This interview with Craig Fugate, who is administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was conducted, edited and condensed by Deborah Solomon of the New York Times.
It has been five years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and undermined our faith in the competence of government. Now that we're entering another hurricane season, have you thought about what could happen if winds whip up the waters around the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill?
Thought about it a lot. Not much changes.
Wouldn't the oil be blown all over the place?
Actually, it would probably be mixed up and broken up even further. If there's oil present after the storm, that would increase the cost of cleanup. But other than that, there's not that much difference from what we're going to be doing in the initial steps of a hurricane.
Your predecessor, Michael Brown, became a symbol of mismanagement when President Bush praised him for doing "a heck of a job" after the storm hit.
Mike Brown is a lot of things, but he wasn't this two-headed monster that they made him out to be. You're not really fixing the problem if you blame just one person.
In 2001, Jeb Bush appointed you head of Florida's emergency services. Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
Had you met President Obama before you became the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency?
No. I was interviewed by Janet Napolitano. I thought it was a good meeting.
She offered you the job that day?
No. There was no job offer; there was no mention of what position I had interviewed for.
Didn't you ask?
It didn't seem relevant.
At a time when President Obama has stocked his staff with Ivy League alumni, you've acquired reverse prestige as a former fireman and paramedic who never finished college.
I'm the exception to the rule. I wouldn't hold me up as an example of what people can do without a degree. I must have slipped through the cracks.
You were raised in Alachua, outside Gainesville. Is it true that both of your parents had died by the time you graduated from high school?
My mom died when I was 10 and my dad when I was 15.
Had your mother been sick for a long time?
No, it was one of these sudden illnesses. She had a lot of — well, she died of suicide.
I'm so sorry. Who took care of you after your parents' deaths?
When my mother died, my dad was still in the Navy, so my sisters and I went to live with my grandmother, his mother.
What was your grandmother like?
She worked as a postal clerk until she retired. She was great. Everybody knew her both as my grandmother and a surrogate grandmother to everybody.
It's very interesting that someone with such a difficult childhood grew up to be head of emergency control for the nation. It sounds as if your childhood instilled in you an extreme sense of responsibility.
I don't know if I'd put it that way. To me, it just seems like I just do stuff. Everybody tries to attribute it to something in my background, something in my family. I'm more Zen-like. I don't know if there's a reason.
Do you think there are ever moments in life that are so horrible that nothing can be done to help?
You have to step back and say, okay, there is nothing I can do right now. What is the next possible moment I can have an impact? You have to start defining what you are trying to achieve, what outcome you need to get to be stable, and start planning back from that.
How much water should we all be storing in our homes, in case of an emergency?
About a gallon a day for water. That's the rule of thumb.
What sort of food do you recommend stockpiling?
How much cash?
It depends. I don't think you need to maintain Fort Knox.
Have people told you, "Craig, you're doing a heck of a job" 30,000 times by now?
Not 30,000 times. But more than once.