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So tell us, Allan Kanner, how do you really feel? “When I see a guy with a FEMA shirt on, I just want to beat him in the head.” Perhaps Kanner, a New Orleans trial attorney, can be forgiven. After all, he’s representing several local agencies and businesses, any one of which would be glad to offer a graduate-level seminar on the bungling, wretched, awful performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That could spell trouble for Daniel Craig when he returns this week to the stricken city with another hurricane season approaching. As the head of Akerman Senterfitt’s new disaster preparedness and recovery task force group, Craig is looking to spread the good (or, perhaps, the bad) word about his firm’s latest practice initiative. And as the former director of the recovery division for FEMA, Craig is fond of brandishing both his past with the agency and his old FEMA ball cap. He may even wear the lid in New Orleans, he says. “I’m proud of it,” Craig says of his tenure at FEMA. He joined the Florida-based firm late last year, selling Akerman’s crisis management work as a hot new practice area. Now Akerman, which has had a small appropriations practice in Washington for two years, is betting that its new disaster wing will make for an even bigger splash in the nation’s capital, traditionally not an easy place for regional players to grab a foothold. “It was not a �Field of Dreams’ kind of thing that you just dream up and develop the practice,” says James Miller, office managing shareholder at Akerman. Miller says the firm already had people doing related activities and realized it had a wealth of experience touching on disaster management. Akerman believes it can use the past FEMA experience of Craig and Jim Schumann, former FEMA director of legislative affairs and now of counsel at Akerman, to attract more business in the Gulf Coast and in other disaster-prone areas like California and to help cities and municipalities navigate the rocky FEMA shoals both before and after a natural disaster. So far, Craig has focused on working the circuit, delivering speeches to groups including the American Public Works Association in Tallahassee, Fla., spinning out worst-case scenarios � earthquakes leveling St. Louis, hurricanes flooding large patches of Manhattan. The tone is movie of the week or, better yet, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Craig as a man grounded in home and family who must, regrettably, remind the country that it faces imminent destruction from natural evils that it would foolishly prefer to ignore. “When I leave some of these speeches, people say, �You’re Disaster Dan or Doctor Death,’ ” says the 35-year-old Craig. “ You scare the heck out of people. They say I watch too much TV, but the insurance companies watch TV. These are realities.” For many, after last year’s hurricanes, FEMA remains a four-letter word. Former Director Michael “Brownie” Brown did such a “heckuva” job managing the Katrina disaster in New Orleans that he was eventually sacked by the president. The region will remain socially and physically damaged for years, and some in Congress have suggested doing away with the agency, which currently operates under the Department of Homeland Security. “FEMA is radioactive and is likely to continue that way,” says Kanner, the New Orleans lawyer. “I don’t see anyone walking into a city government saying, �I got FEMA experience; pay a premium for that.’ “ With such a ringing endorsement of an agency, why, then, would a large Florida firm stake a huge part of its entry into Washington’s legislative affairs world on a disaster practice and proudly boast as its centerpiece two consultants with significant FEMA credentials? The danger man Craig, a moderate Republican from Connecticut, says that FEMA’s not a pariah but merely “in a cycle.” Contrary to popular opinion, he says, FEMA was not designed to handle major catastrophes like Hurricane Andrew or Katrina. The agency isn’t a first responder, he says. It is there to pay the bills. Craig’s time at FEMA was marked by disasters. He was responsible for overseeing the recovery efforts for the space shuttle Columbia crash and the California wildfires in 2003 and the hurricanes in 2004. Craig left FEMA in August 2005, a week before Katrina hit, and says he had eight job offers from top law firms and lobby shops in the District (which he would not name). He contemplated starting his own practice but decided against it because his wife was seven months pregnant. That was also one of the reasons he left FEMA, as the travel and lack of time at home were becoming too much for his family. Still, Craig says the disaster practice at Akerman is a natural fit. The firm has 450 lawyers and consultants working within its sizable corporate, labor, employment, and intellectual property practices. Outside of its many Florida offices and the D.C. shop, Akerman has a location in New York City. The firm’s clients include a number of private companies and government entities interested in disaster management, the city governments of Miami and Orlando, Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and the California Farm Bureau Federation. Craig argues the firm is unique in that, while many shops, such as Blank Rome Government Relations, already have homeland security platforms, Akerman is the first to tailor a practice around disaster recovery. Though FEMA will be the main focus, Craig says the practice will reach out to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Craig is even interested in breaking