New MEMA director talks hurricane prep, vision for agency

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has a new director. Col. Greg Michel was recently appointed by Governor Bryant to head MEMA after Lee Smithson stepped down due to his increasing dependence on alcohol and a battle with PTSD.

Michel was a Commander of the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Hattiesburg until last fall. He served in that role from 2015-2017. Michel began his military career in February 1988, when he enlisted into the Mississippi Army National Guard with the 1-155th Infantry Battalion as a Combat Medical Specialist in his hometown of McComb. He was commissioned as an Infantry Officer through the Army ROTC program at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1991. He spent his first 10 years as a traditional guardsman where he mobilized in support of Operation Desert Storm and completed three rotations through the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, Calif. During this period, he served in numerous leadership positions in the Infantry Battalion to include Rifle Platoon Leader, Support Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Company Commander.

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“MEMA is a world-class organization,” Michel said. “Lee Smithson did a great job with putting together such an amazing team there, so I am looking, listening and observing. My job and primary goal is to be a leader for the men and women that are there and to continue to be a liaison between the counties and our local, state, and federal agencies.”

Michel said that his vision for the agency is to maintain the strengths that MEMA currently has and to further build relationships with state, local, and federal agencies to allow for better coordination in the future.

“I have spent a lot of time with my directors at MEMA, listening to them and finding out how I can be a better resource for them,” Michel said. “In emergency management, you have to plan for the worst case scenario, like with the military plane crash last July, those things that fall outside the norm of what you think about in an emergency response, but you have to be just as prepared for those types of things.”

He added that MEMA stays prepared for hurricane season and are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. However, Michel said that MEMA doesn’t only respond to weather emergencies.

“Anything that is a natural disaster or a manmade disaster, we are there and depending on what type of a disaster it is, we are going to be working with our fellow agencies in Mississippi,” Michel said.