When I sat down to craft a list of New Year’s “resilience” resolutions, I started by thinking about leaders who embody the meaning of the word resolute: “admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.”
And I immediately thought of FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
If you know him, you know why. Craig’s style flows from a rare combination of an authentic, no-nonsense nature and an intense and extraordinary record of experience before, during, and after disasters of all kinds.
FLASH served on the State Emergency Response Team, and worked with Craig during 2004 and 2005 when the infamous succession of seven deadly hurricanes crisscrossed Florida. He was a constant presence beside then-Governor Jeb Bush in the dozens of news conferences—answering questions, reassuring Floridians, and signaling strength during a time of fear and uncertainty.
His biography on www.fema.gov tells it best.
… He served as Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) and as the Florida State Coordinating Officer for 11 Presidentially-declared disasters including the management of $4.5 billion in federal disaster assistance. In 2004, he managed the largest federal disaster response in Florida history as four major hurricanes impacted the state in quick succession; Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. In 2005, Florida was again impacted by major disasters when three more hurricanes made landfall in the state; Dennis, Katrina and Wilma. The impact from Hurricane Katrina was felt more strongly in the gulf coast states to the west but under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact or EMAC, Florida launched the largest mutual aid response in its history in support of those states.
In late 2006, we were asked to design a new Florida public outreach program for all hazard preparedness. Our first step was to conduct a broad-based research effort to identify optimal risk communication strategies, including asking Floridians which disaster-safety messages got through to them, which confused them, and which they liked or disliked.
Repeatedly, a theme emerged in the focus groups, and it didn’t take us long to realize that people were talking about Craig. I remember a woman from Ocala said, “There’s this one guy – I don’t know who he is, but when he comes on with the governor, I just feel better. He is large and in charge.”
In city after city, the research confirmed what those of us who know Craig had long figured out. People trust him because he is candid and willing to tell it like it is. He speaks plain truth—even when it’s unpopular. And in the uncompromising business of managing disasters, that’s the only real way to get anything done.
We were honored to have Craig serve as our closing keynote speaker during our recent 2014 Annual Conference. He posed this question that was shaped in his discussions with President Barack Obama about how we confront disasters, “Are we building to the future or are we building upon past knowledge?”
So, while I’ll resist calling my resolutions “Craig’s List,” I want to thank him for inspiring me to take what started as a list down to just one overriding resolution on how we can build a more resilient future in 2015 and beyond.
We have to tell it like it is if we’re ever going to break our nation’s deadly and costly cycle of “Build-Destroy-Rebuild”.
Homes can be affordably built in a way that is durable, sustainable, and disaster-resilient; however, consumers, renters, residents, and homeowners are typically not present at the time of decision-making to ensure that they are. The most important influencers in the quality of new construction are local officials, developers, and homebuilders.
The answer? It’s nonnegotiable—homes must be built using modern, model building codes and beyond-code resilient building practices. Leaders who fail to adopt and enforce the right codes expose their communities to avoidable risk by trading off long-term resilience for short-term priorities.
The disaster safety movement should take a zero tolerance stance regarding leaders who fail their constituents on building code adoption and enforcement.
In nearly every case, when people and communities fare well in disasters, it is because they took action before disaster strikes, but when people die and buildings fail, the inverse is true. In the past, for understandable reasons, we collectively have had a hard time of saying so.
It’s easier to talk about survival as luck, but we know better, and we need to say so when it counts the most—even when it’s unpopular.