When former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was about to take office in 1999, he went to the National Governors Association’s New Governor’s School, and sat next to then-Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia. Vilsack had one big question to ask his seatmate: “What are the one or two things I should focus on? Should it be health care? Jobs? Education?”
As Vilsack recalls, “Gov. Miller said, ‘Son, emergency management. I guarantee you that within six months something is going to happen in your state and if you don’t handle it well, it won’t make any damn difference what you do in health care or jobs or education.” Vilsack took Miller’s advice, and when the state was hit with a huge tornado three months later, its leaders handled the situation in a coordinated, capable way that saved lives and property.