Insights of a FEMA Administrator

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate

Insights of a FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate

This week We speak to Craig Fugate, Former FEMA Administrator under President Obama.

[TODD DEVOE] Hi, and welcome to EM Weekly. This is your host Todd DeVoe, and today we have guest Craig Fugate, who was the former administrator of FEMA under the Obama administration, and he really kind of took FEMA from kind of where it was to where it is today. And we’re going to be discussing what the future of emergency management looks like, and kind of what Craig is doing now in emergency management. So sir, thank you so much for being here.

[CRAIG FUGATE] No, it’s my pleasure.

[TODD DEVOE] So, how did you get involved in emergency management from the beginning? Like, what brought you to this business?

[CRAIG FUGATE] I answered my phone. I was lieutenant, just got promoted lieutenant, and… at Alachua county fire rescue, that’s a North Central Florida county [inaudible], is Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. And I just made lieutenant, and I got offered three things to work on a management project. They wanted all the lieutenants to come into town and do a couple of weeks downtown. Pick up some management experience, so I was given three projects, and I picked updating the county’s disaster plan, and that was in February of 1987. And that turned into a much longer reassignment, and ultimately became my profession.

[TODD DEVOE] So, what drew you, after you started doing that… you know, secondary or collateral duty as we call it. What drew you to stay in the EM world?

Harvard NPLI

[CRAIG FUGATE] Well, I just found it fascinating, this idea of stepping back and looking at it very hard to solve problems. And looking at different ways to approach them. And you know, when I first got started in this, we were still planning for population relocation in the event of a nuclear attack. Emergency management was pretty much embryonic, and there were a lot of things that were changing in the profession. Most notably, a growing awareness at the local and state level, the need to have programs and personnel in place to respond to disasters. So, it was a good time to get started in the program, and it was just something really fascinating to me, and I found that I enjoyed working in it.

[TODD DEVOE] So, during your work in Florida, obviously the hurricanes were kind of your big worry, correct? And so, how many hurricanes did you respond to, one; and then two, how did you start getting people to really take preparedness for that event seriously?

[CRAIG FUGATE] I’ve never really kept track of hurricanes. Most notably, it was the four landfalling hurricanes in 2004, we kept track of those, obviously. But you know, hurricanes… people always think of Florida as a hurricane front-state, which we are, but they also forget that we have a lot of other hazards, including a drought cycle that produces some of the worst wildfires on the East Coast, tornado outbreaks, especially during strong El Niño’s. On February 1998, we had a tornado outbreak in Central Florida that killed 42 people. And you don’t usually think of Florida as having those kind of tornado impacts. In addition to that, most of our tornados, our most deadly tornados, are between 11p.m. and 6a.m.


[CRAIG FUGATE] So, our tornados occur at night, they’re usually embedded in rain, hard to see. The joke in Florida is that we don’t chase tornados, we run from them. And so, we have a variety of hazards, and then we also have a fair amount of technological. There was a train derail in Youngstown, Florida, that was a (coring) that killed numerous people, there was a huge derail out there, so… Florida’s history has been primarily, you know, hurricanes. But we have a lot other hazards, and so it was like, how do you get ready for things? Some of which you can see coming, like a hurricane. And our big issue there is getting people to evacuate.


[CRAIG FUGATE] To other events that are not the traditional message you get for the West side, like tornado risk. Most of Florida didn’t have outdoor siren systems. Most tornados occur when people are in bed or asleep; so how do you warn people? So, one of the things we did was help build up the Weather Radio network and try to get more people to do that. We had much greater success in getting schools to install those, we used state dollars and (grant) dollars to purchase other radios for all public schools. It was always a challenge, getting people to take this mindset that: “I’ve lived through it all my life, it’s never been that bad” to “what if it’s that bad? What are you gonna do, are you ready?” Particularly, do you know what evacuation zone you’re in?

[TODD DEVOE] Right, yeah. There always seems to be that problem when the person has been there forever. So, back to the Noah aspect, were you part of the beginning of the storm ready program?

