The Washington Post

Advising DOT on crisis and disaster-response

Lloyd Milburn is a go-to guru who provides strategic advice when a major disaster strikes around the world.

At 82, Milburn has decades of experience in international emergency preparedness and response, particularly in civil aviation. He is a fount of transportation knowledge and history and assists the United States, the 28 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries and 22 other partner countries in crisis planning and training.

Milburn tried to retire from the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 1996, but in 2000 he was back at his desk after being asked to return part time to manage a special NATO project. Now 12 years later, he continues to work and share his encyclopedic knowledge, both as an advisor on issues and mentor to agency employees.

Despite his part-time role, Milburn does not let issues fall by the wayside. “Because I am a workaholic, I work to get the job done,” he said.

The advice Milburn offers comes from decades of experience responding to crises and assisting DOT with activating response teams, getting personnel in place and operating in the field. Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) typically is thought of the lead agency in disasters, several other federal agencies assist.

(Seth Gorenstein/Partnership for Public Service)

When roads, bridges or other infrastructure get damaged, DOT works to provide transportation services to affected areas. Milburn helps transportation teams assess situations, asking about what solutions they’ve considered, whether they worked and if not, where and why problems arose.

“Someone with this type of expertise, background and knowledge doesn’t grow on trees,” said Robert M. Lee, Jr., deputy director of DOT’s Office of Intelligence, Security and Emergency Response. “He is called upon on for just about every complex issue. He is such an asset.”

For the past year, Milburn, who was the director of the Office of Emergency Transportation for 11 years, has been supporting NATO nations as a U.S. representative on emergency planning for civil aviation services. He has been advising military planners about resources that might be available for deploying international security forces in Afghanistan.

When there were catastrophic earthquakes in Pakistan two years ago, NATO provided humanitarian assistance and Milburn assisted with civil aviation efforts to make sure aircraft were available to deliver aid or provide other services.

The president’s authority to allocate resources in the interest of national security is delegated to the transportation secretary, whose office responds to Department of Defense (DOD) requests for passenger airplanes or commercial freight aircraft. Companies agree in advance to deploy equipment or services in an emergency by taking these aircraft out of routine service and rearranging schedules. That occurred during the Gulf War.

When he was director of emergency transportation, Milburn was responsible for the program that allocated aircraft and other services when needed. Now that he is back with DOT as a rehired annuitant, he continues to help the agency monitor this program and make sure that the essential aircraft are available when needed.

Milburn traveled abroad recently to offer NATO input on conducting a major training exercise, revising crisis management arrangements and developing an electronic course on how to manage disasters.

“NATO is extremely complex with the number of countries that belong. They all have certain agendas,” Lee said. “It’s not easy to operate and navigate in that [arena]. Lloyd is very diplomatic.”

Before he joined the transportation department in 1975, Milburn served in command and senior staff positions in the Army for 22 years.

When he retired, he completed a landscaping course and redesigned the landscape at his home. Milburn did woodwork. He and his wife traveled in the United States and Europe visiting friends and family. He also worked on a family history and began writing his memoirs.

But then the call came and Milburn returned to office work. “I have a personal affinity for the opportunities that government work provides,” he said. “I like to engage intellectually with professional staff personnel to explore and resolve issues.” He also enjoys sharing his expertise and working with an international community of professionals.

“I feel that at the end of a work day, something was completed satisfactorily.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Go to to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal and to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.


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