EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — September 8, 2010

Federal Emergency Management Agency Update
with the Administrator

W. Craig Fugate
Federal Emergency Management Agency

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following has been prepared from a transcription of the recording.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon everyone. Welcome once again to EMforum.org. I am Amy Sebring and will serve as your Moderator today. We are very glad you could join us. For our newcomers, we will be providing some instructions as we go along so you can relax and participate with us.

We are sure you are well aware that September is National Preparedness Month, and we are honored to observe the occasion with a visit from FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. I am sure many if not most of you already know him, since he has come up through the ranks from the local to state to federal levels.

First, for a change of pace and as an experiment, we are going to start first with a short video of Craig speaking on National Preparedness Month. It should just take a moment or two to load and play.


We are making a recording, which should be available later this afternoon. The text transcript will be posted later on. If you are not on our mailing list, you can Subscribe from our home page, and then you will get a notice when they are ready.

Now it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce today’s guest: Craig Fugate began serving in the position of Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in May 2009.

Prior to coming to FEMA, Mr. Fugate served as Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) since 2001, and previously served as Bureau Chief for Preparedness and Response beginning in 1997.

Before joining FDEM, Craig served as Emergency Manager for Alachua County for ten years, coming from a background in the volunteer fire services.

Please see today’s Background Page for further biographical information and also links to related information. In particular, please note the link to the National Preparedness Dialogue which has been extended to the end of this week. That is an opportunity for you to get your ideas in where they will be heard.

Welcome Craig, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.

Craig Fugate: Hello, everybody. This is Craig Fugate, and part of this forum will be your opportunity to ask me questions. Just a couple of reminders—September is National Preparedness Month. We encourage (and I know that many of the practitioners are already doing this) people to take the steps to prepare now before disaster strikes and visit the ready.gov site.

I’d also like to announce—this is not good news—but it is pertinent. The National Hurricane Center has now started issuing advisories on Tropical Storm Igor out in the Atlantic. In addition to that, some of the updates we’ve done with our web pages are to develop a mobile FEMA.gov site. It is M.FEMA.gov.

In addition to that site being in a mobile format, we’ve also taken disasterassistance.gov, which is used for people to register online and built a mobile version of that as well for people to be able to use their devices to apply for assistance. This is done with the understanding that many people have access to smart phones and that cellular communications in many disasters is available to people sheltering, or outside the immediate area of impact.

It is not designed to replace the other systems or the personal contact, but just another tool for the public recognizing that more and more people are using mobile devices to get information and we wanted to be moving in that direction and provide our information. With that, I’ll stand by for questions.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Craig. Now, to proceed to our Q&A.

Ian Hay: Considering the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, what 3 things do you think the private sector should exercise during the upcoming National Level Exercise 2011 (New Madrid Seismic Zone)?

Craig Fugate: In preparing for this exercise, what we are looking to with the private sector, particularly at the local and state level is—how do we work as one team versus what I call a "government-centric" approach. Thinking of important elements here, since many of the day-to-day services are provided by the private sector, is exercising not only their capabilities, but what it would take from government to support them getting those functions back online. A bit of a different question for the private sector -- not us asking what they can do for government response--but what government can do to enable them to get open faster or provide services in the disaster area.

Ellis Stanley: Craig, thanks very much for including the private sector position in the NRCC (National Response Coordination Center). Do you feel this will catch on around the country?

Craig Fugate: Not only do I think it will catch on, because we are actually not the leader in this—many of our state partners have more formal processes in their activations to incorporate the private sector. An example is the state of Louisiana and others. We are also placing a position in each one of our regional offices to provide focus on this as well as other issues with external affairs.

Taking our private sector position that we have here at headquarters, and providing a position to each one of our regional offices to continue to build this into the RISC, which is our Regional Interagency Steering Committee structure of our other federal agencies under the emergency support functions, but also working with states to develop this capability in their emergency operation centers.

The last note on this is increasing our cadre within the disaster response teams of people to go into a JFO setting to support private sector initiatives. I think this will continue to grow, but we are also providing the staff in the regions to continue working with our state partners to encourage this. We are not the leader; we are merely catching up with some of our states.