[CRAIG FUGATE] Yeah, we had some of the first weather-ready communities. In fact, we made that a requirement for all of our counties, to become storm ready. This was actually part of the assessment that we did on a morning, and I said: well, if you become storm-ready I will, say, check the box for all the other things we were doing under the warning assessment of our annual reviews, their plans, particularly for their (grant) dollars. So, that was one of the things that, you know, we partnered with our weather service offices to try to promote, and initially, a lot of people thought we couldn’t do it, but ultimately, we got most of the counties to get storm ready. In fact, some of them got it, others started thinking: “well, if they can get it, I can get it.”


[CRAIG FUGATE] But it’s just really going back and making sure that you documented and have demonstrated that you can get warnings from the weather service, multiple pass, and that you can get warnings out to the public, and you know, you have an effective… you know, system. So, we utilized things like storm ready in its early days to kind of push emergency managers in the county and city level to really make sure they had that capability. And by having an assessment, it went long ways to… you know, it got to be a kind of status symbol of who got their sign and their picture out first in an area when they started doing the storm ready program.

[TODD DEVOE] That’s great. We kind of did that with the tsunami-ready in Orange County, California. We were the first county to be tsunami ready entirely, so that was kind of a big bragging point for a lot of us in the coastal communities here. So yeah, I see that the same type of thing goes down. So, to kind of switch gears here, a few years ago, I was at a conference in… I happened to sit at your table for lunch and we’re kind of having a round table conversation. And we started talking about what the role of the emergency manager is in general, and I remember you stated that an emergency manager is kind of like a football coach getting everybody ready for game day, and during the game day, is kind of on the sidelines. Where did you kind of come up with that concept? Because I use that all the time now, I teach at Coastline community college, and I tell my students that as well, and I credit it to you, of course. So, that concept, is that something that… I mean, obviously, it’s what it is, but I mean, how do you teach that to people? How do you get people to understand that’s what our role is?

[CRAIG FUGATE] Well, I tell you, it starts with: how do you build a team? You know? I love Tommy Lee Jones, he’s a great actor, but that movie, Volcano, where he is the one man, emergency operation, he goes on the field and solves all the problems, tends to create the idea that emergency managers are the superheroes. And we’re not. We have to bring a lot of different agencies on a day-to-day basis that normally don’t work together, and get them to give up some of their autonomy and work as a collective organization to solve problems. And that’s not easy to do. Particularly when you deal with a lot of very strong will agencies that are used to solving problems on their own. And as I tell people, I say, “if you really want to break down what emergency management does is, we exist because the government on a day-to-day basis, with the normal organization and the orchard can’t solve the problems fast enough or manage the event. Because if you can the event with a day-to-day organization, you don’t really need emergency management!” I tell people, I say, look, when somebody’s house catches on fire, you dial 911 and the fire department responds and puts the fire out. Arson investigators come it and say it was an accidental fire; for that family, it’s a disaster! But for the community, it’s an emergency, and the day-to-day organizational structure works. When you have a wildfire racing into an area and you’re having to evacuate block after block, and the fire department no longer has the resources, you’re having to get the schools to open up shelters, you have to bring the red cross shelter managers, you’re having to look at a lot of things simultaneously, that no one agency is going to have all the answers or all the capabilities. You need to bring them into a location working together, sitting across from each other, and hopefully not the first night. When they’re evacuating, they’ve done this.


