4 Choice Quotes From the FEMA Director Q&A

FEMA news photo
FEMA news photo

If you’ve heard of the “whole community response” approach to disaster management, you’re familiar with the philosophy of Craig Fugate, Director of FEMA, who — unlike some unfortunate directors before him — has remained relatively out of the spotlight since his appointment. In a new interview, he offers some candid thoughts on where emergency response has been, and where it’s going.

Here are a few of the best quotes from his interview with David Graham of The Atlantic:

On Lessons Learned by the Great Miami Hurricane of the 1920s:

The numbers were staggering. There’s a demand that there’s no way this group’s going to be able to address. I kept thinking about it for a minute. I’m going [pause], “What happened to the 6.8 million people? Did they just, like, get sucked up by aliens? Why are they not part of this?” We had almost by default defined the public as a liability. We looked at them as, We must take care of them, because they’re victims. But in a catastrophic disaster, why are we discounting them as a resource? Are you telling me there’s not nurses, doctors, construction people, all kinds of walks of life that have skills that are needed?”

On first responders:

When you step back and look at most disasters, you talk about first responders – lights and siren – that’s bullshit. The first responders are the neighbors. Bystanders. People that are willing to act.”

On working with the private sector:

You have this mismatch between law enforcement trying to keep an area secure at night and the private sector saying, ‘But that’s when we try to do our resupply, when we try to do our repairs.’ [Law-enforcement officials] say, ‘We’re trying to reduce looting, lawlessness, and all that.’ I’m like, what do you think is going to happen when stores aren’t open and there’s nowhere to get stuff, versus there’s a lot of stores open and people can start taking care of their own needs?”

On taking a whole-community approach post-Katrina:

It does force us into thinking about disasters where government-centered problem solving will fail when our communities need us the most. That forces us to make a decision: Do you plan for what your average response looks like, or what you’re capable of doing—or do you plan for the hazards we face as a nation and understand every part of a national response at all levels of government, the private sector, volunteer and faith-based communities, and the public?”

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