An interview with W. Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
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.
Q. Can you tell us about your agency’s motto, Semper Gumby?
A. We stole that from the Marine Corps. In a disaster, you have to be focused on what the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. I’ve never had any disaster go the same way. Even hurricanes are all different and you need the flexibility to rapidly adjust and not fixate on things. You keep better situational awareness, you’re adjusting better, you’re not necessarily compromising the outcome, but you’ve become more opportunistic in how you solve problems.
Take 2004 when we lost a bridge carrying I-10 into Pensacola. All of our plans were based on lessons-learned from the previous two hurricanes that year—stockpile everything you ever thought you needed as close as you can, and then load it up on tractor-trailers and ride in like the cavalry. Our plan was that the day after the storm we would be riding across the I-10 bridge with flags flying with literally hundreds of tractor-trailer loads of everything you ever thought you needed, rolling in to save the day. And then the bridge goes out. And the only way to get into Pensacola was to do a 200 mile detour on two-lane highways all the way up and around through Alabama and back down. And you had essentially a quarter million people with a water system that was destroyed, high temperatures, high humidity, no relief in sight, and few if any stores open within driving distance. You’ve still gotta get water there. That’s the mission. Next thing you know we’re gathering everything we can to airlift it over, and shifting procurement to order water in Houston, New Orleans and other places that weren’t impacted by Ivan, and having it come eastbound on I-10 because they could drive in from the West straight into Pensacola. We couldn’t get there from the east side yet because we were initially thinking of a Florida-based response, but the one road that went west was gone, an it was kind of getting people to mentally realize that there was a whole country on the other side of that city—Alabama, Mississippi, all these places we can now be drawing from to get things moving. And oh, by the way, clock is ticking because this is the first full day after the hurricane, we’ve got to get supplies on the ground today.
Q. How do you characterize your office’s relationship with the federal government?
A. It’s healthy. But I also think after Katrina, there’s a tendency on the federal side to now look at it like all states must be incompetent and need everything done for them. The result is a heavy-handedness and a sense on the state side that the feds know best, and they’re going to come in and help us manage our disasters. But that doesn’t take into account that every state has different areas of expertise and experience and resources and capabilities and a one-size solution doesn’t fit all. And I’m particularly troubled by the tendency of the federal government to come in heavy in the smaller disasters, because it sets up local and state governments to think, “If they’re going to show up here every time for everything, why do we do anything? We’ll just let the feds run it.”
This spring we were in the middle of our statewide hurricane exercise, and a state official asks me during the drill, “Do we have a federal declaration?” I said, “No, and what difference does it make?” We have the governor declaring a state of emergency. We don’t have to wait and get permission from the federal government take care of our citizens. And I felt the driving force behind that question was “Who’s paying?” Well, when the governor of Florida declares an emergency it opens up our state fiscal reserves. We’ll pay the bills until we get reimbursed if we get a federal declaration. But whether we get declared or not is irrelevant. If there’s a need, let’s take care of it. If you’re asking the question who’s paying, it’s either not that bad, or you’re in over your head. And so I say we’ve got a healthy relationship with our federal partners because I look at them as partners, not as my superior, not as someone I seek permission from, and not as someone where I’m only going to base my decisions on whether or not they’re paying. What we’re doing here needs to be the same whether we get a Stafford Act declaration or not. It should be if someone else is paying and considers it an emergency.
But I think (FEMA Director) Dave Paulison is aware that all states aren’t equal. There are other states that are far ahead and may need support with the resources, but that the feds come in so heavy-handed. After Hurricane Katrina, NORTHCOM’s mindset was “We’re gonna have to federalize the mission, and the miltiary’s going to have to run it because civilians just can’t do it, they’re not capable of doing this.” Then last tear, NORTHCOM’s new commander, Gen Gene Renuart comes in and says, “Guys, that’s taking our mission to the point where we’re gonna fail, because if local and state government still don’t have part of the ownership, and are part of the solution and we’re coming in to run stuff, they’ll sit back and not do anything and we’ll get massive mission creep.” And so again I think there’s people that recognize you’ve gotta have the healthy balance, and put more onus on local and state governments to do more with their resources before they automatically default to the federal side, but having federal partners that come in that are supportive and can fit the state’s needs without necessarily one size for everybody.
We also recognize there’s gonna be times when there’s gonna have to be a lot of federal participation. Like I try to explain to people, we’re not proud. We’re gonna ask for stuff. But if we’re not asking for it, don’t assume we need it, because we are addressing those with resources we have either through our Florida National Guard or the Emergency Management Assistance Compacts. We have very strong statewide mutual aid so we can literally go to any of our non-impacted governments at the state level and move tremendous resources. That’s how we did our responses throughout the ’04 and ’05 season. In hurricane Katrina we had over 7,000 responders deployed to Mississippi over a 30 day period. Over half of those folks came from local governments.
Q. Has the state conducted any major exercises lately?
A. We do “thunderbolt” exercizes. They’re no-notice, close-hold drills that staff are not briefed on. They can be as simple as the fire alarm goes off and state employees think it’s a routine fire alarm, and head out to the parking lot. Then we announce this is a continuity-of-operations exercise and they have to implement the continuity-of-operations plan. And if they don’t have it in their hands they’re not going back into the building to get it.