[CRAIG FUGATE] That they have the confidence, you built a team. And the better you are, the less work you do, because they’re going to be solving problems faster. But I had a secretary of transportation who said it best about the state of emergency operation center. He says: “when you walk him, you chew you back your ego, and your logo at the door, and you’re now part of the state emergency response team.” So, I really saw my role a) as creating that environment that they felt confident to operate in, but 2) building the trust between agencies, that they can see that they can get faster and better by giving up some of their autonomy and maybe let other agencies do things that they’re better at versus you trying to solve all your problems. And probably one of the classic examples, was our state veterinarian. We were doing some planning and exercising on animal disease outbreaks, and we only had so many veterinarians as part of that. And we found that they adopted the [inaudible] command system, which was good. But they had veterinarians doing logistics. I’m like: doctors, let me ask you a question, how many vets do we have? “Not enough”. I said: well, are you able to get these fire fighters, people from forestry, and a whole of other places that are used to coming in the [inaudible] command system? They can do your planning, they can do your logistics. But we really need you guys to focus on, as the [inaudible] commander experts, on dealing with this disease, the epidemiology, and what needs to be done. But now, a lot of this other work that is now taking you away from that, we can have other agencies do it. And the state manager at the time was like: “You know? We never really thought of it that way, we thought we had to do everything ourselves.” And I’m like: no, that’s the whole idea of the state emergency response team. The lead agency may change, based upon the event and the authorities, but the team as a whole, we rotate the wheel to whoever needs to support. And then, as a collection of agencies, we’re just not all showing up, going to the lead agency: “what do you need?” We’re there working, we train together, we know each other, and we’re able to actually get better and faster. But that won’t happen if you’re not out there practicing. You know, the term, we play a lot with practice as a sports analogy, is true in emergency management. If that team is not exercising, if they’re not being stressed, if they’re not putting the situations to basically force them to recognize the da-to-day business model just won’t work anymore and they gotta change up, then an actual event occurs and it’s not gonna go well. But the better you do that, and the more of that team, is now no longer a collection of agencies showing up at a team made up of agencies. Your job, really, in many cases, is to maybe help set the goals and objectives for the team. But most of the work, those agencies are gonna be doing, but they’re going to be doing it together and getting greater efficiency, greater speed, and maximizing your available resources when you have hardly anything, and you’ve got more needs and you’ve got resources.

[TODD DEVOE] So that really truly becomes the true unified command. I remember we had a pretty large fire out here, and the fire chief comes out and says: “we’re going to establish a unified command and I’m the incident commander.” And I kind of laughed to myself, and I said: “Not really sure that’s how that works, chief, but ok, we’ll go with it.” So, I mean, I know the lessons learned and everything that we’re trying to get better at this, but do you think that we’re doing a better job now than we did in the past with the unified command, or do we still have a long way to go?

[CRAIG FUGATE] Well, we have a lot of people saying they’re unified command, but that’s not what it really, you know, I see them doing. An example being that fire chief. If that fire is that bad, they’ve got their hands full. Why do they wanna do traffic control and route people? All they really should have to say is: “that’s part of the unified command. This is the area we’re going to try and stop the fire, these are the areas we need to evacuate.” Turns to the law enforcement and says: “you got that?” And then the unified command, they got it, and now they’re running that piece of that response. And the fire chief can now focus on fighting the fire. But that, you know, law enforcement agency is gonna have to make decisions. They’re not gonna be able to go back to that fire chief every time, nor should they, if it’s not germane to the fire chiefs fighting the fire. So really, it’s about dividing the labor with the agencies that have the core competencies and legal authority to act working as one team. That unified command agrees: this is what we’re gonna do. But unlike traditional, where there’s a single incident commander, those individuals are empowered within that unified command to take action to carry out their part of the problem without necessarily having to go back all the time to one person. Only if there are issues that come up and the unified command needs to resolve, because there are gonna be prioritizations or issues that the individual agencies aren’t gonna be able to manage. But a unified command is really about not one person saying: ok, we’re unified and everybody is working for me. It’s about taking the agencies that in many cases are either overlapping or different authorities, and bringing them together as a team to solve the problem faster than they would normally, working independent to each other, or working from different command posts on different sides of the event.


[CRAIG FUGATE] I mean, I’m just happy when they co-locate. I think that’s a big accomplishment.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. We had some issues over here, on the West coast, obviously, where we have county fire going in to state fire area, going into national forestry areas, so there is a lot of crossover for sure. And I think that was one of those issues that was associated with that. The last few years, we’ve been really pushing out the concept and the practice of the incident management teams, and bringing in disciplines from all over the place. What do you think of that concept and the new real push for the IMTs to be out there?

