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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Former FEMA directors help launch Florida-based firm's new disaster preparedness and recovery task force group

From the Article by Joe Crea - Legal Times - May 24, 2006
As the head of Akerman Senterfitt's new disaster preparedness and recovery task force group, Daniel 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, D.C., 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 partner 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 Dr. 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."

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 D.C. (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.

Read the full article on LAW.COM here.

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