Earlier this week, Craig Fugate, director of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) emphasized the importance of public officials learning how to respond to hurricanes and other powerful storms, and also said that the state of the economy was not an excuse to forgo preparation.
Speaking at the National Hurricane Conference in Atlanta, Fugate said, “As much as we talk about the public, this team is constantly changing. There has been a tremendous turnover. How many of the elected leadership are going to participate — and not just for the photo op?”
He stressed that mayors, governors and others have to participate in hurricane preparedness drills in order to really understand the sorts of decisions they may have to make during this summer’s Atlantic hurricane season, which begins in a bit over a month. He also urged the emergency management community to use social media to keep the public engaged in the process, and stressed that they need to work with private sector responders when handling disasters.
When asked if budget concerns would affect state and local governments’ response to disasters like hurricanes, or the recent spate of tornadoes in the Midwest and South, Fugate was dismissive, saying, “Just because the economy’s horrible doesn’t mean hurricanes stop.”
Also speaking at the conference was National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read, who reviewed last year’s hurricane season, which, he said, had the highest number of the storms without a landfall in the United States.
Among his priorities this year, said Read, are outreach to boost community preparation and public empowerment. His top concern is Haiti, where 1.5 million people are still living in tents, putting them at an even greater risk than ever from a major hurricane.
Read said, “That’s going to be my biggest gut check. I don’t know how many people can be safely dealt with in a hurricane of that magnitude.”