The goal of emergency management policy should be not just to respond but also to change the outcomes of natural hazards, and to do that the private sector and communities must be involved, said Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate on Thursday at the 2009 Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colo. That includes changing building codes and standards, as well as the language used in mitigating hazards.

Fugate said minimizing the impacts of natural hazards should be the goal and disasters occur from natural hazards because of the way people live and build in the communities. "Floods and hurricanes happen. The hazard itself is not the disaster -- it's our habits, it's how we build and live in those areas, that's the disaster," Fugate said.

Fugate said mitigation is not bold enough -- emergency managers are taking a nickel-and-dime approach to it and real change will come when building codes and the way people live in communities are changed. "We look at rebuilding, rather than changing the impact of a hazard, as a measure of getting things done," he said.

Changing the public's expectations and FEMA's mindset as it relates to the public is another challenge, Fugate said. "We always look at the public as a liability -- you have to house them, feed them, shelter them, take care of them -- we have to look at them as a resource and call them survivors, not victims."

The public, including the private sector and nonprofits, must be included in the mitigation process and that means emergency managers, even at the federal level, will have to begin to trust "the public and their devices," including Twitter, Fugate said.

"Emergency management can't stop at the government," he said. "We have to embrace the private sector, nonprofits [and] the community, and figure out how to take advantage of [the public's] spontaneity."

 

[Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo]

Jim McKay, Editor  |  Editor