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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Anneilia Holton-Williams, Senior Vice President of Recovery Services
Ms. Anneilia Holton-Williams is Senior Vice President of the Recovery Division. With more than 20 years of disaster management and recovery expertise, Ms. Holton-Williams is an accomplished specialist in state and federal financial regulations that can provide funding and reimbursement to municipalities in support of recovery and rebuilding efforts following a natural or man-made disaster. Her career includes an extensive list of clients who have benefited from her knowledge and experience of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) policies and procedures governing disaster recovery funding, reimbursements, and grants.
Ms. Holton-Williams’ experience and insight in disaster recovery and financial implications stems from positions she held during her distinguished career at FEMA. While at FEMA, she was a financial specialist and involved in developing systems and processes necessary to expedite the obligation for disaster relief funds for eligible projects. She later was promoted at FEMA headquarters to managerial responsibilities as a Deputy Director, and then Director of the Chief Financial Officer Field Support Team. In these roles, Ms. Holton-Williams was responsible for managing teams involved in disaster recovery oversight, financial reconciliation, and project closeout under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act).
While at Witt O’Brien’s, Ms. Holton-Williams has been involved in managerial, operational, and technical roles during some of the most devastating and costly disasters in recent United States history. Her work includes recovery efforts in Florida following Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. In Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita Gustav, and Ike, she managed teams of up to 200 consultants supporting the State of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) on recovery processes, project eligibility, policy development, and coordination of field Public Assistance staff. This long and successful relationship with GOHSEP also provided Ms. Holton-Williams with the opportunity to support the state in developing a disaster grants management program. Also, while managing the GOHSEP program, she had oversight responsibility of all on-going disaster projects, which included Joplin School District, State of Iowa, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and State of New Jersey recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy.
Greg Fenton, Vice President of Operations
Mr. Fenton is the Vice President of Operations and responsible for coordinating the business operations for Witt O’Brien’s and its subsidiaries. Through a number of leadership roles during his career, he has been successful in applying his disaster planning, training, and management experience to challenging client consulting engagements and company growth management assignments.
Mr. Fenton has applied his crisis and disaster experience to help private companies and government clients customize their enterprise risk management needs. His experience includes leading executive level and business continuity seminars and National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) training and exercise programs. Mr. Fenton’s strong disaster response and recovery experience has included helping the State of New Jersey develop their long-term recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. During the Deepwater Horizon incident, he served as the Long-Term Planning Deputy. In this role, he was involved in assessing the long-term impact on the Gulf Coast and defining recovery needs to support the Gulf Coast Recovery Plan. Mr. Fenton also helped design and establish the Rebuild Iowa Office following the devastating 2008 flooding that occurred in Iowa. His work coordinated all recovery efforts leading up to the Governor’s 45-day disaster report that highlighted recovery needs and recommendations. Using his language skills, cultural and business insights gained from serving as Olmsted Scholar in Brazil, Mr. Fenton has led Witt O’Brien’s growth in South America and the startup of its office in Brazil. He has been extensively involved in the development and training of crisis and emergency management programs for several Brazilian oil and gas industry clients.
Prior to joining Witt O’Brien’s, Mr. Fenton completed a distinguished 20-year career in the United States Army. Among his many assignments with the Army, he served as a Leadership Instructor at the United States Military Academy. He also led a team that was responsible for developing and executing training for high-level staff who were deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to that assignment, he served as the Chief of the Joint Fires Element for Joint Special Operations Forces Task Force – North during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Mike Gallagher, Vice President of Response Services
Mr. Gallagher leads the Response Division at Witt O’Brien’s, which serves as the central service and technology hub of the company’s 24/7 emergency and incident response Command Center and the home to the company’s Qualified Individuals (QI) and Spill and Incident Management Team (SMT) staff. The division supports and responds to incidents for oil and gas producing, and vessel, rail, pipeline, and facility operating clients. Additionally, the division provides Certificates of Financial Responsibility (COFR) and compliance services to the vessel sector. Mr. Gallagher's nearly three decades of experience on some of the most challenging oil spill response and crisis management projects, and in leadership roles assisting foreign flag vessel owners and operators, provides clients with the knowledge and insight that is critical to comply with regulations and maintain readiness for marine and on-shore incidents.
