FEMA Nominee Vows Quicker Responses

April 27, 2009

President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the nation’s disaster response agency said he will hold the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a much higher standard than it demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In testimony prepared for his confirmation hearing last week, Craig Fugate said the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes no longer would be the benchmark for performance on his watch at FEMA.

The agency was widely criticized for its botched response to Katrina when federal help showed up late and unprepared for the deadly storm that laid devastated New Orleans, Louisiana. It faced similar problems shortly afterward in response to another violent Gulf of Mexico hurricane, Rita.

Since then, the question has been: Is the FEMA response better than it was in 2005? The answer has been yes, although no disaster has been nearly so catastrophic as Katrina.

“Although the media may use the failures of Katrina and Rita as a standard of measurement for judging the effectiveness of government, this standard does not, in my opinion, meet our sworn commitment to the American people,” Fugate said.

Fugate previously served as head of emergency management in Florida, where he worked for two Republican governors.

He has been praised for helping guide Florida through several devastating hurricanes in the past decade but was criticized in 2005 for not distributing enough ice, water and other supplies immediately after Hurricane Wilma.

Since Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has been under intense public scrutiny, and Congress passed a law requiring the head of FEMA to have emergency management experience.

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