Friday, April 10, 2009

2009 National Hurricane Conference

I spent this week at the 2009 National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas, a city that I have never visited before. For some reason there were a lot more Texans at this conference than at previous ones I have attended. This was a good development because Texas has the most recent experience in hurricanes, having weathered a major impact from Ike last year.

Our friends from Louisiana were also in attendance and shared their experiences from their encounter with hurricane Gustav. The consensus from the people I spoke to, federal, state and private sector, is that Louisiana's emergency management prowess is not there yet but that they are much improved. Of particular note was that they managed to evacuate New Orleans in advance of Gustav without major incident.

The two most frequent questions that I received at the conference were : 1) Are you going to Washington with Craig Fugate when he takes over as the new administrator at FEMA? and 2) Who will replace Craig at Florida? My answer to the first question was "No!" and my answer to the second question was "I have no idea."

And I don't. But I heard more rumors about the second question in two days at the conference that I had in a month while in Tallahassee. I will trust in the Governor to make the right choice.

The Femites that I spoke to from around the country are understandably curious and/or concerned about the arrival of a new boss of Craig Fugate's reputation. What I know about Craig from working with and listening to him for ten years is that he is not a micromanager, that FEMA is not a first responder, that the states and localities must do more and develop more capability, and that private citizens must be survivors and not victims after a disaster.

Craig's emphasis on not using the term victim but rather survivor is not some offshoot of political correctness. A victim is someone who is hit by a disaster and then waits for the government to come and save them. A survivor is someone who takes an active role in helping themselves and others. Emergency managers can't do it all. We need some help from the citizenry.

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