It may seem like an odd career turn, but Homer Bryson believes his three decades in other state jobs qualifies him fine as the incoming head of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.
“I’m not walking in the door completely cold, not knowing what the organization is or what it does,” the Flowery Branch resident said.
Gov. Nathan Deal named Bryson director of the agency on Oct. 17, taking over for Jim Butterworth, a Habersham County native, on Dec. 1.
Bryson has served as the commissioner of the Department of Corrections for the past 20 months.
But his longest stint in state government has been with the Department of Natural Resources, where he worked for 33 years. Before he became head of corrections, Bryson was the DNR deputy commissioner for four years.
The Ware County native sat down for an interview at Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville last week, chatting about his work in government and the job ahead.
Bryson, 56, talked about how his past DNR work, particularly in law enforcement, has prepared him for the new role.
“DNR works very closely with GEMA and has for years,” he said. “I worked on the coast … and was (DNR’s) hurricane coordinator for many, many years.”
“I worked on hurricane planning and have been involved in evacuations,” Bryson said.
Bryson also helped with security planning with the Olympics and worked with the emergency management agency on avian flu, “when that became the topic everyone was concerned with.”
In a statement, Deal said he was confident that Bryson would continue to be an effective leader in his new role.
“I have a couple different management philosophies that I think work everywhere,” Bryson said. “Hire good people, to start with. That’s the key to everything. And then give people the training they need to do their jobs.”
Bryson’s new job doesn’t always draw huge public attention. But it did — in a big way — when a winter storm a couple of years ago ended up stranding motorists on Atlanta interstates.
A friend at corrections asked Bryson after his appointment if there was anything he could do for him.
“I said, ‘Yes, sir. You need to get all the corrections chaplains together, and we need a prayer chain for a warm winter,’” he said, with a big laugh.
Bryson initially became interested in DNR work when his mother, a school bus driver, used a friend’s connections to help him get a job with the agency as a weekend radio operator.
“I saw really, really quickly that I loved that line of work,” Bryson said. “I’m an outdoors person anyway. I saw at an early age what I wanted to be — a conservation ranger.”
He went on to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton “because that’s where you went to work for DNR.”
Bryson earned a bachelor’s degree from Valdosta State College and a master’s degree in public administration from Columbus State University.
Climbing the ranks over the years, Bryson never lost his zeal for the work.
“I’m a people person,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I have no regrets.’
Bryson, who is married and has three children, is also a member of the Georgia State Indemnification Commission and a trustee of the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund.
Bryson is a past president of the Peace Officers’ Association of Georgia.