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Craig Fugate, Possible FEMA Administrator, Supported by Emergency Managers

Emergency managers say Fugate's nomination may strengthen FEMA's relationship with state and local agencies.

by Elaine Rundle / March 6, 2009
Photo courtesy of Craig Fugate

On March 4, President Barack Obama announced that he intended to nominate Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).


Emergency management organizations and professionals are applauding Obama's possible nomination of Fugate.


 


Emergency Managers Support Craig Fugate


"This is a guy who has actually worked in emergency management his whole life and at all levels of government -- local, state and federal. So we think he's in a unique position to understand the needs of all those different levels," said Russ Decker, director of the Allen County, Ohio, Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and president of the International Association of Emergency Managers.


Decker said he thinks having a FEMA administrator with a background in state and local emergency management will positively affect how the agency deals with the entities during disasters.


Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, thinks Fugate will bring to FEMA the importance of disaster mitigation -- or preparation to avoid unnecessary risk. "Mitigation's an important end-all. I've heard Craig talk about the importance of mitigation, and I know he understands the importance of it," Larson said. "I think we're very, very optimistic about having a FEMA administrator who recognizes that mitigation must be the cornerstone of emergency management."


Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association, also supports Fugate's possible nomination and sees it as way for FEMA to work more closely with state and local emergency managers.


"I think -- No. 1 -- having a former state emergency management director serve as FEMA administrator means that there will be a greater understanding and support for building capabilities at the local and state level," she said. "It's not just the federal government that needs capabilities and resources, they have to just pushed down to the state and local levels, and Craig Fugate understands that perfectly."


Sheets also thinks Fugate would strengthen the bond between state and local emergency managers and FEMA. "I think you'll see Craig reach out quite often and much earlier than we have seen in the past because he understands state and local government are the implementers and therefore they have to be engaged in the process," she said.


Decker and Larson compared Fugate to James Lee Witt, who was the FEMA administrator during the Bill Clinton administration. They said Fugate, second to Witt, is the only other FEMA administrator that would bring local emergency management experience to the federal agency.


"This is really the second time in FEMA's history that we've actually had a leader at FEMA who has been an emergency manager at the state and county level," Decker said. "So we're excited about his nomination and look forward to working together."


 


Craig Fugate's Experience


Fugate hails from state and local emergency management, and would bring a lifetime of experience to the position. He began his emergency management career as a volunteer firefighter. He then became a paramedic and a fire department lieutenant, before being elevated to the position of emergency manager of Alachua County, Fla., which he held for 10 years.


In 2001, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush brought Fugate on as the state's director of emergency management. And the next governor, Charlie Crist, kept him in the position.


In September 2005, former FEMA Administrator Michael Brown stepped down after much public outcry over how he handled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. According to Time magazine, former President George W. Bush nominated Fugate to replace Brown, but he turned down the opportunity because "the timing wasn't right."


Government Technology named Fugate as one of its Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2008.

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