge club; and their land line phone. We have to make sure we continue to serve that population while taking advantage of all the new technology.

What do you bring from the private sector to government that was missing?

There are a number of things. One of them is because I came from outside of government, it has allowed me to ask the dumb questions that I would perhaps be afraid to ask otherwise. I can ask people to explain how we got where we are today and why. It seems so convoluted. Explain to me how it is not convoluted, or in fact if it is convoluted, why we got there.

I can ask how we got to the point where this county is doing this and the county next door is doing something completely different. In some cases, I have gotten good answers, and in some cases I have gotten, “because that is the way that it always has been done.” It has allowed me to truly engage people and allow them the opportunity to explain how things work and either defend it or clearly illustrate that it’s something we can approve upon.

I am a public communicator and the public-facing part of the organization. I’m the negotiator; I’m a manager; I’m a leader; a counselor; an adviser; a sounding board; I am a collaborator; the guy who nags somebody else on behalf of the organization. I’m the one who moves issues up and down. Those are skills that you can acquire outside of government. In fact, you can probably get better at doing those kinds of things in the private sector. Those are the skill sets I brought to the job that I would not necessarily have honed as well had I been in government the entire time.

I’m truly glad I did Wal-Mart first because they are very focused on a brand, an image and reputation, so I did a lot of media relations-type classes where you spent days going through mock interviews and going over the message to make sure you were reflecting credit upon the company. I haven’t seen that kind of training occur within the state so I would have been ill-prepared had I come up through the ranks.

Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.

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