Mr. Gallagher’s experience pre-dates OPA-90 where he was involved in response management at the 1989 M/T Exxon Valdez and 1990 M/T B.T. Nautilus oil spills. His crisis management and regulatory compliance experience includes developing some of the first U.S. Coast Guard and State of California-approved vessel response plans. In his previous experience as the Managing Director and CEO of Gallagher Marine Systems, and more recently as the Vice President of Witt O’Brien’s Vessel Services, Mr. Gallagher has been responsible for providing QI, SMT, incident planning, launching VesselPro™, and providing training services to our vessel owners and operating clients. His training and experience also extends to the development and deployment of technology solutions to oil and gas, transportation, and military clients in remote monitoring and managing of rail cars, barge vessels, refrigerated containers, and trailers to improve supply chain logistics.
Through his extensive background in emergency preparedness and response, and involvement in developing technological solutions to transportation challenges, Mr. Gallagher continues to identify ways to leverage technology to improve and add value to compliance and crisis management processes.
Lynn Holmes, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development
Ms. Holmes is the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development and is responsible for the Witt O’Brien’s brand and marketing strategies. Her responsibilities include developing and implementing programs that reach the firm’s private and public sector clients and target markets around the world. Prior to her current role, Ms. Holmes was the Vice President of Marketing where she led the brand development, advertising, public relations, and strategic positioning of the company as it grew through acquisitions and roll-out of new services and technologies. During this high growth period, she provided creative, innovative, and forward-thinking leadership to the Witt O’Brien’s executive management team that resulted in the company being a U.S.-focused provider of recovery services, to a global leader in risk management in the crisis and disaster industry.
Prior to joining Witt O’Brien’s, Ms. Holmes led significant global marketing programs in Silicon Valley for Fortune 50 companies Oracle Corporation and Integrated Systems, Inc. In these positions, she developed and implemented strategic global programs that supported product launches, sales goals, and corporate initiatives. She also applied her management and marketing skills in the Gulf Coast area where she was a director of public relations and membership of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber following Hurricane Katrina, where she produced an Award Winning Annual Report that was also used as a prospectus for a 5-year economic development campaign that raised $15 million dollars.
John Weinfurter, Vice President of Government Relations
Mr. Weinfurter is Vice President of the Government Relations Division for Witt O’Brien’s. Following a 20-year career on Capitol Hill as the Chief of Staff to the late U.S. Representative John Joseph Moakley (D-MA), where he served as the principal liaison to House Leadership through five presidential administrations and to the corporate and professional communities of Boston and Washington, he served as the President and CEO of the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute (CELI). CELI is a bipartisan and bicameral educational foundation designed to acquaint Members of Congress, their staffs, and corporate executives with emerging economic issues. During his tenure at CELI, Mr. Weinfurter administered over 200 sessions in the U.S. Senate and House, and brought CEOs, foreign heads of state, parliamentary delegations, authors, economists, cabinet secretaries, and regulatory agency leadership together in forums on economic growth and productivity.
Prior to joining Witt O’Brien’s, Mr. Weinfurter was president and a principal at the Washington, DC-based lobbying firm of KSCW, Inc. For nearly a decade, he provided government relations, strategic counsel, and monitoring and analysis of policy, legislative, and regulatory issues that affected clients from a broad spectrum of market sectors including healthcare, energy, insurance, accounting and financial services, international development, technology, education, aviation, and defense.
Mr. Weinfurter is also the current President of the House Chiefs of Staff Alumni Association (HCOSAA), an Alumni-driven educational professional organization that brings together former and current House Chiefs of Staff for networking events and presentations on current events. Recent speakers have included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Martha Raddatz, political pundit James Carville, Politico Editor-in-Chief Jim VandeHei, NBC Bureau Chief Chuck Todd, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, pollsters Charlie Cook and David Wasserman, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and others. Additionally, HCOSAA administratively assists the House Chiefs of Staff Association, the organization representing current chiefs of staff.