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Executive Team

The Witt O'Brien's leadership team is an impressive line-up of subject matter experts from government, not-for-profits, and the private sector. Their collective knowledge and experience has helped organizations all over the world deal with the complexities of operating in a global environment.

James Lee Witt, Executive Chairman of the Board

Mr. Witt was appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in April 1993. In February 1996, President Clinton elevated Mr. Witt to cabinet status, a first for a FEMA Director. As FEMA Director, Mr. Witt coordinated federal disaster relief on behalf of President Clinton, including the response and recovery activities of 28 federal agencies and departments, the American Red Cross, and other voluntary agencies. He also oversaw the National Flood Insurance Program, the U.S. Fire Administration, and other proactive mitigation activities that reduce loss of life and property from all types of hazards. Mr. Witt directed 2,500 employees located in Washington, DC, and 10 regional offices. From 1993 to 2000, Mr. Witt oversaw more than 350 disasters. More importantly, he was responsible for response and recovery operations for some of the most devastating disasters of all time, including the most costly flood disaster in the nation's history, the most costly earthquake, and a dozen damaging hurricanes. James Lee Witt has over 25 years of disaster management experience, culminating in his appointment as the Director of FEMA, where he served from 1993-2001. In this capacity, he is credited with turning FEMA from an unsuccessful bureaucratic agency to an internationally lauded all-hazards disaster management agency. His leadership abilities have been praised by nationally recognized organizations, including the Council for Excellence in Government, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and the National Association of Broadcasters.

Ken Burris, Chief Executive Officer

Mr. Burris is the Chief Executive Officer of Witt O’Brien’s. Mr. Burris’ impressive career in risk management and disaster response provides him with the insight to lead an organization that guides a client’s enterprise risk management needs and through the life cycle of crises or emergencies should the need arise. As the company’s chief executive, Mr. Burris has led the significant growth and expansion of services and technology that Witt O’Brien’s offers its clients through acquisitions, mergers, and market-leading software development. His expertise and operational leadership have been utilized on challenging projects such as the long-term recovery efforts for BP after the Deepwater Horizon incident and oil spill, where he served as the Deputy Recovery Director.

Mr. Burris’ career has placed him in multiple leadership and executive roles in local government and federal agencies. At the City of Marietta (Georgia) Fire and Emergency Services, Mr. Burris served as its Fire Chief. During his tenure with the City, he was the Director of Operations for the Georgia Mutual Aid Group for the 1996 Olympic Games, and held executive positions with the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs and International Association of Fire Chiefs. At the federal level, Mr. Burris was selected as the first Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). In this executive role, he was credited with the implementation and deployment of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, a grant program that has awarded billions of dollars in funding to fire departments and emergency medical service organizations in meeting firefighting and emergency response needs. While at USFA, he was deployed to the World Trade Center Towers during 9/11, where he was responsible for establishing the command and control structure for the federal response at Ground Zero. His efforts were recognized by the director of FEMA with the Director’s Award.

In 2001, Mr. Burris was selected by FEMA to be its Director of Region IV, where he was responsible for implementing and overseeing FEMA’s response, recovery, mitigation, and national security programs within eight southeastern states. While he was Director of Region IV, he had responsibility for responding to 65 presidential disaster declarations. His performance at FEMA was recognized by him being named as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the agency, where he was responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of FEMA and its multi-billion dollar budget and thousands of permanent and disaster employees located in ten regional offices and five logistic centers. Also during the period as the COO of FEMA, he served as the senior advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. His leadership and management skills, tested during the record-setting hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, were recognized by the Department of Homeland Security in the award of the department’s Silver Medal. During his federal tenure, Mr. Burris was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, the highest honor given for government executives, by President George W. Bush for exceptional service to the American people as member of the Senior Executive Service.

K. Tim Perkins, President and Chief Operating Officer 

Mr. Perkins is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Witt O’Brien’s, and is responsible for the company’s consulting, recovery, response, and technology solutions divisions. He is also the President of O’Brien’s Response Management, and a director of Witt O’Brien’s Ltd. in the UK and Seassurance Ltd. based in the British Virgin Islands, all subsidiaries of Witt O’Brien’s. Previous to his current role with the company, he was the Chief Executive Officer of O’Brien’s Response Management, and prior to that the President of ERST/O’Brien’s; companies that were significant components to the merger with Witt Associates that resulted in the formation of Witt O’Brien’s.