Claire Rubin: I know you share my interest in the use of social media for emergency management. So far the two-way uses of the new media have not been adequately or imaginatively developed. Do you agree and is FEMA open to some suggestions for new apps to better deal with getting personal preparedness info out?

Craig Fugate: Yes.

Erik S. Gaull: What studies has FEMA done of individual preparedness of Americans? Do we know what percent have a plan, a kit, etc.? Do we know how many are really prepared?

Craig Fugate: The Ready campaign has done some of that, but most of that has been focused, I think, on asking very generic questions. One of my observations is that when you ask people if they are prepared, you often times get a fairly high rate of response that they are prepared. When you start asking details you find that maybe they are not as prepared as they need to be.

I think part of this is to define what we mean by being prepared. Two, surveys that ask in very broad brushes, general questions, don’t really provide us with the areas we need to work on. I think it would be more useful, instead of just asking if you’re prepared or asking if you have a plan, is doing things like—do you have a first aid kit? Do you have a flashlight with batteries? If you have to evacuate, do you know if you’re in an evacuation zone for like a nuclear power plant, or for in a hurricane disaster zone, do you have a destination?

I think one is defining what we mean by preparedness in a way that it is quantitative and measurable, and two, changing our survey questions to be more specific and ask questions that would indicate a level of preparedness by actions taken or things that a person can tell you, versus just the generic question—do you think you’re prepared?

Amy Lindsey: The Kennedy Learn and Serve Act-Americorps have received a $600 million grant to encourage people to volunteer a year of service. How will this affect Citizen Corps as a whole (will it be in competition, get sucked under the Kennedy grant, or remain a stand-alone program)?

Craig Fugate: In fact, in working with the National Commission of Community Services, we do not see ourselves as competing—we actually see it complementing. Citizen Corps and those programs are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but we are looking to build a relationship with the National Commission of Community Services, particularly with Americorps and other programs that can support efforts, both in local communities and the area and realm of preparedness response.

An example of that in many cases, Americorps teams that work with various parks and other associations in doing trail-clearing and things like that, have been instrumental at the local and state level in responding to disasters for debris removal and assisting low income households with trees down, and things of that nature.

We don’t see it as competition. We don’t think they’re going to take away from our programs. The Citizen Corps is not being assumed under any other organization. We do want to build a stronger relationship and complement the National Commission of Community Services, which is where Americorps reside, and our federal programs, particularly within Citizen Corps.

Don McGarry: How do you think growing and developing a FEMA Enterprise can reach out to support State & Locals? What are the technical barriers to making that happen? How do you see a "First Responder" Enterprise interacting with FEMA? What further technical research is needed to support disaster management?

Craig Fugate: I think the lesson that I have taken away from the last couple of years is that too often people are focused on platforms, and in trying to share different platforms and build interfaces between those platforms. What I’m finding is that technology has reached a point where, really from the standpoint of federal agencies, the best way to share information with our partners is actually in data feeds.

When you look at everything from GIS applications to just the products we produce, the ability to distribute common format of information that is geo-coded, and allow people to use the platform of their choice, to aggregate our information and their information.

More and more I’m finding that people are looking for a platform, or looking at specific software, and I’m finding that really, our goal is to produce data feeds and allow the users to be independent of what we develop that user feed with, but be able to allow them as a common format for GIS applications and forward that into their products.

If you look at several advancements in the last couple of years, particularly in the world of GIS, people keep asking for a common operating feature, and I’ve always come back to a very simple answer—you can call it what you want, but generally, people standing around a map is historically been how people have looked at data, about something that is geo-spatial, such as a disaster.

The ability to share map layer information across multiple organizations as feeds, not necessarily a singular platform, is where this is going. I’m finding more and more that the technology in the private sector, and oftentimes products that are already being used by the various levels of government, and for those that cannot afford or do not have the expertise to build these products or tools, there is the ability to hand this off in a way that this information through free available viewers allows them tremendous powers in the realm of GIS that never existed before.