[CRAIG FUGATE] I think it’s one of the best force multipliers we have. Particularly, a lot of asset management teams, or hazards, specifically, you know, these usually came out of the forestry teams, [inaudible], doing serious wildfires and being able to employ management teams to go on and manage that. But let’s talk about EOCs. Very few jurisdictions, including a lot of states, and that (I put Florida in that) category when I was state director, has all the people and resources during 24-hour operation for days in a row. And at the local level, even our large jurisdictions were hard pressed in staff, all the positions they needed when they were running 24-hour operations. And our rural communities, our rural counties, just (was impossible). They usually had maybe one or two people, everybody else was collateral duties or volunteers. They always had a short fall. So, we had begun, in Florida, building EOCs, specifically incident management teams, made up of the not-impacted counties and city emergency managers. And that proved very successful in the hurricanes, it proved very successful as we began using the emergency management systems compactor, [inaudible] supporting Mississippi, and we said: team is over to some of the hardest hit Gulf Coast counties. And you know, showing up on a 9-person team that would self-contain, had communications, and could walk in and either provide immediate backup, or in some cases, relieve the people that had been working non-stop, as Katrina had, you know, from the evacuation through land, is a tremendous force multiplier. The other part of that is, is some of the best training people will ever get, being able to deploy to somebody else’s disaster, and learn from that, and bring that home. So, I always tell elected officials, and city mayors, and county managers that… you know, don’t think of this as you’re losing people to go help somebody else. They’re gonna come back with more experience and knowledge that will benefit your community far and excess of any training they will ever get. So, I’m a big proponent if people ask for your assistance, you should always try to go. And by putting teams together ahead of time, a) it helps mutually support each other, but in county operations and city operations, except for the large jurisdictions, it becomes a tremendous poll of personnel that can come here and augment or leave local state staff that, in some cases, are actually impacted by the disaster themselves, and haven’t had a chance to go home and check on their family or their homes.

[TODD DEVOE] Right. Yeah, that is kind of a…. I really like the idea that we’re using over here, in some form, on the West Coast now, and I do think I agree with you that it’s important for being able to… for people to learn, too! You know, I mean, to be able to get out to some of those larger events when you don’t have them every day, you know, here on the West Coast specifically. You know, getting to some of the larger events that are on the East Coast. I think sometimes, that helps out. We’re gonna take a quick break. When we come back, I wanna ask you about the concept of the emergency support functions. Welcome back from the break. So, before the break I mentioned we were going to talk about the emergency support functions, and what exactly that is and how that comes. And some of the controversy, and using that term lightly, between how that works on the EOC and that some jurisdictions, some states, aren’t really embracing the ESF. So sir, the emergency support functions, why isn’t that being embraced by more states?

President Obama and Craig Fugate – White House

[CRAIG FUGATE] Well, some are… they don’t see [inaudible] in the incident command system, and they’re what I call the ICS purists. And so, they don’t think it has a place, but all the emergency support function is, is grouping agencies over common functions. And it is not unusual to find that different agencies all have overlapping responsibilities. So, let’s take on the federal government side: who has the greatest number of hospitals in the federal government?


[CRAIG FUGATE] Yeah. So, if you’re talking health and medical, but you’re basically going only through health and human services, you just left almost all of the hospital capacity that you had to augment civilian and local responses to a pandemic or any other type of a mass casualty event. So, the idea was, you take all the agencies to have a role in public health and public health emergencies, including veterinarians, and you put them all together in one functional area with a lead agency. Versus under the ICS system, if you don’t use ISFs, you have to go to every one of them independently.


[CRAIG FUGATE] So, if your state, if your agencies, if your legislator has done a rational job of assigning responsibilities, and you don’t have duplicate, or overlapping, or multiple agencies performing similar functions, that may work. But I’m from Florida, where basically, every cabinet is an agency and just about every department have their own law enforcement.


