Recovery

Editorial: Don’t Fire FEMA Administrator, Brock Long

'Those who want to tear down the administration and the incompetency of Trump have my full blessing, but do not go after someone who is just trying to do the best job he can.'

by Eric Holdeman / September 21, 2018
President Donald Trump shakes hands with FEMA Administrator Brock Long after visiting areas in North Carolina and South Carolina impacted by Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, at Myrtle Beach International Airport in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP

The most critical knowledge, skill and ability for FEMA administrator is to be an experienced state or local emergency manager. Brock Long has that in spades.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina I had an op-ed, Destroying FEMA, that criticized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for gutting FEMA by taking a terrorism-only threat approach to preparing the nation for disasters and for not having an experienced emergency manager at the helm of the agency.

Today, there is another threat from DHS to replace Brock Long with more of a traditional bureaucrat. One that is more subservient to DHS when major disasters impact the United States. We should not repeat the mistakes of the past for a lack of learning or for personal preferences.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there have been three competent FEMA leaders for the agency. Craig Fugate, in particular, served eight years in the Obama administration as the FEMA administrator. He righted the ship and took a proactive approach to disasters in his “Go-big, Go-early” strategy when it came to FEMA’s disaster response. Brock Long has continued those concepts.

Just because Brock Long serves in a Republican administration and is a President Trump appointee does not immediately make him a corrupt and incompetent leader. To the contrary, I personally believe that character matters and there are people like presidential Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis who are honorable, trying to serve their country in the best manner possible. I would add Brock Long to that list of people who are “country first.”

Accusations have been hurled at FEMA and Brock Long for FEMA’s performance in responding to three major hurricanes in 2017. I can tell you as an emergency manager myself, I projected that FEMA would have difficulty responding to these three major events. Puerto Rico had the misfortune to be the last of three major events, plus the circumstances of distance and being an island, and having a poorly maintained and outmoded electrical infrastructure.

The total staffing for FEMA is approximately 10,000 people and that includes full- and part-time disaster reservists. Those resources were completely overwhelmed by the 2017 events, even with Long pulling out all the stops to have every available FEMA employee responding to a disaster somewhere.

I’ve watched Long’s performance testifying before Congress, and the representatives there found his forthrightness refreshing in responding to questions and talking about the agency and the real issues that need fixing.

Those who want to tear down the administration and the incompetency of the president have my full blessing. But do not go after someone who is just trying to do the best job he can, 24/7/365 so you can score political points and the FEMA administrator becomes collateral damage. That is just plain wrong. The end does not justify the means, in politics or in life. Ask the professional emergency management community who know Brock Long personally, and they universally support Brock Long and the job he has done and is doing.

Lastly, I don’t know all the details about Brock Long using a FEMA vehicle to commute home to North Carolina after not seeing his family for many weeks at a time. In the first responder community, it would be called a “take home vehicle,” which is all the police cars and fire department command vehicles you see parked in your neighbors’ driveways. They need them to be able to respond, and I expect Brock Long needs his vehicle to be able to communicate if landline communications fail in a disaster.

Brock Long is one of the good guys, he wears a white hat, and I want him to remain on the FEMA team.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer and Senior Fellow with Emergency Management magazine.  He blogs at www.disaster-zone.com