People want to talk about situations reports, text reports, and all this other stuff, and really what we’re seeing is in these data levels we are now able to populate and shelter information in a GIS level that is live. We’re at the point now where the applications allow you to update information from a cell phone by text messaging.

Again, versus a singular platform or a singular suite of devices, what we’re finding is data feeds that use standardized products, such as the U.S. National Grid, or using existing data files that have a geo-coded layer that can be imported into a variety of products that is not proprietary to just one product. It is really the direction we are moving into.

David Munro: The Secretary of DHS and you, as the Administrator of FEMA have worked hard at improving the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and the Tribes. What are your strategies for institutionalizing this philosophy in the Agency and meeting the President’s November 5, 2009 Memorandum on Tribal Consultation?

Craig Fugate: The first one was a significant rule change to the code of federal registry that required Stafford Act declarations. Previously, it was not clarified as to who could be an applicant in a Stafford Act declaration. It is still within the Stafford Act—the law requires that the governor must request that disaster occurrence to the President—that is not something an individual tribal nation can do based on current legislation.

Once the declaration has been issued by the President, historically, the tribes are often faced with the prospect as a sovereign entity, as a nation, of having to be a subgrantee to another sovereign within the same structure, that of the state. We changed the rule to give the tribes the option that they can either work as a subgrantee to the state or they can be the grantee direct to the federal government once the declaration has been issued.

That is the rule change. That is institutionalized. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, we are providing to each of the 10 regions a position in external affairs, part of which is private sector. The other piece is they focus on tribal issues. Some of our regions had personnel dedicated to this, but it was not consistent. We are providing a new position that will do private sector as well as tribal issues on a day-to-day basis.

We have also been looking at, within our grant programs and other things, an increased base allocation for tribal applications which was implemented last year, which provides a base level of funding for tribes where they would not be competing against other governmental entities. That was the first step in the Secretary’s goal in our grants program in providing more visibility for tribal issues under the Homeland Security Grant Program.

Those are just a couple of examples. I think that to move this forward is to continue to look at our rule changes and other administrator procedural changes, to recognize the sovereignty of the tribes within the walls that we administer, and recognize their option to be self-governing over these grants or the option to work with the states as a grantee as their decision—not necessarily one that would be made for them.

Darren Price: There are a lot of rumors and discussion in regard to HSEEP (Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program) compliance and the re-shaping of the national exercise program. Outside of the recently released memo from Secretary Napolitano, do you have any updated information? We ask for input to be accepted from local and state practitioners as this program is defined so it can truly be a national program.

Craig Fugate: I will talk specifically to some of the changes that we’re making within FEMA on the federal side. The first one is we want to re-focus these exercises based upon situations that would be more realistic and build a lot of the data that is been generated by state and local governments over the threats as the base of the exercise.

Part of the Secretary’s concern and part of my concern was that sometimes the exercises had artificialities that were built into them that would not reflect the actual event. We wanted to make the exercise more realistic as far as what would happen and spend less time in the exercise development of basically pre-briefing everybody on every element of the exercise, so that all you had to do was show up with your play book and follow the script.

I’ve never known a disaster to give me all the answers before the event. We don’t think exercise participants, including senior level officials, should always have all the answers when we go in. Finally, the last part of that was, in looking at an exercise program, internally, we oftentimes design the exercises around our capabilities to respond, not what the event could produce as far as challenges.

There was some concern that if you made the exercises too difficult they would not produce any measurable results because it would fail on the out start. What we’re trying to do is change that both in our doctrine, but also exercise ourselves, and plan against the scenarios we are likely to face based on what we would consider credible threats, not based on what the capabilities of the team is, and then adjust that and learn from the exercises.

Part of this direction from the Secretary is—more realistic exercises reflecting how we would actually operate in a disaster, less read-aheads and pre-briefs, more factual based upon the scenarios and data that we have, and moving forward to an exercise program that is a little bit more dynamic in its capabilities to really build and challenge the team to be prepared for the things we know and also to build the team to be ready for things we haven’t thought of or haven’t occurred yet.