We had the opportunity last year, at the direction of Gov. Crist’s chief of staff, to do a no-notice exercise of a terrorist attack against the governor and his agency heads that resulted in the death of one third of the agency heads, the incapacitation of others, and left the remainder in a situation where they had to figure out how to reconstitute their agencies and get state government back on it’s feet, both dealing with the an ongoing threat and the business of the state. And it really put things into perspective. A lot of people, when they start talking about continuity-of-operations plans they glaze over and they start writing documents that are feet thick. For a lot of agency heads, that drill made it crystal clear that if these plans aren’t things that people understand intuitively and you need enormous, thick plans to do it, it probably won’t help you work fast enough to serve the needs of the citizens. And so they really got back to very basic concepts, versus trying to take complex plans and make those response documents. And as we do these exercises over and over again, it exposes people who have not been in actual events and to some of the stress and uncertainty, it continues to allow us to use these as training to reenforce lessons. And it gives us a chance to look at things that may not have otherwise happened, and allows us to ask questions.
This year we had the disabled spy satellite the risk of an uncontrolled re-entry. As soon as we even about it we basically Googled everything we could find on it, putting together a scenario, and we launched an exercise. And we pretty much came back from the exercise thinking that this would be like the 2002 shuttle re-entry disaster. We were on the periphery, but it set up a framework for things like jurisdiction, impact reporting systems, advisories for handling debris, and howto you secure stuff. We worked it out and established an incident action plan if this thing comes down in Florida. We figured we’d have to do conference calls to the counties, issue advisories to the public, and set reporting mechanisms. NORTHCOM would be the lead agency and we would need to be able to refer all of the technical questions and stuff like that to them. We would stay in our lane. We worked all this stuff out about a week and a half before the federal government even began talking about it. So when I went to my first briefing up at FEMA Region IV, and the regional administrator gave us this briefing, we actually had more information than he had in his briefing, and we’d actually gone through the same scenarios that were kind of hush-hushed at that point, short of shooting it down, they were basically following the shuttle disaster model. The bottom line was that what we came up with was pretty much already aligned with what FEMA had been doing for several months without telling us, that they had to plan for the scenario that they had not yet made public, that this was going to be a possible impact for the United States.
Q. How does your agency’s budget break down?
A. Right now Florida’s in pretty much a severe economic downturn, which impacts the state’s finances. The state budget was a little over $72 billion as submitted this year. The 2008 budget that has been presented to Gov. Christ is about $66 billion, so statewide we’ve had a fairly significant reduction in funding and for us in the Division of Emergency Management, we have lost about $1.3 million in general revenue annually. We’ve lost that, but we do have something we created after Hurricane Andrew that has helped cushion us and provides funding both to the state and to the counties, and that is the state Disaster Trust Fund. It’s the emergency management enhancement and preparedness trust fund. It essentially is a surcharge on homeowners and business insurance policies. And those funds provide for our funding as well as pass-though dollars to 67 counties, now that’s a little over 6.7 million that goes to the local governments. They get a little over $100,000 each and somebody says, well, I’ve got counties that are extremely rural, small, and I’ve got Miami-Dade county, which is bigger than some states, how do you guys decide $100,000 for everybody. It actually started before I got here, but it was based upon building a critical mass in every county of having a full-time emergency manager program. Now a lot of the small rural counties, up until the trust fund was passed after Hurricane Andrew, never had a program. Hurricanes and other disasters are equal opportunity disasters that hit the well-prepared, well-equipped areas of the state, and that has helped prepare these small communities, but these small communities have been the ones to respond elsewhere in the state as well as to other parts of the country, such as the folks who went to Mississippi. So that gives us a reoccurring funding source that even with the significant reductions in the state budget. The Florida legislature has recommended to Gov. Crist that there be no reduction in those funds for local governments, even though state trust funds are being significantly reduced across the board to make up for budget shortfalls.
So the funding for local governments was held to the level they had been receiving, and then with the emergency management preparedness grants on the FEMA side, we are able to match with those trust funds, we will provide even additional money this year for local governments, even though they’re taking financial hits in local revenue and many other state programs. Their emergency management programs that come from us will actually see a slight increase this year.
Q. What are your agency’s goals for the coming year?
A. Well, we were the first emergency management programs to receive full accreditation under the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, and we’re up for reaccreditation this year. We also have just revamped our emergency operations center, our state Warning Point, which is our 24-hour answering point for the state. It’s not a fusion center, but it took on elements relevant to a fusion center, but we reevaluated how we were staffing things in disasters, particularly the small events and events in their initial phases. We have meteorologists, planners, and duty officers, but they were all in different parts of the building. So we just renovated the state Warning Point to provide work stations for all of those positions in the same area. We’ve also increased the amount of information coming in there to ensure that we don’t end up waiting for reports from county or from federal agencies that something is happening, but also monitor the news networks, everything we can keep our eye on, to maintain a much higher degree of situational awareness. Our state fusion center, which is over at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement needed a resource—when an event occurs—to look at the current situation and see if there are any additional impacts, is anything out of sync, is there something else going on. So we’ve basically become the sounding board for the fusion center when they’re dealing with a security issue to look at what else is going on that may either be enhancing that threat or may indicate a threat may not have been identified: what’s going on in the real world so you can bounce that security threat or that escalation off of that to have some idea what is your base level for that type of event