R. David Paulison was appointed as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in September 2005 following the resignation of then-Director Michael Brown.
In October, at the National Emergency Preparedness Conference in Sacramento, Calif., Paulison spoke of FEMA's evolution. He relayed this message to state and local public safety agencies and local political leaders: "FEMA is undergoing change, and we will prove it."
Emergency Management magazine spoke with the director about the changes at FEMA and what they mean to state and local governments.
Q: FEMA responded in a much timelier manner during recent disasters. Is this a standard state and local governments can count on in the future?
A: Absolutely. We are changing the way we're going to respond to disasters. We are no longer going to wait for a local government or a state to become overwhelmed before FEMA moves in.
Now, we're not coming in to take over, so don't misread what I'm saying. We want to come in as a partner - staying in there side by side with the local government and state - so if there's a gap to fill, we know what the needs are and can move those supplies or whatever they happen to need very quickly, not waiting for something to fail before we respond.
Q: You talked about some of the restructuring within FEMA. Can you offer some specifics on how this is making it possible for you to respond, and how this will affect the future?
A: The most important thing we're doing is changing the culture of the organization and bringing in people who know what they're doing - regional directors, or people with decades of experience dealing with disasters. And I'm using that same type of philosophy inside of FEMA - inside the Beltway in Washington - making sure that people managing this organization are emergency responders who know what they're doing and have credibility in the field. So they know where I want to go; they know I want a much more forward-leaning, much more inventive organization.
Q: Will there be any changes to the funding model or how the funds are distributed in the near future?
A: If you're talking about the grants, we've got a pretty good process. What we're doing now is looking at them very carefully and also, I'm bringing in a law enforcement adviser to report directly to me. Are those law enforcement grants doing what they need to do? I'm reaching out to different organizations, I'm going out to meet with them, ICP [incident command post], state emergency managers, local emergency managers ... are the grants accomplishing what they need to accomplish? If they're not, we're going to change that grant process as we move along and make sure they're doing what they need to do.
Q: Do you feel a need to re-engage with state and local governments to recover some of the confidence that may have been lost in recent years?
A: No question about it. We have got to rebuild the confidence of this organization. I've got to earn the trust of the state and local government centers and the trust of the American people, and I can only do that by proving how we're going to respond. Saying it over and over again is not going to make it happen. The proof's in the pudding, so to speak.
Q: How can state and local governments participate in the evolution of FEMA? What can they do?
A: They participate in a couple of ways. One, we have the national response framework out there. I need those comments in -