Amy Lindsey: What's going on with the CCP AEL? (Citizen Corps Program Authorized Equipment List) Currently, the AEL has very few items on it that would support an adequate CERT or other Citizen Corps Program. We know there was a meeting in mid-August to fix the AEL; when can we expect to see the results? Our state and local partners are antsy.

Craig Fugate: I’ll have to get that one back for you. I don’t have that specific information. We are working on a variety of issues involving Community Emergency Response Teams, and we will have to report back to you on the progress of the equipment lists.

Aaron: DHS and FEMA spend billions on preparedness and mitigation; however, there has been a steady increase in declared disasters over the last two decades. Some believe states have become dependent upon FEMA grants and disaster assistance. What are your thoughts on redefining the disaster declaration criteria and requiring states to meet a disaster resilience level that they must meet before FEMA will provide assistance?

Craig Fugate: The short answer is good luck with that one. The challenges in trying to determine thresholds for declaring disasters and building incentives for states to grow capacity—the current configuration of the program does not lend itself well to that. At the same time, in trying to change that, there are a lot of unintended consequences you run into.

As far as the issue about more declarations occurring, if you look at the declarations, generally most of them are weather specific. This is a tendency—people like to say we’re having more disasters because we’ve lowered the threshold and discount the fact that if we’re having more extreme weather events, that would also signal why we’re seeing more disasters.

Also, when you look at the declaration level, we are seeing changing weather patterns that are producing events that may not have happened in a long time, and it may give the appearance that we’re suddenly declaring everything. In reality, as an example, I believe it was in Minnesota, they are seeing 3 times their normal tornadic activity this year. We have states such as Rhode Island and Massachusetts that had flooding they hadn’t experienced in decades, and in some cases, well past 100 year events.

We had flooding in Tennessee this year—I’m not sure where that one fell out—they were starting to use terms like "1,000 year events". So you have to balance this between—are you seeing an increased level of declarations based upon the inability of states to manage smaller disasters—or are you seeing extreme weather events, that as population has increased in some of the more vulnerable areas, and in some cases, just the increased number of extreme weather events, is producing more declarations.

There is no correlation that says you are getting more disasters declared because the threshold isn’t high enough or it’s too low. It is also attributed to the fact that we are seeing extreme weather events, particularly in this past year, and patterns that we do not have any recent history of. We are reaching a threshold that is producing significant impacts warranting a Presidential disaster declaration.

Amy Sebring: In the Homeland Security Quadrennial Review, it seemed like there was a little further emphasis on the idea of resilience. I’m wondering if that is taking hold at FEMA and whether or not we can incorporate more of the resilience message into the public preparedness message. For example—are you adequately insured? Can you make your home or business more disaster resilient?

Craig Fugate: It takes us into the area that goes traditionally, the message of mitigating the impact of disasters and reducing their severity. But another thing we’re seeing more of is how quickly the community responds, not just to mitigation or reducing the impacts, but the financial impacts, the disruptions that occur—things such as how quickly can you get schools open after a disaster. How quickly do you get your tax base stabilized? How quickly do you get your private sector folks to employ and go back to work?

As people are defining or trying to define what they mean by resilience, in many cases I think it’s a message that we may have been talking about it and not calling it resilience, but it is this idea that the better prepared we are, the better we mitigate disasters, the more we minimize and mitigate their impacts, but also the quicker our communities get back to a state that—the term "normal" has different meanings to people—but gets us back into a stable environment where we are able to continue to provide critical services with a stable tax base and a stable work force.

You’re seeing some of our emphasis that we’re not calling resilience, but come back to that key issue, such as getting schools open after a disaster is a key challenge. That importance cannot be overstated because if you are in a situation where schools may be closed for months, likely you are going to lose a lot of your work force.

Families with children will not be able to wait to get schools to open—they may have to look somewhere else. This also takes on a greater significance when we look at the risk of terrorism or other acts that as much as we work to try to prevent—the other part of that is, if the act occurs, how quickly can we stabilize and get back to our lives?

