If we've learned anything from catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and last year's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is that the federal government's commitment to disaster relief must be immediate and robust. That is a lesson not lost on Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who has received well-earned praise for his swift reaction to the devastation wrought by the deadly 312 tornadoes that ravaged seven Southern states late last month. Applying the experience gained during his able and busy tenure as head of Florida's emergency management agency, Fugate's stewardship of FEMA has demonstrated that the federal government can be an effective and comforting resource for citizens in their darkest hour of need.
Fugate already was in motion before the winds died down from the late April barrage of tornadoes, which so far have claimed at least 329 lives in seven states, caused between $2 billion and $5 billion in property damage and reduced more than 10,000 homes to kindling. He quickly advised President Barack Obama to declare an emergency disaster in Alabama, the worst hit of the seven states in the path of destruction.
Fugate knows the value of racing the clock and cutting the red tape when Mother Nature strikes, having dealt with the destruction left in the wake of seven hurricane landfalls in Florida in 2004 and 2005. Within hours of the tornadoes, Fugate and his FEMA teams arrived in Alabama, quickly opening disaster recovery centers to assist residents with financial aid, food, water and shelter. They also coordinated with local government officials and volunteer groups to help tens of thousands of displaced residents. When home and property have been lost, the last thing a distraught individual needs is to have to contend with an unresponsive and indifferent bureaucracy.
Under Fugate's leadership, an unimaginable natural disaster literally has paved the way for a textbook lesson in FEMA crisis management.
What a difference a few years can make. Once the laughingstock of the federal bureaucracy after the bumbling, dithering tenure of director Michael Brown, FEMA under Fugate prepares for the worst and hopes for the best rather than the other way around. There are still many long days and nights ahead for the victims of the tornadoes, but Fugate is ensuring that the federal government will help them through it. That is comforting for Floridians as they prepare for another hurricane season.