Leader in crisis mediation shares valuable expertise with students

Published 03.13.2021

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An Emergency Management Leadership Series, featuring topic experts recruited by a Pennsylvania College of Technology faculty member to provide his students with topical and credible perspectives from their chosen career fields, recently kicked off with a presentation by Amazon's global business continuity and supply chain risk leader.

Andrew Owlett, among the corporate professionals who generously answered a LinkedIn solicitation from David E. Bjorkman, instructor of emergency management/social science, visited with Penn College emergency management and information assurance and cyber security students over Zoom.

While he has only been with Amazon for less than a year, Owlett brings to his position an eye-opening breadth of knowledge accrued since his teenage days – the time he realized that his goal was, quite simply, to help people.

When he was 14, his baby sister suffered a medical emergency. Inspired while watching first responders resuscitate her, he applied to be a firefighter/emergency medical technician in Baltimore County, Maryland. He joined the fire department, went through the academy, and learned a lot about emergency response and emergency management planning.

That interest continued as he earned a degree at the University of Maryland; after graduation, he became a lieutenant and was a hazardous-material technician for weapons of mass destruction.

He earned a Master of Science in Homeland Security from the University of Maryland Global Campus, focusing on innovative emergency management and planning for the military. He earned security clearance and began building experience as a consultant. He honed his public speaking skills, spent time on Capitol Hill with another consulting company, and concentrated on emergency management and business continuity planning.

During that time, he was approached by another consulting company on behalf of federal agencies and others in EM planning and business continuity with a twist – data analytics, or how data can be used to influence recovery efforts.

With a desire to get a foot in the doorway to the federal government, he submitted applications and was hired by the Department of Defense for a short-term assignment. He welcomed the opportunity to be part of the intelligence community, particularly the government's critical mission of homeland safety and security. When the COVID-19 threat emerged, he was tasked with developing a special unit to assess the virus overseas, how it was impacting the defense department and its ultimate threat to the United States.

Deciding that he wanted experience in the private sector, he applied at Amazon, attaining his current position at the forefront of international crisis management.

“Emergency Management is one component of organizational or operational resilience,” he told the students with whom he engaged online. “We want to increase the resilience of the community that we’re serving or the company where we work. My biggest piece of advice in the field is that EM crosses over into every single domain – legal/compliance, the government, logistics/transportation. To effectively prepare, respond and recover from any sort of event, you need the right stakeholders at the table."

COVID-19 provides but one example of how a vital supply chain can be impeded, he said, offering insight into what can be learned from the pandemic’s impact on such diverse entities as Amazon and the federal government.

“If we can learn information and identify what you critically depend on and you can work with the people who critically provide that, you can develop a plan to mitigate supply chain disruption,” Owlett said. “This assessment can also identify critical points of failure – where we rely too heavily on one person or company to produce and provide.”

Among other topics that drew from Owlett’s deep well of experience are the benefits of connecting disparate data points into a global stream of useful information, the skills he believes are crucial to tomorrow’s emergency management professionals, and the assistance businesses need to rebound from adverse events.

And where his favorite position was once responding to crisis, he said he has since embraced planning, testing and exercising those plans – sensing and predicting risk before it happens, allowing for what he believes is the predominant goal of his profession: mitigating an imminent disaster.