The ability to do that is oftentimes dependent upon how quickly does the private sector comes back, how people adjust to that, how people react to that. But we know that the better prepared the population is, the faster the response and recovery timeframes are, and the quicker people get back into a stable environment, the better it is for everybody.

The term resilience as people have been defining it, I think incorporates a lot of things we’ve been working on. I would agree that you’ll start seeing it used more and more as a header to describe some of these broad categories as building resiliency into communities to be able to withstand the impacts of all hazards, whether they are manmade, natural, or acts of terrorism.

Ken Rudnicki: Is there any thought from FEMA to establishing a minimum percentage of local pass through for EMPG (Emergency Management Performance Grants) funds?

Craig Fugate: No, we basically, again, have this interesting concept of governance in the United States called state constitutions. We provide funds to the states, and then through the state budgetary process they determine where the funding is going to go. While we try to make sure that we’ve identified and prioritized what the outcomes of the grants are supposed to be, the governance of that is a budgeting issue that the states have, in many cases, a constitutional mandate to do.

It is a balance between the states responsibility and local responsibility. For us to mandate that states would have to fund programs with us in that way would probably on a case by case basis generate a lot of angst. The short answer is, "not at this time".

Pete G: I am a recent Presidentially-declared disaster victim and a private-sector continuity manager. Fortunately, our personal damage was fairly limited but too many neighbors suffered nearly catastrophic impacts. However, I keep hearing "before Katrina, you would have been eligible for" or "this used to be much easier" across the spectrum, at the local, state and federal-level. As the person most responsible for America’s disaster-related recovery activities, when will FEMA and the emergency management culture recover from Hurricane Katrina?

Craig Fugate: Until there is another disaster the size of Katrina, and the performance of that demonstrates an improvement, I think FEMA will always be questioned about our ability to respond to the next challenge. As far as "if this was before Katrina, we could do that", I’ll take that with a bit of—I won’t say I’m skeptical, but there are certain things we much do to assure that the applicants, particularly an individual for assistance, are eligible.

The first one is to verify that they actually live where they live. There is an income test, which was required before Katrina and still required today, not to supplant other funds or duplicate benefits. We first look at—do you have insurance and do you have the ability to get an SBA loan and repay the loan, and if not, would you be eligible for grants? I know there are a lot of people out there who say a lot of things, but when I actually look at the processes and programs we’re running, I don’t see a great difference in what’s eligible, but I do see some processes built in to deal with some of the issues that came out of Katrina, particularly fraud and other activities which produced a lot of concern about that.

Again, we’ve been able to demonstrate in previous disasters that we can go out and do this. One of the things we try to make clear to people is FEMA’s programs for individual assistance were never designed to make people whole—they were really just designed to help people get started. I think we recognized that going in. Part of that is the recognition that we have to do a better job of working with our federal partners.

An example of that is in Tennessee—instead of waiting and looking at several months down the road at housing issues, HUD was there with FEMA at the beginning as far as a response, including going into the shelters and determining people that had housing needs and HUD providing them disaster housing assistance there from the shelter to get them into a more stable housing environment.

Yes, we have learned a lot of stuff from Katrina, but as people think there were things you could do before Katrina that you can’t do now, I think the answer is we may have a little bit of a different process, but eligibility hasn’t changed. The process we use is really designed to ensure rapid assistance to survivors based on what is eligible. Again, the acknowledgement that not all needs are going to be met with individual assistance—it oftentimes takes a combination of our other federal partners as well as our volunteer agencies to meet those needs.

Steve Detwiler: Florida has had some success with the development of Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plans. Will FEMA be pursuing a similar plan for states and locals in the future?

Amy Sebring: And I would like to tack on National Recovery Framework; I was wondering about the status of that document?

Craig Fugate: The Hazard Recovery Framework document is still in process, but we were able to use elements of that process in response to Tennessee including some preliminary work looking at long term recovery issues and challenges they were going to face. Part of this is a recognition that on the federal side, a lot of longer term recovery programs are not within Stafford Act. They are within other programs.

