February 15, 2008
These days, former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael
Brown spends much of his time giving advice about handling the
unexpected. As chairman of the Cotton Cos., which focuses on business
continuity, Mr. Brown advises employers on how to weather natural
disasters. As the man vilified for the federal governments response to
Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Brown has plenty of thoughts on how to survive
career catastrophes, too.
Lets start off with what is probably the most common question you are
Michael Brown: Sure (laughs).
Im sure youre ready for it. You were highly criticized during Hurricane
Katrina for the governments response. What did you learn from that?
Brown: Well, one, to be patient. If you go back now and you compare what
I was saying inside the administration and what I was saying at the time
about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, all of those
things came true. The unfortunate thing was I happened to be in that
very spot when what I predicted would come true came true. So you learn
that if you believeI think this is true for a midlevel manager, its true
for every CEOif you believe you are on the right path, you need to stick
with it because youll be proven correct. You just need to learn to
weather that criticism and do what you think is best.
Taking your experience there. Those were some hard knocks, especially
Brown: Oh, it was brutal.
How do you apply that to your work preparing workforces for disasters?
Brown: You must recognize that a disaster is just that: Its a disaster.
And everything that can go wrong will go wrong. What you have to focus
on is that every single person in that chain of command, every person in
your organization, has to be prepared. If Im a mom-and-pop shop I need
to make sure the four or five employees I have are ready, not just in
that shop but at their home too. Ill ask a CEO, If disaster strikes,
have you planned for employees working? Oh yeah, theyll say, we have
these contingency plans, we have a very loyal workforce they are going
to show up for work. And I just laugh at them.
Everyone will tell you: I have a risk manager, a safety manager, we have
contingency plans in place for their business. What plans do they have
in place for the workforce? Because if those people cant get to work,
those other plans dont do them any good. One of the things that federal
government does and state government does is they really try to drive
home this concept of being prepared at home. I think businesses should
do the same thing, regardless of the size. The better prepared employees
are in the neighborhood they live in, the more likely they are to get
back to work quicker, the more likely they are to be more loyal to you
because youve helped them be more prepared in the neighborhood where
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