THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective - Florida

By Joseph Straw

Craig Fugate has served as director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management through two administrations, from his 2001 appointment by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to his reappointment by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2006. In 2003 the state’s agile, aggressive emergency management program was the first in the nation to receive full accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program. In 2004 Fugate oversaw the state’s response to four major hurricanes, Charley, Frances, Ivan And Jeanne, and the next year administered the largest mutual aid response in the state’s history: 7,000 state and local officials who served the Mississippi Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Early in his career, Fugate served as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic with Alachua County Fire Rescue, attaining the rank of Lieutenant and serving 10 years as the county emergency manager. In May of 1997, he joined Division of Emergency Management as chief of the Bureau of Preparedness and Response.

Q. What are your office’s responsibilities?

A. Our job in emergency management is to manage the state’s response to local governments in disasters. Florida did not form a specific homeland security office after 9-11, after the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed. We took the existing structures and built upon that so the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has the lead for terrorism, and the state homeland security advisor’s position is housed within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But we are the State Administrative Agency for all of the federal grant funding, and so in addition to heading emergency management, state emergency operations center, and all of that apparatus, we also administer all of the federal homeland security grant funds. What’s important though is that we do not do that independently. We actually have a governance body that we’ve established, the Domestic Security Oversight Council, made up of representatives from both the state agencies who have primary responsibilities, as well a, regionally, representatives from local governments to law enforcement, as well as discipline-specific representatives from like the fire chiefs, the county emergency management personnel, hospitals private sector representatives. And we do our funding more along the lines of regions identifying what their needs are, vetting it through that process to a state level, and prioritizing that, then applying the funding to that prioritized list on a statewide basis.

Q. What are the states primary assets, and its threats, natural or manmade?

A. Well, as far as the natural hazards go, we run the gamut. I think about the only things we don’t have significant threats of are volcanoes and earthquakes. And then on the side of the domestic security issues, we run the gauntlet from homegrown extremists to many of the people who participated in the 9-11 attacks training in Florida; to an unsecured border. And while most of the attention in this country has always been faced on the Southwest border and to a certain extent the border with Canada, Florida has an unsecured border between the Caribbean and the state itself, and we’ve had several large significant mass migrations that have occurred from Cuba to the United States to a lesser degree from Haiti and the Dominican Republic that impact Florida. And so we deal with the economic and political instability whether it’s caused by oppressive regimes such as the Cuban government, or economics and the breakdown in Government such as in Haiti, or in natural disasters that result in an unstable situation and people fleeing those areas and coming to us basically because of our proximity.

Q. How has your background helped you on the job?

A. I actually started out as a volunteer firefighter and became a paramedic in Alachua county which is down in the Gainesville area. I eventually became a lieutenant with fire rescue, and then moved over and did 10 years as county emergency manager. I was asked to come up to Tallahassee in 1997 and serve as a bureau chief within the division of preparedness and response and manage the state emergency operations center. In 2001 our director, Joe Myers retired and Gov. Jeb Bush asked me to serve, and I continued that through Gov. Charlie Crist, who asked me to serve as his emergency management director. So I kind of just came up through the ranks and seemed to work my way through a succession of responsibilities to get where I’m at now.

Q. What did the state take away from the busy 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons?

A. Hurricane Andrew was watershed event that changed fundamentally how we deal with disasters. But in ’04 and ’05 I think we refined it even further. If you look at most emergency management models, it’s always based upon all disasters being local, and then each successively higher level kicks in when the lower level requests assistance. And the mechanism dictates that you assess what your needs are, and if there’s a shortfall you ask assistance from the next level up.