We need to go in as one team to support a governor in the state that is impacted. The lessons that we are learning and applying based upon a lot of previous disasters is that there are federal programs that need to come together in such a way that when states begin looking at long term recovery issues, we don’t just look at Stafford and try to make Stafford fix things. There are other programs that already exist that are much better.

Particularly, look at job creation, long term housing issues, economic development issues, and bring in that together. The long term aspects of this for redevelopment is based upon a federal family of programs operating under a national recovery framework, similar to the concept of the National Response Framework in providing those programs to a state and local communities based on the needs of that disaster.

It is in the process of being finalized, but we are using elements of that concept in our responses—notably, the flooding in Tennessee.

Darren Price: As a follow-on, do you see a move from capabilities based planning and a return to risk based planning?

Craig Fugate: I actually see it being a blend. Part of the problem with capability based planning is, unless you’re planning against a scenario, you’re not really demonstrating if you have capacity to deal with it or a shortfall. The other thing is, when you talk about risk, there is a tendency to plan for each risk as a unique entity and not recognize that they have common elements.

What we do is we use the hazards to generate a level of response needed, but we look at things such as not the risk itself, but what you need to do—sheltering, evacuation, warning, mass casualty, emergency food and shelter, and search and rescue. So we use the risk to generate (we’re using a term we borrowed from the National Weather Service in SLOSH modeling) called ‘MoM’, Maximum of Maximum.

We take the credible threat scenario, we run that through our various models on earthquakes, hurricanes, floods—we generate what the demand could be for that. Then, we look at the things we need to accomplish in the first 72 hours to stabilize that community, and now we use that to measure our capabilities, both in what we do and the quantity of that. It is a blending of that, but it is more focused on the outcome of—we can secure an area, we can search an area, we can shelter and feed that population, then look at what resources it is going to take and where are the gaps and shortfalls.

Part of this too, in the capability analysis is not continuing to use the same processes to try to solve problems that may not be solvable—the need won’t go away. If the current process of program isn’t adequate, we may have to redesign or rethink how we use those resources.

It is an evolution in moving towards an outcome based definable response based upon jurisdictional hazards, history of hazards, and the theoretical maxim of potential events, and then taking the capabilities and measuring against that in a response based on initial stabilization in a short period of time and what are the gaps, and what we need to do to address those gaps.

Amy Lindsey: Rumor has it USDHS is doing away with words like "compliance" as found in NIMS documents. Can you expand on this? States have spent many years, a lot of money, and countless hours on NIMS training and without words like "compliance", we will suffer a great loss in the support and compliance of state and local partners. States are concerned that we will lose the critical skills found in the NIMS programs (specifically training) once NIMS is made a "suggested" or "recommended" program.

Craig Fugate: There must be a lot of rumors out there. I have not seen a memo float by my desk, but we are trying to get away from language that it not outcome based. We are trying to move away from merely fill-in-the-blank type stuff, but I will defer to the attorneys as to what are the requirements of being in compliance, versus the capability. I think it is a sensitivity that we need to be working with state and local governments as partners, and sometimes the language is overly harsh or not clear in trying to get to those outcomes.

Avagene Moore: Are you finding the National Advisory Council a beneficial tool for FEMA and are you aware of any particular issues they will be dealing with at their next meeting?

Craig Fugate: When we met in Denver, because of the rotation of the council and the fact that people served staggered terms, and we’re seeing new folks coming in on the council as well as people who have been there, they redirected away from some of the nuts and bolts pieces of FEMA to more things strategically. I think that is going to be helpful as we continue to move things out.

My request to the National Advisory Council was not to merely agree with us when we present stuff, but to be the critical thinkers and challenge us and challenge our assumptions, but to be more strategic about it versus what I consider tactical. Some of the earlier projects were looking at public assistance programs. I think they see where we are going with that.

Taking a step back, and instead of looking at public assistance reimbursement issues, is there a way to look at how we structure public assistance to maybe encourage more capacity building at the state and local level? Also, some things we’ve talked about on this call—is really focused in on how we build a better team among all levels of government and the private sector as well as volunteer organizations.

