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Satula Tackles Emergency Management Role

Talk about a tough first day on the job.

Brian Satula had barely taken his seat as the newly appointed administrator of Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) in May when, on the heels of headline-grabbing budget protests at the state capitol, 11 tornados touched down in the state. And all the while, he was amid the final stretch of earning his master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, which he graduated from on Sept. 23.

Fortunately, Satula has more than 33 years of experience in fire services, including five years as fire chief of the Oak Creek (Wis.) Fire Department, and was accustomed to taking charge and taking on tasks that require fast thinking and priority juggling. The day he assumed the administrator’s job, he activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center and coordinated resources.

"My previous experience as a fire chief and a local emergency management director has afforded me valuable field experience," said Satula. "Having insight and understanding of what was tactically happening at the incident helped me to better anticipate the resource needs during this major event."

Satula largely credits the dedicated team at WEM for rallying around him to help those communities affected by the tornadoes. The state experienced a very active weather season this past spring and summer having 37 confirmed tornadoes and multiple damaging wind events.

The job came with some immediate budgetary challenges. Even though Gov. Scott Walker has been grappling with a $3 billion budget shortfall, he has supported WEM’s mission and he places high importance on public safety and protection for the citizens of Wisconsin.

"Federal funding for homeland security and emergency management is decreasing and has an uncertain future," Satula said. "If the trend continues, it will place a higher burden on state’s budgets to maintain these vital priorities."

WEM programs include Hazard Mitigation, Warning and Communications, Emergency Police and Fire Services, Disaster Response and Recovery, Hazardous Materials and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Radiological Emergency Preparedness, as well as Exercise and Training.

"These programs enhance disaster preparedness and are integral to emergency response," Satula said.

In Wisconsin, the state emergency management director also serves as the Governor’s state coordinating officer during Presidential Disaster Declarations. Working within the Department of Military Affairs, Satula works with the state adjutant general and homeland security advisor, Major General (Wis.) Donald Dunbar, to provide the Governor with emergency situational awareness and the statewide response during major incidents.

The emergency management mission is enhanced by relationships forged around the state, many of which Satula formed during his years in the fire service where he headed up the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System in Wisconsin, and his participation in the Milwaukee Urban Area Security Initiative working group and with the state’s interoperability initiatives.

"As the state’s emergency disaster coordinating agency, I meet with many state associations, advisory work groups and local emergency managers to discuss preparedness and outcomes that will enhance our state’s disaster response and resilience," he said.

Enrolling at CHDS was a chance to further complement skills developed over three decades in the field. Though well-versed in emergency operations, Satula said the courses on terrorism and national security were topics with which he was less familiar. Moreover, 18 months of forming bonds with fellow students have formed a cadre of contacts for a lifetime.

"I definitely look at problems more globally; not just in a geographical sense, but in an interdependent, organizational, political and cultural sense," Satula said. "Through the interaction with my cohort and our instructors, we challenge each other’s thought process and beliefs. It has definitely expanded our critical thinking, strategic analysis, and problem solving skills."