After Hurricane Andrew there were large areas in Miami-Dade County where it took over a day or so just to realize the impact and how bad it was. What that impressed on everybody was that we needed to do a better job of damage assessments. Coming into the 2004 hurricane season we realized that it still seems to take about 72 hours to get stuff into an effected area. And I’m like, “Why can’t we do it faster?” “Well, we’ve got to wait for the locals to determine how bad it is.” I’m like, “Guys, kind of think if a big hurricane is gonna hit, we know it’s going to be bad.” And so we began looking, more systematically, the things that you’re almost positive people will need, ordering that and  staging it as close as you can. Then as soon as you can move, start going in that direction. People would say, “Well, you don’t have a mission.” Well our people are pretty smart. I think if they see something that needs to be taken care of they’re gonna take care of it until they can link up with the local governments. By doing that we were able to get into areas much quicker than previously, and refined this so that by the time we were facing Katrina and it hit to the west, we began working with the state of Mississippi on supporting them through mutual aid.

When Katrina hit, a lot or most of the media was in New Orleans, and a lot of focus was there. The first thing they said, which made chills go down our spines was that New Orleans “dodged a bullet.” They initially thought New Orleans had been spared the brunt of Katrina, until the levee failures took place. But the Mississippi coast was wiped out when the storm hit. There was no delay, it was gone when the hurricane hit. We came in from Pensacola across Interstate 10, so that our parties are going to be search-and-rescue and support to the state of Mississippi. And we actually had our folks hitting the ground Tuesday morning (24 hours after landfall)  as the sun came up. We actually had some units going over Monday night scouting the roads, and by Tuesday morning we were doing search and rescue. Well we kept hearing from other states that they were still assessing, still mobilizing, still staging, we were hearing you couldn’t get into certain areas, you couldn’t get into Pass Christian, Mississippi and other places like that, and we’re telling them, “We’re here. And it’s bad. And we’re working. And we need more stuff.” By Wednesday we were getting rather frustrated because we kept hearing everybody talking about assessments and we’re like, you can do all the assessments in the world, you’re not changing the outcome.

So we’ve kind of refined how we look at these things. We put it into our standing orders, and we put a time clock on it. We figure that in these types of events you’ve got about 72 hours to reach stabilization. And we defined that, and the standing orders are pretty straightforward. First priority is to re-establish contact with the area impacted. And most people think that means talking on the phone. Well it goes beyond that. It’s more communication in the logistical sense, like I can physically get into the area. A year before Lake Pontchartrain took out Interstate 10 in New Orleans, we lost I-10 across Pensacola Bay after Hurricane Ivan, and we were responding from the east heading west, so our major route into Pensacola was destroyed. We really impress upon our teams that you have to have alternative ways of getting in. You’ve got to think more. It’s interesting how in our responses, we often only think about coming from within our state lines, we forget about the entire road network and the systems outside of our state. But with the Florida Keys and other places where I could lose approaches to bridges, getting back into these areas is critical. Before you can do anything else you’ve got to be able to physically get in there.

The second priority is to secure the affected area. You need to move a lot of law enforcement and a lot of National Guard. Not because lawlessness happens in every disaster. But because if the perception of lawlessness occurs, that can shut down your response. And it’s also often the first sign people have that they’re not on their own. Things may not be getting any better, but at least they’re not by themselves. We’re not waiting for the skies to be blue. We want to secure it within about 12 hours of the winds dropping down to where we can operate. We want to get a search done, a primary search for the injured, within the first 24 hours. Which is a very aggressive goal, particularly during hurricanes that can cover large areas. But I said, “Why are we defining our response based upon our resources when you’ve gotta define it based on the needs?” you look at any number of disaster. The number of lives being saved and people with injuries after 24 hours diminishes rapidly. So if you want to change outcomes it’s the first 24 hours. And if you’re still mobilizing or staging or beginning to do assessments, you’re not going to be getting to the injured fast enough.

From there, we move into stabilization, and getting enough medical capacity either back on line or bringing it in, enough water or shelter, food, emergency fuel, to get a community stabilized so it’s not necessarily getting any better, but the loss isn’t getting any greater.

