President Barack Obama plans to nominate W. Craig Fugate, the highly regarded director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Well before the slow response to Hurricane Katrina that defined FEMA in its transition to the new Department of Homeland Security, Fugate questioned conventional thinking about disaster response. He is quoted as saying that “A quick and overwhelming response is better than a well-planned and thought-out response.”
In an interview with Security Management last year Fugate explained that the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 eventually led him to limit the time allowed for damage assessments while setting aggressive deadlines for securing and stabilizing areas affected by disaster.
Fugate tested his approach in 2004, when the state was hit by four hurricanes, including Charley and Ivan:
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.
Fugate’s performance that year won praise from his local counterparts, one of whom dubbed him “Mr. Hurricane.”
Fugate was appointed and reappointed to head FDEM by Republican Florida governors Jeb Bush in 2001 and Charlie Crist in 2006, respectively, despite being a registered Democrat.
Like his predecessor, David Paulison, Fugate began his career as a firefighter in Florida, rising to the rank of Lieutenant with Alachua County Fire Rescue. He joined FDEM in 1997.
"From his experience as a first responder to his strong leadership as Florida’s emergency manager, Craig has what it takes to help us improve our preparedness, response and recovery efforts and I can think of no one better to lead FEMA,” Obama said. “ I’m confident that Craig is the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated.”
Fugate's nomination requires confirmation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the full Senate. Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) said Fugate “clearly is an experienced emergency manager, and I look forward to our nomination hearing and a conversation with him about his goals and priorities for FEMA.”