How do we address the issue of the public not being the liability, but being a resource that we have yet to fully integrate into our response plan? So I think they are not playing the role of agreeing with everything we say. They represent a diverging group of private citizens, business, other leaders, as well as emergency managers, but also taking more strategic views of some of the challenges we face as a country versus things that may just be intrinsic to some of FEMA’s issues.

Some of their big concerns--our ability to operate across a variety of threats with a variety of federal agencies, local governments and state governments. How do we build and grow a professional team here at FEMA that can face all these challenges? How do we do that and continue to increase the level of public preparedness and citizen participation? It was a good meeting of redirection of what they are focused on, but definitely not to merely agree or rubber stamp what we’re working on.

Amy Sebring: I understand FEMA has a long-term strategic planning initiative? Is that correct? Is that related to the bottom up review at all?

Craig Fugate: Yes, and what I did was—they did 5-year strategic plans that will outlast the political appointee, so the next person comes in, they can start the 5-year strategic planning process. What we’ve said is, we’re not doing a 5-year strategic plan—we’re looking at things we’re going to do in the next 2.5 to 3 years.

We’re looking at trying to build into some of our goals and objectives—measurable outcomes—that will actually be implemented, versus the traditional—we’ll identify the goal, spend the next year forming the committee, then another year of discussion, and when you get to the action, we have changed out the leadership again.

We’re trying to get down to really defining ourselves. Part of what we’re doing with doctrine development—we really need to define to ourselves what our mission is and what we’re supposed to be doing, and build our strategic plan to support carrying that mission out, and look at those things we need to do immediately, and things we’ll do in the short term, and what are the things that are longer term that are more systemic, that may require capitalization, may require further lead times, but we need to initiate that process now.

Keith Lansbery: Does FEMA have a COOP (Continuity of Operations) Plan? If so how do you test and exercise that plan, how often?

Craig Fugate: Frequently, without notice, and incorporated into various exercises.

Joseph De Monte: Due to the upcoming changes in narrowband radio requirements, do you see a change in the Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program to prioritize this need over some of the other aspects of the grant program?

Craig Fugate: I don’t know. I would suggest that would need to come from the various associations to prioritize that. Within that grant, that is one that many member of Congress have based that program around their constituent issues as presented to them. I think it can be something as associations prioritize where they would like this funding to go. I think Congress has been very responsive to that. We are respectful of that process and will implement the programs as directed.

J.R. Jones: I enjoyed reading your profile in the August 29th issue of the New York Times Magazine in that Sunday newspaper. Can you give an example of the role the private sector might have taken in Katrina, NOLA? Also, I hear you have a Twitter feed. How is that accessed?

Craig Fugate: The Twitter feed is craig@fema, and I tweet—none of my staff does that, I do it myself, including my mistyping—sometimes I’m in a hurry trying to get people to ready.gov and I type "read.gov", so I do a lot of work for the Library of Congress some days.

More specifically, with Katrina, and my own experiences in Florida, if we’re not talking with the private sector, we oftentimes find ourselves duplicating what they’re doing. Or if they’re running into a specific challenge that we’re not aware of that would be relatively easy to resolve if we had a way of getting that issue to the decision-makers, particularly in the state emergency operation centers.

Here’s an example. A lot of folks were running into issues with oversized and overweight permits for vehicles going into Katrina that were having to travel through multiple states. Although many governors had waived the fees and restrictions, they still required the permits to be issued so that they could have awareness of those vehicles transiting the state.

The problem was, there was no single point to get that information. You ended up with vehicles getting stopped because they did not have the permits and weren’t sure how they were supposed to get that. In some cases, it was an online process. We’ve been talking with the trucking associations and also with the states, and our recommendation is that this is not something FEMA can solve, because we would have to literally try get all the states to buy into one system, which I don’t think is possible.

But the Motor Compliance Carrier folks in the states have an association. Why don’t we get a conversation going there and figure out how to make this more streamlined?