a major logjam to any good recovery: debris removal. He’s looking to start a trade association for the debris-removal industry. During his short tenure at Akerman, Craig has already registered to lobby with the U.S. Senate for several businesses, including DRC Emergency Services in Mobile, Ala., for debris removal; Cheniere Energy in Houston, for disaster preparedness; Beck Disaster Recovery in Orlando, Fla.; and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, for disaster reimbursements and pre-disaster and hazard-mitigation grant programs. Some lawyers, such as Ernest Abbott, the former general counsel for FEMA under Director James Lee Witt, say it’s unusual that more practictioners don’t focus on FEMA. Abbott, who currently works with FEMA Law Associates, says that with more complex disasters, it could be helpful for cities and municipalities to retain someone to make sure they don’t unwittingly lose eligibility for assistance that’s provided. But other legal professionals and lobbyists remain skeptical about how successful a disaster recovery practice can be for a law firm. Many don’t see a large body of litigation or consulting work being generated from such a practice. “If I were Dan, I would have gone to work for [former FEMA directors] Joe Allbaugh or James Lee Witt,” says one Florida lobbyist. “They have very successful practices at what they do. Trying to be Wendy’s after McDonalds and Burger King is tough.” But Craig is used to tough situations, having spent four years at FEMA. He began his career at the agency on the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, as regional director for the New England area, and when he left FEMA he was director of the recovery division. But four years of dealing with catastrophe and bloated bureaucracy can have an effect on anyone. Dena Stoner, a former employer of Craig’s at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, says that FEMA drained away a bit of his wide-eyed, anything-is-possible nature. “The Dan Craig that I’ve seen since is not that puppy that worked for me,” says Stoner. “He’s become much more aware that there are huge things and cultures that one person can’t change.” Yet Craig pushes ahead. He dismisses accusations that Akerman is concerned primarily with litigation, noting the firm is more corporate with big development and municipality practices. Nevertheless, Miller adds that some construction- and employment-related work has come from hurricane recovery and cleanup cases and he expects more. “It just creates a wide variety of legal issues,” Miller, who is based in Miami, says of the disaster-related work ahead. “If you lived down here, you’re a believer.” Crisis is our brand The question remains: In an era of lean state budgets, just who will pay for a large law firm to help with disaster planning? Craig says most states have crawled out of the budget hole they were in a few years ago, though he admits that most taxpayers don’t want to see their money going to lobbying activities. And Florida, where the bulk of the work is at the moment, is well versed when it comes to disaster preparedness. Some locals clearly believe that no additional expertise is necessary. Doug Anderson, county administrator for St. Lucie County, says his community was struck by Hurricane Francis in 2004, followed three weeks later by Hurricane Jeanne, and then, Hurricane Wilma in 2005. As a result, his county formed a disaster-recovery wing early on to deal with the catastrophes. “Maybe some municipalities have used outside firms, but we are pretty well trained in Florida,” says Anderson, who went 30 days with little sleep and lost 20 pounds during the last round of hurricanes. Frank Nero, the president and CEO of the Beacon Council, a private-public nonprofit in Florida, says the average company in his home county of Miami-Dade has fewer than 20 employees and is unlikely to seek out a law firm to help it out until after the damage is done. “I don’t think they look at it as a preventative measure,” Nero says. Craig says most counties in Florida are more prepared than other cities within the state, but he highlights Louisiana as an example of a state that didn’t know the FEMA process nor the quickest way to recover money. “This firm is not going to get rich off municipalities. It’s looking to help them,” he says. Craig is also trying to break into new markets � ones that may not know they have a looming disaster problem. For example, Akerman wants to sell Craig’s services in the Midwest, particularly in states that fall along the New Madrid fault zone. Earthquakes in the heartland? Though experts say a big temblor is likely at some point in the future, the area has not been hit with a significant quake since 1812, a fact that may present Akerman with a bit of a marketing problem. “I grew up here and I’ve never heard a person talk about it ever,” says Gary Broome of the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association. But Craig remains confident. Sitting at his desk in his sixth-floor office in Washington, he is ready with an answer to every question. Even the potential demise of FEMA doesn’t worry him � a well-thumbed copy of the best seller Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t sits prominently on his bookshelf. And such a practice focused on disaster recovery may take off. Even a New Orleans skeptic like Kanner isn’t completely doubtful. “Maybe a big earthquake will happen in Missouri and all their dreams will come true.” Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected]

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