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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Let's take urban search and rescue (USAR) teams. We've got a finite number of those and we often get requests for more funding of them and they have a lot of great capabilities but they are a finite resource. How do we as a force look at what other resources are available? In talking about USAR teams, it means looking at how can we plug in National Guard and other military units to augment them, particularly when we are doing large-scale, area-wide searches like in an earthquake scenario or hurricane scenario. Such that we can attach forces to them so that we can cover more areas faster.
We need to identify now, in our planning phases, what are the criteria or what outcome we are trying to change. This means we have to look at what we are capable of doing and start looking at the impacts of these disasters. Do our capabilities when compared to the impacts meet our response goals, and are we able to change outcomes?
We need to look at the response process and ask, do we have the right pieces, the right concepts, and we must constantly question and test the system. I think too often we fall into a situation where we are building capabilities that will work for most disasters, but not recognize that when a bigger event comes, these systems and capabilities that do succeed in most disasters may fail, and fail catastrophically, at a time that we need it most.
That's why when we are looking at the impacts of these large disasters, we need to not limit our response to the systems that we have in place for the more common events we are dealing with, but really bring new ideas to the table and make sure that we are leveraging all the assets available through the entire response community.
FIREHOUSE: So this is really about partnerships throughout all organizations and governments?
FUGATE: Yes, it is really Emergency Management 101. We have to get out of the concept of the domino theory that the locals have to fail and they go to the state, and the state exhausts its resources and they fail then it goes to the federal level, and then we kick in. That process does not work. You have to go with a team concept and look at how do you move faster and how do you build more synergy between the resources. We have to make sure that we are able to shift from areas that aren't impacted to the areas that are impacted from within states, across state lines and across the federal family. You really have to continue to emphasize speed and teamwork versus a system that always depends upon hitting certain thresholds of pain before you go to the next level.
FIREHOUSE: When it comes to moving into an operational mode what are your thoughts?
FUGATE: The thing that I recognized early on in Florida is that it had nothing to do with me as the individual, but it was all about the team that was built, and the fact that I had the Florida Fire Chiefs Association working with the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Florida Police Chiefs and Sheriff's Associations and all the uniformed state law enforcement agencies, and the National Guard, all working as part of the team. Everybody working toward common goals where we would do search and rescue, we would literally have Fish and Wildlife operating their boats with USAR team members on the boats doing search and rescue, using our statewide law enforcement radio system for communication and having our Department of Environmental Protection, which was our lead for energy supplying fuel, so that everybody could focus on what they did best and not having everyone duplicating what others were doing for the team.
FIREHOUSE: So it is really about effective facilitation?
FUGATE: Well, that is what we saw worked. I think that's when you look at FEMA overall, about a quarter of our mission is to utilize our unique response capabilities, but the biggest piece of our mission is coordinating. Where are most of the resources in this country? They are at local and state levels of government and the other parts of the federal family, with the military, Department of Agriculture, Interior, FBI and other groups.
I think that the way to move forward is continue to build upon the good work that was done but also continue to build the team and focus more and more on facilitating and getting people to work as a team across all levels of government. We also need to recognize that a lot of those resources and capabilities sit in the private sector, or volunteer sector, or among our citizens — all of whom are important members of our response team.
FIREHOUSE: Is your role as administrator what you expected?