[CRAIG FUGATE] So, when we needed to coordinate law enforcement, and we were getting [inaudible] from the sheriffs and police chief’s requests, it was like: whoa, [inaudible] fish and wildlife, Florida department of law enforcement, motor compliance carrier. Even the lottery had criminal investigators. So we just said: well, let’s just put them all in one group, the Florida department of law enforcement, we became the lead agency. We added the Florida sheriff association, Florida police chiefs, and national guard with their backup. So, if any law enforcement related mission came in, we didn’t have to go running down on agencies, they were all in one room working as one team, determining what’s the best allocation of resources. We did the same thing for search and rescue, and that’s where Fish and Wildlife and our structural fire fighters actually blended it, because the wildlife folks had boats and helicopters, and could get to areas that most anybody else could get in the rural area, but also on barrier islands. There were hurricane impacts, and the [inaudible] search and rescue teams would actually partner up with them, and it was not uncommon for us to have a fish and wildlife boat operator taking [inaudible] search and rescue teams out in the barrier islands and post-hurricane environments during search and rescue operations. So, the idea of the ESFs was: hey, if you only had one agency doing something, maybe. But if you looked at what we do in disasters, and you started grouping your agencies around those functions versus dealing with them as a collection of agencies, it gave you more efficiency. It also meant that when a public health issue came up, we just gave them to health and medical. It could be anything from, you know, an assisted living facility needs evacuating, to they’re running out of diesel fuel for the hospital. It was like, anything that said “medical”, they went there, and they knew who else among those functions could support them. So, they needed diesel, they didn’t go out and order diesel. They [inaudible] to the function, in our case, that was resource ESL 7, who had the contracts for all our fuel suppliers, that could then get fuel to that hospital. But it was more of an organization. And it kind of positions me as, you know, the [inaudible] controls, really breaking down that we did, not who we are, and then grouping all of the different agencies that had capability around the things that we are likely required to do in a disaster; versus trying to individually task and sort and triage between agencies, seeing who’s the best fit for the problem.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, it seems to be like, some of the controversy, for a lack of better term, comes in the concept of a ICS. And then when we move that into the emergency operation center, sometimes there’s a loss in the translation of who does what. And I’ve worked with some people in the past who tried to do tactics from the EOC, and I had to kind of say: no, that’s not – during a drill, thank God – no, this is not how we do it. This is more of a policy issue up here. And it seems like an ESF would really kind of… kind of fix those communication issues. Do you believe that or am I off base on that?

[CRAIG FUGATE] It worked for us. Florida adopted emergency support functions right after hurricane Andrew. They were in the original FEMA response plan. And there was still a draft, and [inaudible] about the time Andrew happened. And in Florida, we adopted them, they made sense, and it gave us a way to take a lot of agencies who had overlapping or duplicate efforts, and put them into the same grouping with lead and support, and clearly, define those roles and responsibilities. The thing about the incident command system, I’ve been in the fire sheriffs, I’ve been using it since the 80’s when we really started to move out across country. And I remember when we were still debating whether there was going to be a fire ground commander or incident commander. And my observation is, whenever you try to make an event fit the system you’re using, you’ve got a problem. I’m much more agnostic about ICS and much more flexible about how it can adapt to solve problems. But I’ve seen people so rigid that they will really hold fast to the ICS doctrine, even though it’s obviously not working with a lot of different agencies. And I like to remind them, we went to the moon and back without ICS. So you can say it’s better than slice bread, but it’s not the only way to manage complex operations.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, that’s so true. You know, I was working with a small agency that, realistically, they were trying to operate from an EOC, and they didn’t have enough man power or staff in the EOC because they’re so small to have that people on the field. And I kind of suggested to go to a management team type of structure, more like a field ICS type of thing, and they were losing their mind, because they just couldn’t get their head around the fact that they didn’t have an emergency operation center running, it’s just… they’re just too small. I mean, so there is that need to a flexibility. One term I learn when I serving as (core man) at the Marine called “Separate (Gambi”), and that’s what I tried to…


[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, you know? Don’t be so rigid.

[CRAIG FUGATE] And the thing about, you know, there’s always this debate about: are they EOCs or are they multi-agency coordination centers, and I tried to differentiate, and an EOC is where the elected authority and who is authorized to execute that authority in an emergency operates and sets up policies and priorities. And I try to remind people, I say: look, it doesn’t matter how high up you’re in the organization; almost all of the authorities that are granted by state legislation, local legislation, or federal law are invested in the elected leadership, not the opponent leadership. And it’s important that people understand that a priority role of that EOC is where that elected leadership exercises their authorities. I know a lot of people on the business would just assume they would assume they wouldn’t exercise anything, declare an emergency and get out of the way.


[CRAIG FUGATE] But that’s now what they are supposed to do. You know, there’s a reason the law entrusted them with those authorities and how they delegate and execute that. But that is where they are going to operate from. They watch the established policy go must further than just coordinating across multiple agencies and resources, feeding into a single, or maybe multiple incident command posts. It’s really how the community sets the policies, makes the priorities, decisions that only the elected leadership can really make particularly, declaring the emergency, some of the fiscal issues, requesting assistance. Because ultimately, they are the legal authorities, and they are accountable to the citizens for that response.


