Rich Cooper

Feb 11, 2009

According to the AP’s Eileen Sullivan news story, “Obama’s top choice for FEMA director are Florida, Iowa emergency managers,” the finish line is in sight for the announcement of the next FEMA Administrator.  After several weeks of rumors and speculation it appears to have come down to two people:  the State of Florida’s Emergency Management Director, Craig Fugate and Ellen Gordon who served in a similar capacity for the State of Iowa.

Both have twenty plus years of experience in emergency management and have been battle-tested with floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and other ”bad day” causes.  Having been leads for their respective States, both have served at the intersection between local governments and the feds and their experiences (both good and bad) of working with FEMA, the private sector, stakeholder groups (such as the Red Cross, etc), the media and others makes them great choices for a very tough job.

While it is easy to complain about the length of time it has taken to select the FEMA Administrator (even though it’s not apparently done yet), the fact that the Obama Administration has taken its time and has had some exceptionally well qualified candidates to consider (e.g. Ellis Stanley, John Copenhaver, Joe Bruno, Mark Merritt, etc.), it says a lot of powerful and positive things for the future of FEMA and emergency management in America.  Both Mr. Fugate and Ms. Gordon, and the others I mentioned above (and been rumored for the job), are exceptional people and each of their records shows that as fact.

Whoever ends up being tapped as Administrator certainly inherits a better, stronger and much more multi-faceted Agency that David Paulison took on after Hurricane Katrina.  They’ve got a great foundation on which to build and the performance of the past few years documents that progress and accomplishment.

With any luck, their tenure will allow FEMA’s name to continue to become a positive word signifying excellence in planning, cooperation, coordination, logistics, response and recovery and not a four-letter word for ineptitude, failure or punch-line for the comedians.

That may be one of the hardest tasks the new FEMA Administrator will have in their “Inbox” but these “finalists” and many others have what it takes to do that.  They’ve already got a good start.


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