With an extensive career in fire protection, safety engineering, emergency preparedness, and response management with energy and transportation companies, Mr. Perkins provides considerable insight to preparedness and response needs for both marine and terrestrial emergencies. His experience with both domestic and international corporations and oil and gas companies includes working with clients on developing their policies, strategies, crisis management and communication processes and plans, and emergency operations centers to be capable of effective response and management during an actual event.

Mr. Perkins has also managed U.S. and foreign-based response teams who responded to a variety of emergencies involving oil spills, hazardous materials, fires, and natural disasters. In his response leadership role, he also served as Incident Commander and in various incident command positions for many of the crisis.

Keith Forster, Chief Financial Officer

Mr. Forster is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Witt O’Brien’s and an officer to a number of the Witt O’Brien’s subsidiaries. As CFO, Mr. Forster is responsible for the financial reporting and protection of company assets for Witt O’Brien’s and its subsidiaries.

Mr. Forster was one of initial investors of ERST/O’Brien’s in 1997, a company that provided nationwide emergency response services. Along with Witt O’Brien’s President, K. Tim Perkins, Mr. Forster was instrumental in the growth of ERST/O’Brien’s, including the acquisition of several companies that led to the formation and development of O’Brien’s Response Management. Mr. Forster served as CFO and officer of these companies for 16 years prior to the merger with Witt Associates and the formation of Witt O’Brien’s. During this time period, Mr. Forster was also Finance Section Chief and led the cost control unit on several response incidents and the spill of national significance drills developed by the U.S. Coast Guard and held every three years to test the nation’s response system capability.

Prior to the formation of ERST/O’Brien’s, Mr. Forster worked extensively in the oil and gas industry, concentrating his efforts primarily in auditing and financial reporting. Mr. Forster’s assignments included serving as an accounting and finance manager in Norway, and a domestic accounting and internal audit supervisor. Mr. Forster has been a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Mark Merritt, Senior Vice President of Recovery Services

Mr. Merritt is the Senior Vice President of Witt O’Brien’s Recovery Division. As one of the founding executives of Witt O’Brien’s and its former President of Operations, Mr. Merritt brings to the company’s clients first-hand operational experience in emergency planning, on-site disaster response, and disaster recovery services. His expertise in assisting municipal and state governments navigate the complex regulatory area of government reimbursement for post-disaster debris monitoring, public assistance, individual assistance, and hazard mitigation is highly sought after by clients who seek to maximize their allowable reimbursements.

Prior to his executive roles at Witt O’Brien’s, Mr. Merritt held positions of increasing responsibility at FEMA. His responsibilities ranged from logistical and operational support at disaster sites, to recovery oversight and financial reconciliation. As the agency’s Multi-Agency Chief, he coordinated disaster response efforts among state, federal agencies, first responders, and local emergency response organizations in response to significant incidents such as the Great Midwest Flood of 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing at the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, and the catastrophic earthquake in 1994 at Northridge, California. As the Team Leader for the Chief Financial Officer’s Field Support Team, Mr. Merritt provided technical assistance to all ten FEMA regions in the areas of programmatic and financial reconciliation of disasters. One of his significant achievements at FEMA was meeting Director Witt’s requirement that all open reimbursement request projects be resolved prior to the end of the President Clinton Administration.

Mr. Merritt’s career in the private sector has included significant responsibilities at some of the most notable disaster recovery efforts in the United States and its territories in recent decades. He has served as Project Manager of recovery efforts in Guam after Typhoon Chata’an, in the State of Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, in the Cayman Islands following Hurricane Ivan, and in Texas after Tropical Storm Allison and Hurricane Ike. In addition to his leadership in the company’s recovery operations, Mr. Merritt is active in public speaking and delivering training programs to assist communities and public officials prepare for and recover more effectively from disasters.

Barry W. Scanlon, Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Business Development, and Sales

Mr. Scanlon is the Senior Vice President of Business Development and Government Relations division at Witt O’Brien’s. His organization manages all government and corporate sales, strategic partnerships, and relationships with executive-level private sector and government leaders.

