GW officials have confidence that Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the alumnus who has been named the head of the government’s response and recovery efforts to Hurricane Katrina, will be able to effectively lead the relief efforts along the Gulf Coast.
Allen relieves former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, who resigned from his position Sept. 12 after being removed from on-site duty in New Orleans. Prior to his resignation, Brown was highly criticized for FEMA’s slow response to the disaster.
John Harrald, director of the GW Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, taught Allen at the Coast Guard Academy in the 1970s. Harrald said he has confidence in Allen’s ability to coordinate relief on multiple levels because of his experience simultaneously handling homeland security and domestic service with the Coast Guard.
“There are few people I have met in government who have the ability to work on both (homeland security and domestic service),” he said. “I am very pleased the administration chose him because he has the skill set needed to coordinate the relief.”
Allen, 56, earned a master of public relations degree from GW in 1986. He graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1971, and prior to that he graduated from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has spent his entire career with the Coast Guard.
Following Allen’s training, he and Harrald became close friends and served together as commanders in the Coast Guard.
“He is incredibly capable, very intelligent and a conceptual thinker,” Harrald said. “He is capable of working at any level, and he can communicate effectively with either a blue collar worker or a three- or four-star general.”
Allen has served as the chief of staff for the U.S. Coast Guard since 2002, and was appointed to his current position in the Gulf Coast Sept. 5 by Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security.
He has received praise for his actions as commander of Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and for the smooth transition of the Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.
Allen’s versatility could prove to be valuable considering that the traditional search-and-rescue operations conducted by the Coast Guard differ from his current responsibilities in the Gulf. Jolie Shifflet, a Coast Guard spokesperson, said Coast Guard search-and-rescue operations tend to be more tactical, involving locating ships and developing a plan to reach those who are stranded. In New Orleans, she said, Allen’s main challenge lies in coordinating actions between officials to determine what is needed to rescue and rebuild.
“Admiral Allen’s broad range of experiences has prepared him to deal with complications and issues and to come up with a plan to act on it,” she said.
Kathryn Newcomer, director of GW’s School of Public Policy and Public Administration, said Allen remains involved in the school and also serves as a mentor and advisor to students in the graduate school. He serves on the board of trustees for the school, as well as on the advisory board for the Center for Innovation and Public Service within the graduate school.
“He is perceived as such a suburb manager and leader,” Newcomer said, “and he is extremely well respected.”