You’ve got about 72 hours to do that. You cannot take a vertically-integrated system and operate effectively. You’ve gotta flatten it out. You’ve got to make a lot of assumptions and you’ve got to respond like it’s bad and adjust afterwards. And a lot of people say, “Well that’s very wasteful and that’s very expensive and what if you don’t need it.” Well I say, you get done quicker but my experience tells me that until you get stabilized, the quicker you get stabilized the lower you’re costs are gonna be anyway. But failure to stabilize an area and secure it and get it to where it’s moving forward is just going to exasperate the entire recovery process and it’s gonna become much more expensive and create much more doubt about how you’re going to be able to recover in the first place.

Q. How do you guarantee adequate resources?

A. When you know something’s coming you can start bringing things online, and we do a lot of contingency contracts for the items we’re most likely to use: water, food, tarps, base camps, catering services, fuel, generators, pumps, you name it. Whatever we know we’ll need, we get through through pre-bid pre-negotiated contracts, so they’re not a sole-source contract. It’s all competitively done. But we also maintain in Florida a regional warehouse, a state regional and logistical warehouse down in Orlando, where we keep packaged and palletized, ready to go, about 200 tractor-trailer loads of water, assorted meals ready-to-eat and shelf-stable meals, tarps, and other products for any incident, particulary things we don’t know are going to happen. Hurricanes, at least you see them coming. Tornado outbreaks, other types of sever weather, fires, we had a power outage here a couple of months ago that fortunately was short in duration but it affected a big chunk of the state. We don’t know what’s going to happen and our history of response tells us there’s certain things it takes too long to get up and running. If you don’t have it in hand you can’t get there in that first 24 hours, and so we maintain enough critical stock to get us through about the first 24-72 hours depending on the size of the incident. And then if it’s a really large hit like a hurricane, we’re already ordering more stuff.

We don’t do this in a vacuum. We work very closely with our retailers. We have three major grocery chains in Florida: Publix, Winn-Dixie and Sweetbay, and we work very closely with some of the other companies like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target, and what we aim for is getting them re-opened as soon as possible after an event. When we sit down and meet with them is, “What can we do to get your stores open?” Because by working in partnership where they can get stores open, I don’t have to do the logistical response in that exact area. I can look at areas that they don’t cover, areas that are so devastated they are not able to get open, or I can look at areas where they have shortfalls in certain commodities or certain products, but we try to take the approach of not competing with our private-sector partners, but working in partnership. Our goal is to get them open so they can do what they do best, which is retail, and we can focus on the more specific areas that don’t have that service, either as a result of the disaster, or because the stores weren’t there in the first place.

Q. How do you coordinate with private-sector retailers?

A. They actually have a trade organization, the Florida Retail Federation. A lot of people say, “How can you work with these people? Aren’t you giving them advantages?” No. I work through the Retail Federation and they broker for their entire sector. They actually have a seat in the emergency operations center as part of our business and industry function, and they can provide a conduit. As we put out situation reports and updates they resend those out to all their companies. A huge challenge we found is the variety of curfews that occur after disasters, issuedby cities and counties, and the complexity of that. And they needed something on a more statewide basis to allow them to get access to their stores, so we worked with the Retail Federation to provide them vehicle window placards that essentially say they’re part of state emergency response during a given disaster. It gives the event and the dates and times that it’s applicable for, and we tell the Federation, you police it. If it gets out of hand we’ll take it away, but we’re going to let you manage so that if a store needs to have the clerks putting those in your windshield in the middle of the night to help unload product, they will have that, and as well as they have another form of ID such as a driver’s license, they’re going to be able to get in and get the work done.  But rather than doing that with each company we brokered that with the Federation.

Q. Are those retailers responsible for their own security?

A. Yeah. But one of the big challenges they said they would face, particularly in areas where very few stores were open, is long lines. They’re very concerned about law enforcement security, but we tell them we expect them to provide security to the best of their ability. But if it becomes a public safety issue, we’ll provide up to and including National Guard, because the National Guard would much rather be providing security than handing out bags of water and food. So they’re responsible within reason, but if it’s a public safety issue and it’s a factor that would keep them from getting open, we’ll provide security.

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