5 Questions: MICHAEL BROWN

Article excerpt

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown spends much of his time these days giving advice about disasters. As Brown recently explained to Workforce Management staff writer Jeremy Smerd, he's distilled his wisdom into two talks. One reflects his role as chairman of the Cotton Cos., which focuses on how employers can prepare their workforces for disaster. The other reflects the management lessons learned as the man maligned by much of the country for the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

MICHAEL BROWN, chairman of the Cotton Cos. and former FEMA director

WEATHERING DISASTER, CRITICISM

Workforce Management: You were highly criticized during Hurricane Katrina for the federal government's response. What did you learn from that?

Michael Brown: Well, one, be patient. I think this is true for a midlevel manager; it's true for every CEO. If you believe you are on the right path, you need to stick with it because you'll be proven correct. You just need to learn to weather that criticism and do what you think is best.

WM: How do you apply that to your work preparing workforces for disasters?

Brown: 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. 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.

WM: What does it mean to be prepared?

Brown: If businesses help employees develop communication plans, evacuation plans, preparedness plans-and by that are they prepared in their home, apartment, condo or whatever to live without power for up to 72 hours. If an employer does all of those kinds of planning for their employee, that takes the pressure off their employee, takes the worries off the employee and allows them to get back to work quicker. …