In addition to his business development and sales responsibilities, Mr. Scanlon leads Witt O’Brien’s government relations consulting practice, specializing in high-profile grass-roots and grass-tops coalition building. Mr. Scanlon and his staff support clients by providing guidance and counsel on policy development, coalition building, issues management and monitoring, and relationship and partnership support with Capitol Hill, federal agencies, and state legislatures.

As a founding partner of Witt O’Brien’s and its former President, Mr. Scanlon’s considerable insight and knowledge of the nation’s disaster and recovery policy and regulations originates from his distinguished career on Capitol Hill and at FEMA. After serving in FEMA’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Mr. Scanlon was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Director of Corporate Affairs at FEMA. In this role, he was responsible for outreach to the private sector and responsibility to spearhead Director Witt’s $100 million joint public-private sector initiative “Project Impact.” Project Impact, introduced in 1997, is a community-based initiative designed to protect families, businesses, and communities by reducing the impact of natural disasters. Mr. Scanlon secured thousands of corporate partners for the initiative and promoted the project’s message through public education, press conferences, and business summits.

Through Mr. Scanlon’s extensive experience in government relations and providing strategic advisory services, he provides clients with carefully and individually tailored strategies to meet their specific needs and objectives. A recent example is his disaster response and recovery counsel to elected leadership in the State of New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy.

Don Costanzo, Senior Vice President of Technology Solutions

Mr. Costanzo is the Senior Vice President of Technology Solutions at Witt O’Brien’s. His leadership in the company’s software development, information technology, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and technological solution services provides our corporate and government clients with the leading information management tools for incident management, disaster response, emergency response planning, and crisis management and communications. Mr. Costanzo’s career focus has been in identifying and leveraging technologies to prepare for and respond to marine and terrestrial emergencies and oil spills. The enterprise-wide solutions he has deployed have been adopted by corporate and government clients around the world.

Mr. Costanzo’s career in developing technological solutions for incident planning and response originated from his involvement with multiple platform databases and computerized mapping systems related to marine oil spills. His research and development in Alaska shortly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill allowed the concept of an automated spill response management system to be designed and developed. This background in incident response and technology solutions provided the direction in his career that now includes web-based, enterprise risk management solutions for all natural and man-made hazards throughout the disaster life cycle of Prepare, Respond, Communicate, and Recover.

Mr. Costanzo and the Witt O’Brien’s Technology Solutions division were instrumental in the integration of real-time information, situational awareness, and the Incident Command System (ICS) process into Witt O’Brien’s Common Operating Platform (COP)—a visual and geospatial foundation for meeting information needs of public safety and emergency management personnel. The result of Mr. Costanzo’s efforts include an increased capability for local, state, and federal government users and corporate clients to prepare for, monitor, respond to, communicate about, and recover from an incident.

Charlie Fisher, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

Mr. Fisher leads Witt O’Brien’s consulting services team where they help clients be better prepared to manage their next crisis, be it an oil spill, an interruption in a critical supply chain, an active shooter, a communications nightmare, a security threat, or others. Their clients include major oil and gas companies, utilities, railroads, universities, hospitals, stadiums, government agencies, and others. Mr. Fisher’s colleagues include epidemiologists, environmental and chemical engineers, planners, retired Coast Guard and Navy officers, former state police, emergency management, regulators, and others located around the country.

Prior to serving as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services, Mr. Fisher led the company’s utility and critical infrastructure practice, as well as their federal, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic practices. Mr. Fisher also leads the company’s Independent Assessment practice; after major incidents, CEOs, governors, and university presidents turn to Witt O’Brien’s to determine what happened and why, what went right and not as well, and how their organizations can be better prepared for future incidents. Oftentimes, the leaders who commissioned these reviews publicly release the report so that others can learn. For example, Witt O’Brien’s assessment of the Indiana State Fair stage structure collapse, and related recommendations, has resulted in changes in procedures and building codes at venues throughout the country.

Early in his career, Mr. Fisher served in various policy positions in government, including serving as Executive Director of the Illinois Commerce Commission the state public utility commission during the 1990s, a period of deregulation and great changes in the energy and communications sectors.