Rick Scott has said that he plans to run the state of Florida like a business, and you can take him at his word.
But getting back to Wal-Mart and emergency management. What does Koon know about emergency management? Good question. Last week I wondered that myself and found a question and answer “interview” of Koon on the FEMA website. It didn’t answer my question, just left me with more. I made a note of it and planned to post it later. However, in the meantime it was brought to my attention that the same FEMA question and answer “interview” disappeared from the website soon after. Sure enough, I pulled up the link I had bookmarked and the entire page was gone.
Since someone apparently doesn’t want anyone reading about what Koon may or may not know about emergency management, and what that may mean to Florida residents I’ve decided to post that same “interview” from the Google cache so you can read it for yourself.
Here are “10 Questions With Wal-Mart’s Bryan Koon” from FEMA, dated Aug. 11, 2010:
1. From an emergency operations standpoint, what keeps you up at night?
Our biggest threats very closely parallel those to society as a whole – major natural and man-made disasters that have the potential to devastate communities, cripple infrastructure, and displace hundreds of thousands of people. Events like a large New Madrid fault earthquake, a large-scale terrorist attack in a major city or a Category 5 hurricane hitting an East Coast city like New York or Boston would strain everyone’s capacity to respond, including ours. The supply disruptions, staffing issues and social distancing that would result during an avian flu pandemic could be a “game changer” for us, and we are taking that threat very seriously. An extended drought in the Southeast or elsewhere could also have severe repercussions for our operations, as well.
On the plus side, however, Wal-Mart’s Emergency Management Department has an outstanding group of associates watching the globe for potential impact to the company on a 24/7 basis, so I’m usually able to get a good night’s sleep.
2. As the world’s largest company, what unique business continuity challenges does Wal-Mart face due its sheer size?
Because of our scope, nearly every disaster has the potential to impact our associates, our customers and members, our retail facilities, our distribution system or our suppliers. Our job is to analyze the event to determine how it could affect or has already affected us, and how we should respond.
The same size that is our vulnerability is also our strength, however. We’re able to mobilize whatever resources we need from outside the impacted area to provide timely support to our associates, customers and members, our operations, and to our communities.
Our size also allows us to maintain a full-time team of experts focused on emergency management, a luxury that many private sector entities do not enjoy. Having a dedicated staff allows us to focus year-round on preparedness, planning, mitigation, and operations, and to develop and cultivate those relationships with governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and other private sector entities that really pay off when we’re dealing with a disaster.
3. What was the most challenging crisis that Wal-Mart has faced during your tenure? What was the response?
I joined the company in April 2006, so I missed the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. Still, we’ve had some fairly challenging events – the California wildfires of 2007, ice storms in the Central U.S. in 2006 and 2007, major blizzards in Colorado and in the Northeast, flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, earthquakes in Hawaii and the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. As I write this, the Pacific Northwest has just gone through another severe storm with 100 mph wind gusts and flooding rains, and the Midwest has had a string of unusual January tornadoes.
Our response to these events follows the same pattern every time: take care of our associates, take care of our operations and take care of the community. Although the hazard and the regions vary, our response is designed to focus on those priorities, in that order. We maintain an Emergency Operations Center at our corporate Home Office in Bentonville, AR, that we can increase or decrease the activation level of, depending on the emergency. Depending on the nature of the event, we’ll bring in groups from around the company to deal with emergency merchandise, transportation, logistics, operations, property restoration, finance, legal, aviation, communication, asset protection, safety, etc.. The Wal-Mart Foundation has a presence in the EOC, and we have space for national representatives of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army so that we can better coordinate efforts with them. The groups are organized into Emergency Support Functions, so that we can better manage the situation and interface with governmental emergency management agencies.
4. What makes Wal-Mart successful at business continuity?
The same things that make Wal-Mart a successful retailer on a day-to-day basis make it successful during a disaster: caring associates, a powerful and flexible distribution system and a strong community presence. We are also able to leverage our experience in other disasters and transfer those lessons learned to future events. For example, we have an extensive database that helps us keep track of what the most popular items are after each type of disaster, which enables us to get the right merchandise to an area more quickly in preparation for or in response to an emergency.
In addition to being able to harness the strengths of all the different divisions of the company, the Emergency Management Department is given a great deal of support from the senior leadership of the company and the latitude to develop new, innovative programs that support the company’s overall goals.
5. Contingency plans are designed to be used in a variety of potential foreseeable events. How does Wal-Mart prepare for the unforeseen? Is this possible?
