W. Craig Fugate began serving as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in May 2009. Prior to coming to FEMA, he was director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), which coordinated disaster response, recovery, preparedness and mitigation efforts with...
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W. Craig Fugate began serving as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in May 2009. Prior to coming to FEMA, he was director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), which coordinated disaster response, recovery, preparedness and mitigation efforts with each of the state's 67 counties and local governments. Fugate began his emergency management career as a volunteer firefighter, paramedic and lieutenant with Alachua County, FL, Fire Rescue and later became the county's emergency manager. He spent a decade in that role until 1997, when he was appointed bureau chief for Preparedness and Response for FDEM. In 2003, the Florida Emergency Management Program became the first statewide emergency management program in the nation to receive full accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). At FDEM, Fugate was the state coordinating officer in Florida for 11 Presidentially declared disasters and the management of $4.5 billion in federal disaster assistance. In 2004, he managed the largest federal disaster response in Florida history as four major hurricanes impacted the state in quick succession (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne). In 2005, Florida was again impacted by major disasters when three more hurricanes made landfall (Dennis, Katrina and Wilma). The impact from Hurricane Katrina was felt more strongly in the Gulf Coast states to the west, but under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), Florida launched the largest mutual aid response in its history in support of those states.
On July 22, 2009, I had the honor of interviewing W. Craig Fugate, who is the new administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). His experience in the fire and rescue community combined with his lead role in Florida's Emergency Management Program provide unique and positive insights on how FEMA can effectively accomplish its mission. I believe the answers to the following questions will give you insight as to this administrator's philosophy and vision for FEMA.
FIREHOUSE: As a state emergency manager, how did that role prepare you for your new role as FEMA administrator?
FUGATE: The biggest insight is that I served as a customer of FEMA representing governors during everything from wildfires, tornadoes, floods to the hurricanes in '04 and '05. Being on the state side working on behalf of the governor and coordinating state and local resources of the impacted areas and in working with FEMA for that assistance, I have been the customer so now that I am a peer it gives me the advantage (and a lot of folks that are joining our team have that same experience coming from state and local government). I think that helps give us more focus to make sure we are servicing and meeting the needs and working with our customers versus just trying to implement policy and programs.
FIREHOUSE: Would you say that this also helped you better understand what worked and what did not?
FUGATE: Absolutely. It's always helpful to have the perspective from being on the receiving end of programs and how those programs actually are being implemented at the state and local levels. Often times, you make policy in Washington, but it's difficult to keep in mind that we are not dealing with one organization, but that we are dealing with 50 states and territories; about 56 different governors and organizations that we (FEMA) actual work with. One size does not fit all and having been a customer you tend to be more sensitive to that approach.
FIREHOUSE: What is your high-level vision for FEMA?
FUGATE: I want people to recognize FEMA as part of the team, but not the team. There is an assumption that FEMA does everything, but the truth is FEMA has a role on the larger emergency response team and it's important we continue to communicate what we do when we are faced with disasters. Some of those disasters never get past the point of the local responders dealing and responding to it and that is as far as it goes. Then you have the other end of the spectrum like Hurricane Katrina or if there is a major earthquake or a major terrorist attack like 9/11, where you have to have all of the aspects of local, state, private sector, volunteers and our citizens are engaged in that response.