FEMA Administrator Brock Long meets with leaders in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 13, 2017. (Yuisa Rios/FEMA)

PERSPECTIVE: Why Brock Long’s Leadership at FEMA Will Be Missed

For all of the constant churn and turn of the leadership team of the Trump administration, the announcement of FEMA Administrator Brock Long’s resignation genuinely caught his FEMA and emergency management colleagues by surprise. Having weathered the recent political storm over the use of FEMA vehicles to transport him back to North Carolina where his family resides, it seemed as if things had entered into sense of calm at FEMA – especially as Hurricane Season 2019 approaches a few months from now.

As has been reported by multiple outlets, Brock Long was well regarded and respected by the FEMA team and its partners. He was approachable, candid in his assessments and, in a town where leadership egos can be measured in wide swaths of latitude and longitude points, he was humble and personable. He was a breath of fresh air at FEMA and the Strategic Plan he shaped and released for the agency are a testament to his style of leadership: engaging, inviting of others, and always willing to share his burdens and opportunities as well as rewards with anyone willing to listen or lend a hand. Regardless of the incident he was responding to, Long knew he didn’t have all answers to all the questions and problems that were coming about and, unlike many who crave public adulation when things are especially tense, he never pretended to be so self-absorbed to make it seem like he did.

I guess that’s why I hate to see him leave FEMA. Humility in serving others is a rare commodity in public leadership today and I saw Brock Long personify that trait in several ways.

But the truth is, there is never a calm at FEMA. It is an agency chartered to be on full attention and to be at the ready to respond to circumstances that are anticipated (e.g. incoming hurricanes and fire seasons) to the unforeseen (e.g. tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.). That is inherent in the lifestyle of emergency management – preparing for anything and everything and being able to respond to the known and unknown at any time. There is no real calm in an environment like that; rather, it’s a perpetual caffeinated state of being that is always ready and willing to help.

In most lives and industries, it’s safe to say we manage time in a 24-7, 365-day yearly cycle. At FEMA and just about every other emergency management operation, it would probably be safer to measure time in dog years given the volume and velocity of what transpires. That’s not meant as an excuse or to belittle the demands and pressures under which other professions operate but rather it is a testament to what transpires within the emergency management operating environment.

It’s certainly grueling for everyone involved but when you’re in the senior leadership roles of the preeminent organizations, the grind and demands of those positions can be especially costly to your health, your family, your reputation and so many other measures. Until you have actually experienced those circumstances, having either served in those positions or observed it up close by working alongside those persons, you really have no idea of the costs and consequences that are endured.

Which is why when Brock Long says he wants to return home to his wife and sons in North Carolina, I don’t blame him for an instant. He’s more than earned that right, rest and reward for having served us well these past two years.

Today, outside of the positions of homeland security secretary, ICE director and CBP commissioner, no other position at DHS has a bigger bull’s-eye painted on it than FEMA administrator. Long, like all of his FEMA administrator predecessors, endured more than his share of slings and arrows. Some he deserved, most he did not – but he knew they were coming when he agreed to take on one of the world’s and nation’s most thankless jobs. It’s part of the unwritten description that is subtly engraved in the actual position description. Regardless of how hard you work, how hard you try, whom you serve, and how you conduct yourself – you are guaranteed to be pilloried by politicians, media and public for something that did not suffice.

It takes a special person to do the FEMA administrator job, especially when the political environment is as toxic as it is today – which is why I already look upon Long’s anticipated replacement, Jeffrey Byard, with a tremendous amount of respect and deference.

Given his current role at FEMA and previous experiences in emergency management, Byard knows what comes with the bull’s-eye jersey once you put it on in public. You are a target of opportunity where no good deed will be remembered or often recognized, and no bad deed will ever be forgotten and not blamed entirely upon you. But he has stepped forward to serve nonetheless.

Jeffrey Byard follows a good man who did many good things in the two-plus dog years he led FEMA. I believe Brock Long’s chapter at FEMA will be remembered as one of the most positive entries in the always evolving FEMA story. But anytime someone steps forward to serve in a tough job in even tougher circumstances, it’s hard not to see that as a positive and notable achievement. That will always have my respect and admiration.

Thank you, Brock, and well done. And Jeff, thank you for your willingness to wear the bull’s-eye jersey.

 

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Rich Cooper is Editor-at-Large for HSToday. A former senior member of DHS’ Private Sector Office (PSO), Cooper has been a frequent writer and contributor to numerous media outlets. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications & Outreach for the Space Foundation and a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC. Cooper is also a former Senior Fellow with GWU’s Cyber and Homeland Security Institute and has also served in senior positions at NASA, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, SAS and several other profit and not-for-profit enterprises.

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