Another example is, because we didn’t have visibility on what stores were reopening in Florida, we oftentimes found ourselves setting up points of distribution in the parking lot of a grocery store, or other big box retailer, that was open on the generator. We had no visibility of that so we were duplicating efforts.

I think part of this is—and we were actually doing this with Hurricane Earl coming up the coast—was talking to various retailers through their associations over what they would be looking at in being able to report back as far as any store outages or impacts, so as we were working with our state partners, we would have a better idea of the likely need for commodities.

A lot of what we’ve learned is that we need to talk and quit duplicating efforts, and in some cases, find ways to help retailers get open, and other type of private sector folks to get back in business. Again we saw this down in Haiti. Communication down there was extremely limited, but the 2 private cell companies were able to get a lot of their system back up in days and get systems across the country in the first weeks.

In many cases text messaging, email, and somewhat of a voice capability became primary tools, both for the non-governmental organizations, volunteer organizations responding, as well as Haitians themselves being able to communicate. We are kind of taking this role of stepping back and asking, "How can we mutually support each other, not duplicate efforts that there may be a private sector solution that is faster and better than the government based solution, and working more as a team?"

There are bits and pieces of that we are working on, but part of this is building relationships so we’re talking before a disaster. When a disaster strikes, we are able to work as one team to get a community back on its feet.

Amy Sebring: I want to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about what is going on with the regional offices. We saw Mary Ann Tierney was recently appointed as Region III Administrator, and she, of course, was a former local coordinator. Is that a trend for the future?

Craig Fugate: Our goal with the regional offices is to really go back to the intention of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act which lays out the mission of the regional offices and the responsibilities they have, and the recognition that the reasons are the day-to-day interface for our state partners. We’ve taken several steps.

The first is to look at some of the decision making of some of the authorities that were here at headquarters that really should have been implemented from the region. One example that we’ve done most recently is the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program previously required that those grants be approved at FEMA. The challenge of that is almost all the work done to present the information to support that decision to declare that Fire Management Assistance Grant was actually done in the regions. So we’ve trained and delegated the authority to the Regional Administrators now to issue Fire Management Assistance Grants within the regions without headquarters concurrence.

The other thing we’ve done is that all the Regional Administrator positions are filled. There are three career, and seven political appointees. Among those, we have three former state emergency management directors who are serving as regional administrators and we have a former federal coordinating officer serving as a regional administrator. We continue to build their team.

We are in the process of transferring positions from headquarters to the regions—a couple of which to note—we are providing to each region a position for disability integration, and we’ve mentioned one position for private sector and tribal issues. We are also providing more staff for acquisition and other program areas including planning to build their capability to better serve their states.

In previous events, both the Tennessee floods as well as the recent Earl and other disasters, we’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on working issues through the region and not bypassing regions in that response. We had four regions activated for Hurricane Earl simultaneously and it gave us the ability to provide the direct support for the states through the regions without everything getting bottlenecked here at headquarters.

We continue to empower the regions, but we also are providing them additional staff resources to do the mission. We continue to move towards a goal that says our role at headquarters is really in most cases providing the rules and tools of the programs—the money, the program guidance, the outcomes.

But having the regions as the implementers working in partnership with the states to get the job done, versus everything being decided, done here, or approved solely by headquarters—it’s much better when the regional administrator and their team can actually go into the state and see the issue, look at the problem, agree to that solution and implement it without having somebody looking over your shoulder who is not there, doesn’t know the history or the background , trying to make that decision in Washington.

We’ll continue that. It is an evolution that will have growing pains. We continue to look forward to having a more robust regional structure and that the people that are appointed and in those positions have the experience and qualification necessary to carry out that role.


Amy Sebring: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much Craig, we much appreciate your taking the time to be with us today and share this information. We also want to say thanks to members of your staff who assisted with the program. We all wish you well, and every success in the future. And you are certainly most welcome to come back again any time!

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Our next program will be on September 22nd when our topic will be Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation with James R. Kish, Director, FEMA’s Technological Hazards Division. Please make plans to join us then.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone for participating today, and the great questions. Have a great afternoon. We are adjourned.