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Brown turns disaster into a job

Sun., Aug. 19, 2007

WASHINGTON – Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed New Orleans, Michael Brown, who bore the brunt of the criticism for the federal response to the storm, has moved into a career promoting disaster-response and data-mining technology for government agencies and private customers.

Brown, who served as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Katrina blasted New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, has not returned to New Orleans in nearly two years. His last stop was on Sept. 11, 2005, the day before he resigned under pressure.

The next time he sees New Orleans, Brown ruefully suggests, it may be in response to lawsuits resulting from Katrina, which left more than 1,000 dead and tens of thousands homeless.

But while Brown may be gone from government, some of the private companies he now represents say they stand ready to help the government cope with new storms barreling into the Gulf of Mexico, as well as other potential disasters.

Living in Boulder, Colo., Brown has become a traveling salesman for firms selling computer software, high-tech machinery and communications technology. One of the companies focuses on anti-terrorism, helping airlines detect potentially dangerous patterns among the flying public. Others specialize in Brown’s old field of disaster response, helping communities rebuild and providing technology so the military and first responders can manage casualties on the ground.

“I probably, at any one time, have a half-dozen clients involved in different things having to do with homeland security or government in general,” Brown said in an interview. “I am called corporate adviser. Some places, I am called vice president for corporate relations. I am called all kinds of names.”

Brown was certainly called all sorts of names in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. And some of his critics wonder how a former federal official who came to symbolize inept emergency response can be selling disaster relief products to the government.

“He’d probably be tarred and feathered if he came back,” said Anne Milling, founder of Women of the Storm, a group that specializes in convincing members of Congress to visit the Gulf Coast. “I just question people’s competence and expertise in these areas when they haven’t demonstrated them prior. … One would have to question his competence and capabilities.”

Brown represents a Las Vegas-based firm, Noninvasive Medical Technologies, which makes health care monitors and has a contract with the Air Force for combat-casualty care. Its wireless equipment allows medics to set up triage in the field. “I could have used this in Katrina, in a heartbeat,” Brown said.

And Brown is doing work for Atlanta-based Charys Holding Co., whose companies, Cotton Companies and Viasys Services, build and restore wireless communications – cell-phone towers, fiber-optic networks and the like. In June, Cotton restored services after flooding in Gainesville, Texas.

Bad weather can mean good business for Charys, a FEMA contractor. “2007 is predicted to be a very active hurricane season,” its Web site says.

Cotton performed extensive work in Louisiana after Katrina, Brown said, and is preparing to do more work in the Caribbean and elsewhere as new storms threaten the Gulf of Mexico. “The fun thing about it is, it’s all things I like,” Brown said of his current work.


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