[CRAIG FUGATE] And that EOC is where, you know, part of that responsibility is executed.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I mean, I know in California, I think it’s seven days that we have before we can do things without bringing it to the city council. And we try to do it before, you know, in a good way, we try to get it to them prior to make sure that they’re on board with what we’re doing. And we try to make sure that we have a policy room working and functioning just like we would in any other room in the EOC, so that they’re up to date, and kept up to date, and so they’re making wise decisions. So, that’s kind of how I feel my role as an emergency manager is, to make sure that our elected officials do have the [inaudible] information to make the best decisions and to council them in that way. So, I do agree with that 100%. So, let’s change speed here a little bit. So, what are you doing now that you’re not longer over in Washington?

[CRAIG FUGATE] I’m still an emergency manager. Everybody assumed that I was retired, I’m like: well, I’m a little bit too young to retire. I tell people now that what I do is I work on projects for people I wanna work with and projects that interest me. I have engagements with different companies, I set up my little LLC. Mainly is a contracting vehicle for other companies, but I work as an advocate for different people, and a lot of these issues I was talking about before I even left FEMA, and left government service. And so, there’s people out there that want me engaged to help them with the messaging and how to communicate, and making sure people understand the importance of… I’m working with folks like the National Association of Broadcasters.


[CRAIG FUGATE] I’m a senior advisor to a couple of groups where they bring me in to meet with their folks, and you know, it’s not much different than what I was doing before I left. It just… I tell people that instead of having one boss and one paycheck, I got multiple bosses, some of which actually pay. You know, part of this was that I wanted to come home, I wanted to work on things that interest me, and I wanted to take a step back. I spent so much time looking at how you respond better, and focusing on that, that I wanted to take a step back and go: why are we having to respond so hard to such big events? And start asking questions that I now have the luxury and time to be able to ask, such as: why are we building in areas that are high risk, and then are somewhat surprised when disasters happen and it overwhelms the system.

[TODD DEVOE] Right? Right?

[CRAIG FUGATE] You know, I keep telling people, every time you tell me that was an act of God, I say: quit blaming God! He didn’t tell you to build there that way.


[CRAIG FUGATE] And if you look at climate change, you look at disruptive weather events that are leading our disasters, whether it’s the cycle of drought, wildfires, and instant flooding, mudslides. Most recently, we had the fatalities in Arizona the other day, from burn scar which flash flooding and debris flow that killed children. But building areas along coastal communities or into the (inner phase) area. And building in an (inner face) area with homes that have combustible materials making up the primary surface of the structure, and people are surprised when they burn up in a wildfire. It’s not as if we don’t know how to build, but for some reason, we seem to have collective amnesia at the local level when somebody comes in and wants to build or develop. That: “I lived here all my life, it’s never that bad, that’s just gonna make those homes unaffordable.” That’s just more bureaucratic red tape. Problem is, we’re writing so many checks at the federal level to pay for those decisions, that we have actually… price risk is so low that a lot of local governments don’t even take the steps to minimize it in the future. Cause if it’s ever that bad, somebody else will pay. And I’m pointing out people like governor Brown that has taken steps within the state on the wildfire situation, looking at mitigation and how to fund that with state dollars. And looking at, you know, things that historically there’s been stuff that people didn’t want to touch, it’s almost like a third rail to say we shouldn’t build a certain way in a certain place. He’s been willing to take that stand, going: we cannot sustain our wildfire risk if we don’t change how we build it and where we’re building. There’s just not enough firefighters or enough money keeping out all fires. We see some of the things here on the East Coast, where we continue to get development in coastal areas, part of that subsidized to the National Flood Insurance Program, which currently is $25 billion in debt.


[CRAIG FUGATE] And so, I’m asking questions. We’re up for reauthorization of the Flood Insurance bill this year, and it’s not gonna be easy. We’ve got a lot of built homes in areas that are extremely vulnerable, that quite obviously, we’re not providing a subsidized product to these folks, they get priced out of their homes. And I’m not sure that’s a good idea. But I’m also pretty sure we should not be subsidizing new construction. And so, I’d like them to take and just do one thing, and that is, when they pass the re-authorization, to put a clause in there and say that the National Flood Insurance program cannot sell insurance to new construction. Let the private sector insure it. If the private sector won’t insure it, then why should the tax payer?

