Former Wal-Mart Chief Takes on Hurricane Season

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 24, 2011 -

Florida’s new head of emergency management said Monday he hopes to bring the fruits of time spent at the world’s largest retailer to the job of protecting Florida’s 18 million residents from hurricanes and other natural and man-made disasters.

With the Atlantic hurricane season slated to blow in June 1, Bryan Koon, the new director of the division of emergency management, told reporters that his tenure as chief of emergency response for Wal-Mart will shape the way he approaches his new job.

Specifically, Koon says he wants to hone efforts begun in Florida and Wal-Mart after Hurricane Katrina to more closely coordinate the efforts of state and local governments and the private organizations that use their own distribution systems, communication networks and manpower.

“It’s a much bigger stage, and the agency is responsible for a much broader range of emergency management issues than there was at Wal-Mart,” Koon said of his new job during a meeting at the state emergency operations center. “So (the role) is not quite as wide geographically, but a lot deeper for what we’ll be responsible for.”

While confident in Florida’s emergency responders, Koon said he’s worried that Floridians may be getting complacent. Without a major storm since 2005, preparedness measures are not in the headlines and people may be letting down their guard, despite forecasts the upcoming hurricane season will be more active than most.

“The concern I would have is that since we’ve gone five seasons without a land-falling hurricane, we’ve got citizens who, perhaps, have forgotten some of what that experience in 2004-2005 was like,” Koon said. “We also have new Floridians who have not, perhaps, dealt with hurricanes before.”

In January, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott tapped Koon, 39, to oversee operations of the most hurricane prone state in the country, where the bulk of the population lives within 10 miles of the state’s 1,200- mile coastline.

As the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s top emergency responder, Koon was charged with the safety of more than 1.2 million associates and their families at 4,500 stores across the United States.

“He’s been responsible for one of the largest companies in the world,” Scott said Monday. “He knows how important not just state and local governments are but the private sector. He’s got all the right background to make sure to our state is properly prepared.”

Koon said he plans to continue something the state agency already does – allowing private companies to help in the response to storms. That will be even more important with tight budgets.

“What we saw starting in 2008 was (government) emergency managers working much more with them to take full advantage for their strengths they can bring to the table,” Koon said.


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