Although the structure of our response remains basically the same for many events, we do script out the initial actions required for certain types of hazards, and the groups that need to be involved in taking those actions. These “action plans” are designed to ensure that the critical first steps and notifications are accomplished in a timely manner, and allow us to bring in the appropriate personnel to deal with the issue. Every day brings a new and interesting challenge, but we’ve found that our basic structure and response mechanism is capable of handling most of what we throw at it.
6. What support mechanisms does Wal-Mart have within its industry to maintain awareness of potential threats to its business continuity?
We maintain very close ties with a wide variety of information sources – trade organizations, governmental agencies, retail sector coalitions, contract intelligence agencies, open source, scientific publications, law enforcement, emergency management organizations and conferences, etc. We analyze our own internal data and look for trends that could become more widespread. We also need to remain cognizant of the direction that the company is taking and determine what new hazards and vulnerabilities that could expose, then plan accordingly.
7. How does Wal-Mart envision partnering with the federal government in the future? How does this differ from the past? Is there value in this partnership?
Our ideal situation is one in which private sector, non-governmental organizations and local, state and federal government emergency management organizations all have an explicit understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Together, they develop inter-operable plans that maximize those strengths and minimizes gaps in coverage; the old analogy of layering swiss cheese slices on top of each other until no holes remain. We feel that we are on the right road to get to this eventuality, but it will still be a long trip. It started with Hurricane Katrina, where the folly of planning in a vacuum and hoping for the best was exposed and the benefits of involving the private sector were clearly illustrated. There is absolute value in this partnership and we will continue to press hard to establish and codify it.
8. What type of emergency preparedness education/tips does Wal-Mart offer to its employees? For their families?
Taking care of our associates is our number one priority, and all of our policies and procedures reflect that priority. Our people are our number one asset, and we recognize that we won’t be able to restore our operations or our communities until our associates and their families feel safe and secure. So, we work hard to ensure that they have access to the information and tools they need to be personally prepared for emergencies. Our 1 ½ million associates in the U.S. plus their families account for roughly 1% of America’s population. Ensuring they’re prepared not only helps to ensure their safety & our company’s resiliency, but it also helps to take pressure off of other responding organizations who will need to care for those who did not prepare.
We use a multi-faceted approach to preparedness education via our corporate Associate Preparedness Campaign. By partnering with organizations like the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the Ready.Gov office of the Department of Homeland Security, the American Red Cross, the Weather Channel, and Onestorm.org, we are able to provide information, expertise, and practical tools for our associates from across the industry. Many of these sites allow our associates to prepare a customized emergency plan for their families, including evacuation routes, nearby shelters, and customized checklists. This crucial information is introduced to our associates via subtle ongoing messaging found on Wal-Mart Television, Wal-Mart Radio, our intranet computer systems, on-line sites, and in our Wal-Mart World magazine. However, our focus is not only on internal education – we spend a lot of time and energy spreading the word about Personal Preparedness within our communities as well. We have been part of numerous citizen preparedness campaigns at the state and Federal level in states like Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, and California. And this year, we are working with the National Weather Service to print and distribute a hurricane preparedness guide that will be distributed to millions of residents along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
9. Are employees trained and/or empowered to make decisions in an emergency or is there an easily identified chain of command to ensure quick decisions?
Every Wal-Mart and Neighborhood Market store, Sam’s Club, and Distribution Center, as well as all of our corporate facilities, have prominently displayed flip charts that detail the initial actions that should be taken for many different types of emergencies. These are backed up by a detailed emergency procedures manual that all managers have access to. In addition, we do numerous training classes for all operational and asset protection managers so they are aware of what their potential hazards are, as well as what their initial actions should be.
In addition to this training, they are backed up by a deep bench of experts at the corporate level to help them through an emergency. We have a dedicated emergency line that goes to our Alarm Central Station. Utilizing this emergency line and a mass phone and e-mail notification system, we can contact the people who need to be involved and have them up to speed and ready to respond within a matter of minutes of an incident occurring.
Finally, all of our managers are empowered to do what is right in a given situation, without direction for the Home Office. They are the ones who live in their respective communities and they are best positioned to recognize what action is necessary to rectify or mitigate a situation. We saw that during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and we continue to see it in events like the California wildfires and the Washington state flooding of 2007.
10. From your perspective, is emergency preparedness and response a government, private-sector or individual responsibility?
That’s an easy one – yes. Successful execution in the aftermath of a disaster requires a concerted effort from all three, particularly in the first 72 hours. We are doing our part by educating our associates, customers and members, giving them information about disasters and disaster kits and providing access to supplies they need to have when they need it and at the low Wal-Mart price. We will continue to work closely with governmental agencies to educate them about the private sector’s capabilities and to develop plans that utilize both of our strengths.