Rich Cooper, Security Debrief

Mar 4, 2009

Ever since President Obama was elected and started to name individuals for his Cabinet, a number of names have been in circulation as potential nominees for FEMA Administrator.  These lists have  included people like . Ellis Stanley, John Copenhaver, Joe Bruno, Mark Merritt, Ellen Gordon …  They also included Craig Fugate.

Today, the White House announced that Craig Fugate, the State of Florida’s Emergency Management Director, has been selected by President Obama to lead the nation’s lead agency for emergency management, FEMA.

I don’t say this easily. but I think the White House had an embarrassment of riches when they made this decision.  They had a deep, experienced, and battle-tested bench of qualified individuals who could fill one of the nation’s (and world’s) toughest jobs and do it extremely well.  All of the persons I just mentioned (and others not mentioned) would do a great job as FEMA Administrator, but the President has made his pick and it’s a good one.

There can be no question about Fugate’s qualifications for the Administrator position or what type of events he’s managed before.

Fugate has firsthand experience with floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, power blackouts and more.

Fortunately for Florida’s tourism and commerce, these disasters are not the first things that come to mind when you mention the state of Florida.  People are more apt to think of oranges, vacations, Mickey Mouse, Kennedy Space Center, cruise ships and other enjoyable distractions.  Truth be told, though, not everything is sunshine in “the Sunshine State,” and Craig Fugate knows that.

For all of its fun and attractiveness, Florida, like its West Coast counterpart  Californi,a is one of the most challenging environments when it comes to emergency management.

Mother Nature never gives it a break.  Hurricane season, tornado season, fire season…

Humanity has not been all that forgiving to Florida either given some of the power blackouts, fuel shortages and other “events” that have also occurred there.

For those reasons and more, FEMA is getting a qualified leader who has dealt with challenging scenarios and can speak confidently to the needs of the Administration, Congress, the Agency, the states and local governments  (where disasters really occur), emergency managers and most of all its citizenry about what we need to do to be a prepared and resilient homeland.

In celebrating today’s announcement, we also need to recognize that Fugate’s elevation to the nation’s top emergency management position is as much a testament to his skills as it is the team in Florida that he has had around him the past several years.

His successes in the Sunshine State were not just singular achievements of one man – he had a team of people around him who knew what to do; developed the skills and networks to succeed; were exercised and experienced enough to perform when they had to; and executed their assignments when called upon.

Contrary to the claims of the arm-chair punditry, late-night comedians and cheap-shot artists who have made FEMA a four-letter word and political football for easy kicks, there are a number of the same types of people at FEMA today.  Because of them and the efforts of another Floridian, Dave Paulison and the team of people who surrounded him, Fugate inherits a better, stronger and continually improving agency.

In saying that, I don’t want anyone to think that I consider FEMA as being even close to perfect.  It’s not, and guess what?  It never will be.

It’s an Agency charged to handle emergencies in all of their forms. Regardless of the amount of planning or money spent in preparing for or dealing with those circumstances, there is no script that will unfold perfectly when the time comes to respond.

FEMA is and always will be a work in progress, and it’s getting a new and extremely qualified foreman to continue its construction.

As he begins the process of taking over this job and the “on-going construction” at FEMA, I do think there is something that we should do right now for Craig Fugate.

We should say “Thank you.”

Why now?

Here’s why – he deserves our thanks for agreeing to take on an impossible assignment that will never satisfy anyone’s expectations.

We owe him our thanks for taking a post that will leave him subject to countless amounts of second guessing, name calling, mockery and harassment from Congress, the Administration, the media, his emergency management peers as well as the citizenry he is pledging to serve.

We owe him our thanks for taking a position that most people would avoid for fear of having their sanity questioned for agreeing to consider it, let alone accept it.

Craig Fugate said “Yes” and that is something we should all be grateful for.

Besides, today may be the last time he ever hears the words “Thank you” again.

Thank you, Craig.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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