BATON ROUGE — The head of Louisiana's emergency preparedness office has resigned as the peak of hurricane season nears.
Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Mark Cooper's resignation Tuesday from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Deputy director Pat Santos will fill the job in the interim, through the end of hurricane season in November.
Cooper is leaving to lead emergency management efforts for Wal-Mart at its stores around the world. He'll be based at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. headquarters in Arkansas, according to his resignation letter.
"The decision to leave your cabinet and GOHSEP is not an easy one," Cooper wrote Jindal in a letter dated Monday and released by the homeland security office.
He added, "I will always be from Louisiana and hope there will be an opportunity to return one day. I look forward to continuing to support your administration and your future endeavors while working to make Walmart, Louisiana and our country more resilient and better prepared."
Cooper has been the director for more than three years since the start of the Jindal administration, shepherding state response efforts through hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010, Mississippi River flooding earlier this year and several tornadoes in Louisiana.
His last day will be July 23.
Cooper said the move was the best decision for his family, though he acknowledged "the timing's obviously not the best," because the Gulf Coast is in mid-hurricane season.
"We're better prepared than we've ever been, so I'm confident with the people who are here," he said in an interview.
Jindal praised Cooper's work.
"Mark is a strong, proven leader, and our state benefited greatly from his wealth of experience in disaster management. We have no doubt Mark's expertise and strong work ethic will serve him just as well in his next position," the governor said in a statement.
Before working for the Jindal administration, Cooper had been with the Los Angeles County fire department since 2003. His duties included working as emergency coordinator, managing a $1 billion budget and overseeing human resources for the fire department's 4,200 workers.
Santos is a retired colonel in the Louisiana Army National Guard. He has worked at the state emergency preparedness office since January 2006.
"Given his background and the fact that we're in the middle of hurricane season, he was the natural choice," Cooper said.