[TODD DEVOE] Exactly, exactly. I lived in Long Island for a bit when I was a kid, and we had a road, it’s called Dune Road, it’s over at the Hamptons. That would get… every year we get, you know, a hurricane would blow over from that, and we’d lose a home or two over there, and the road would get covered. And it got to the point to where they just said: yeah, we’re gonna let you just keep the houses there, we’re not gonna let you rebuild, or if you do, you’re gonna be on your own on that. And yeah, let the people… let the private insurance companies do that. Because yeah, you’re right, we’re just… it’s amazing how much money that we are spending on those homes and people still build there. I remember this story about a town in Illinois that they actually moved the entire town up, on top of a hilltop, back in the… I guess it was in the 60’s. And you know, that’s the mitigation right there. “Yep, we’re gonna have a flood, we know what’s gonna happen.” And they turned that flood plain into parks. So, I mean, we know this is happening, and we’re making sure that we’re doing things right. Hey, real quick, what do you think of the new wave of disaster response, or disaster volunteer groups, such as like, Team Rubicon.

[CRAIG FUGATE] They’re… yeah, this is something that I encourage. I continue to see groups that emerge out of failure. And Team Rubicon does several things, it brings in veterans and there’s been a lot written about post-traumatic stress syndrome, and I think it’s to the point where everyone thinks a veteran automatically must have post-traumatic stress syndrome. But in a lot of research, what they found is, when veterans return from overseas, one of the things that helped them integrate society and adjust is to give them purpose. And having gone from a combat duty to coming back state side and working a job, many of them missed that sense of being able to give themselves to support others. And so, Team Rubicon actually does several things. One, it harnesses a lot of created talents and energies. But ultimately becomes a very healthy outlook for veterans coming back to be able to continue. In many cases, if you asked them, of all things you can do when you get back, what do you wanna do? And outside of staying in the military, it was helping people in their time of need. So, you’ll have groups emerge. Some of them like Team Rubicon, will become larger, more organized. Other will be ad hoc at the time of an event. But I try to caution people who say that we gotta be careful with those folks, because they’re not trained, or it may be more harm, or… you know, we look at the public’s liability, I’m going: if you can be picky, it’s not that bad.

[TODD DEVOE] It’s true.

[CRAIG FUGATE] I’m at the point where I’m telling people that our fastest response is neighbors helping neighbors.


[CRAIG FUGATE] And we have gotta quit looking at the public as a liability and really see them as a resource, because the bigger the disaster, the more likely they will be the first responders, they’re gonna do more good, rather than taking any approach of: they’re not trained, they’re gonna do too much harm, they need to wait for the professionals. Well, that actually is not working out very well in the shootings, because we now have people so afraid to try to stop bleeding, that they’re not shown how to do, their response is not to do anything, and we’re seeing people bleed to death. And so it’s really about re-engaging the public.


[CRAIG FUGATE] And so you’re gonna have volunteer groups that emerge and volunteer groups that come out of areas where they saw a need and they were able to meet it. Some of them will go away, others, like Team Rubicon, will grow.


[CRAIG FUGATE] But that’s the nature of the business. Anytime we have failure in response and a group steps in and is able to meet that need, we create a new capability.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I’m a big proponent of our community emergency response teams, and also Team Rubicon, for that matter. I think those organizations like that do so much good, and you’re absolutely right. And I think I read a statistic one time, I don’t remember where I got it from, so I don’t wanna quote it. But it was somewhere around 90% of all rescues, and they’re talking about even day-to-day rescues, are done by the lay person until the professional rescuers can get there. So, going with that statistic, if you think about large events like a Katrina, or Sandy, for that matter; it’s gonna be those public service organizations that are organized, like Team Rubicon, that’s gonna be able to come and have a greater impact on our communities than bringing all the rescuers in. Especially in the recovery aspect of it. I tell my students that recovery, I think, it’s one of the hardest things to do, because after all the lights and sirens go away, and the media goes away, recovery still has to happen. And that’s why I think recovery plans are something that we really need to take a look at.

