Posted: 11:52 am Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

New Florida emergency chief: residents shouldn’t just count on government in disaster 

By Eliot Kleinberg

FORT LAUDERDALE — Good disaster response doesn’t conflict with Gov. Rick Scott’s mantra of less government and more personal responsibility, Scott’s emergency manager said today.

In fact, Bryan Koon said, it’s in line with what local, state and federal emergency managers have said for years about people preparing for a storm.

Koon

Koon

“We want them to become not victims, but survivors,” Koon said at a morning news briefing before this afternoon’s opening session of the 25th annual Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference. Scott is scheduled to make the traditional governor’s welcome.

 The Federal Emergency Management Agency — run now by Craig Fugate, Koon’s Florida predecessor — and its state and local counterparts have for years urged people to act as if they’ll get no help for the first few days after a hurricane or other disaster.

“There are certain inherent things that only the government is going to be able to do. Among that is restoring the critical infrastrucure,” Koon said. “As citizens are able to take care of themselves and each other, that will make sure the resources we (government) have can focus on things that are inherently governmenta.”

Watch all this week for stories and blog postings from the Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale

 

He said it’s also critical for medium and small businesses, who won’t have the reources to reopen as quickly, to have strong plans in place now.

In five years at Walmart, before coming to Florida with the new Scott administration, Koon oversaw every kind of disaster at the chain’s 8,500 facilities; not just hurricanes, but tornadoes, floods and fires.

He was responsible for about 2.2 million workers. About 1.5 million of those were in the United States; add their families and Koon was emergency manager for some 3 million Americans, more than 1 percent of the national population.

“We were a worldwide company. There was never a day that something didn’t happen,” he said. “I was able to learn from lots of different things and interface with partners in government to learn the best practices from around the country.”

Koon said he’s keenly aware that Florida hasn’t had a strike in six years.

“You do have the possibility for Floridians to become complacent. We’ve been lucky so far,” he said. “You also have new Floridians who haven’t been here.”

The former emergency manager for the worldwide Walmart chain said businesses such as grocery stores, home improvement centers and service stations can help do the job of recovery — and help themselves — simply by opening for business and selling their products to people who then won’t have to stand in line for government handouts.

But he also said the “explosion” in information flow and mobile technology that’s occurred over those six years can go a long way to helping people prepare for, and rebuild after, a storm.