by Amy Keller
Updated 11 months ago
Bryan Koon addresses emergency operations officials and county commissioners in Hillsborough County. [Photo: Willie J. Allen Jr./Tampa Bay Times]
As director of emergency management at Walmart for five years, Bryan Koon had to deal with five tornados that hit Walmart stores, ice storms, hurricanes, a bridge collapse in Minneapolis and myriad other crises. Today, Koon is responsible for ensuring that Florida is prepared for disasters.
Florida Trend: How did your Walmart job help prepare you for this job?
Bryan Koon: It allowed me to see how emergency management functioned in 50 different states and in thousands of different counties.
FT: What’s been the biggest challenge in this job?
BK: I understood hurricanes, and I understood emergency management. What I did not know as specifically were the strengths and weaknesses that each county emergency management agency had, how the state agencies tied together in this. I had not worked in state government before, so for me specifically to understand how state government worked and how the legislative process worked were the biggest challenges.
FT: What role does Florida’s private sector play in emergency management and disaster response?
BK: Florida’s private sector plays a huge role. We have a person whose full-time role is to liaison with Florida’s private sector to ensure they have the resources necessary to stay open as long as possible before a disaster and reopen as quickly as possible after a disaster. We recognize that government cannot be as efficient in meeting the citizens’ needs as the private sector can, whether it be giving them groceries, food and water or meals or lodging or construction materials or any of those things that happen on a day-to-day basis. We want to make sure that the private sector is able to continue to meet that responsibility during a disaster.
FT: What lessons have been learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster?
BK: Deepwater Horizon was notable in that it demonstrated Florida’s ability to be flexible when it comes to dealing with disasters. Florida got very good at dealing with hurricanes and wildfires. Deepwater Horizon was a whole different ball game. What I think it did was allow Florida’s emergency management team to realize that it could take everything that it trained for and utilize the same principles in a situation that was slightly asymmetrical from what they were dealing with.
FT: Is funding adequate?
BK: Much of our funding comes from the federal level, and we also receive funds through a surcharge on insurance policies, $2 on residential insurance policies and $4 on commercial insurance. Very little of it comes from general revenue on the state level, so we don’t see a great deal of up and down, funding-wise. We recognize this is a challenging budget time, and we’ve adjusted our programs accordingly, but I think we’re fine in where we are.
FT: What are your major goals this year?
BK: One of the things we want to do as an agency is ensure we’re spending our money as effectively and efficiently as possible. We’re taking a look internally at some of the things we can do as far as educating our citizens and making them aware of hazards and threats in their community so that should a situation arise, they find out about it in a timely manner and can take the appropriate action. We’re looking at better engaging the academic community in Florida with regards to emergency management to better utilize the emergency management programs that exist in the state and provide opportunities for those interns who come out of those programs.