[CRAIG FUGATE] I saw where John Belle Edwards, we were working with him in the floods this past year. They had so many homes flooded, and the first thing you gotta do at a flooded home is get them mucked out, get the sheet and everything else out that got wet to control the mold. And there just wasn’t enough people, and volunteer groups from all across the country, a lot of them church groups, planned trips to go in and help muck out homes. And relatively quickly, we were able to see the results of that and getting homes ready for rebuilding much faster than they would have without them. And you know, it’s again, sometimes it’s just identifying a need and communicating that, and volunteer groups will mobilize, respond, and as we saw in Louisiana, the majority of homes that got mucked out, they were neighbors helping neighbors, or a lot of church groups helping out people that needed help getting their homes. And some of those groups came from all over the country, they just weren’t for their local folks, they were coming from across the country.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, that’s the best part about, you know, in my humble opinion, about being here in America. Is that we have neighbors that love to help each other, and even though we kind of think that we’re not that altruistic, I think sometimes that we really are. Sir, one last question before I let you go. If you were to recommend a book or a publication to somebody who is new to emergency management or wants to be in emergency management, what would that be?

[CRAIG FUGATE] The Unthinkable, by Amanda Ripley.

[TODD DEVOE] I agree with you 100%. Great book.

[CRAIG FUGATE] Well, I think what it does is you read the book and you understand why it’s so important to exercise and train before disaster. And that you have to plan for not what you expect in your da-to-day, but for literally events that are just hard to fathom. And she has many stories in there from 9/11 and how people reacted in the towers in the plane crash. And she backs it up with a lot of research about plane crashes, police shootings, and how the more we train, the more we develop the muscle memory, the better we are able to deal with the things we expected, and more importantly, with the things we never did. There is a lot of documentation and I’ve seen this in operation centers, where the opportunity emergency managers, you know, the inside [inaudible], your first big disaster is your first big disaster. And people are, often times, paralyzed. And that’s why it’s so important to exercise not what your comfort level is, or what the history of your events, but really exercise against the things that… they may be unlikely, but if they occur, are going to take your system down if you’re not prepared for it.


[CRAIG FUGATE] And [inaudible] ability to shift from: “this will never happen” to “well, if it does, what do we do first?” And if you can get just that part into the discussion and exercise, that if it did happen, what would be the first priorities? What would be the things you do and you thought through that? You already improved your ability to manage a large-scale disaster. And that book gives you a lot of insights into why that happens. There’s a lot of rigor in her research, but the basic premise is, we play it like we practice. And if we’re always practicing the scrimmages around the things we’re good at, when the disaster doesn’t play by our rules, we flounder. And that book gives excellent examples of how, in some cases, people were seen as almost bizarrely taken with what they needed to be prepared for, yet, on 9/11, that saved lives.


[CRAIG FUGATE] The fact that they had turned something so extraordinary in something so routine, such as evacuating a building at a high rise from a variety of threats. Versus those companies that didn’t practice that, didn’t do it unannounced, always knew when the fire alarm was going to be sounded, and basically looked at that as a break to go get something or go take a smoke break. The difference in those companies’ philosophies, in some cases, meant who got out of the tower and who didn’t.

[TODD DEVOE] It’s amazing. Yeah, I had the honor of seeing her speak a couple of times, and she’s an amazing speaker too. And the book is great. One last question, if anybody wanted to get a hold of you, how would they do that?

[CRAIG FUGATE] They can get me at No, it’s I gotta remember that one. And I’m also on Twitter, it’s @WCraigFugate. So, I’m on LinkedIn, got Facebook, got Email, got Twitter. So, I’m pretty well covered that way.

[TODD DEVOE] All right. We’ll put all that contact information down in the show notes as well. Well, again sir, thank you so much for taking time out of your day, and I know you’re busy, to talk to me and to talk to EM Weekly, that’s much appreciated. And I’d love to have you on again.

[CRAIG FUGATE] Sure! We’ll pick another topic and another day.


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About Todd De Voe 81 Articles
Involved in Emergency Response, Emergency Management, Education and Volunteer Management for over 25 years.Served as a Corpsman assigned to the Fleet Marine Force of the United States Navy. I now teach Emergency Management at Coastline Community College, I am also the Host of EM Weekly.

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