FL man nominated for FEMA post

Florida voluntary organizations say they have had a good working relationship with the state's emergency director who may lead FEMA.


Craig Fugate, nominated to head FEMA in the Obama administration, illustrates a point during a 2008 Leadership Briefing at the Florida Logistics Response Center. He is currently the director of that state's emergency management agency.
Credit: FEMA/George Armstrong

Craig Fugate has headed Florida’s Emergency Management Agency since 2001. Now, President Barack Obama has tapped him to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

A Florida native, he grew up in Alachua County where he was an active member of the Santa Fe High School Chapter of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) earning the American Farmer Degree. In 2005, he received Florida's Distinguished Service Medal for his work in response to the hurricanes that hit the state in 2004.

In his eight years as the director of Florida’s emergency agency, he has been known for running  a well-oiled machine that gets the job of coordinating response to disasters in the state. Fugate, members of several Florida voluntary organizations said, gives people the tools they need and then steps out of the way and allows them to get the work done.

Fugate has been praised for helping guide Florida through several devastating hurricanes since taking the top post in the state emergency management agency.

The Rev. Marcus Hepburn, director of the Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), said his organization has always worked well with Fugate. He said the emergency management agency was always ready to include the volunteers in planning and response and often presented them with an expected outcome and let them find the best way to accomplish those goals.

“He has done a very good job as head of the Florida Emergency Management Agency,” Hepburn said. “We would miss his leadership here at home, but he would be an asset to FEMA.”

Max Mayfield, who is the former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said he believes Fugate has seen enough different kinds of disasters in Florida to prepare him for the national appointment.

“Florida has seen hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires in record numbers in the time Craig has been at the helm,” he said. “He has handled them all well.”

Fugate has not been an advocate of big government response to disasters. He has often worked with faith and community responders to make sure that people get the help they need from whatever source was available. He has often sent out the message that neighbors need to help each other out in time of need with the government offering assistance and direction as needed.

“He has always been ready to help whatever group needs assistance in helping those affected by disaster,” said Becky Sebren, state coordinating point of contact for the American Red Cross in Florida. “He just wants to see those who have been affected by a disaster to get the help they need.”

Even after his nomination was announced, Fugate has continued to spread the message that has become one of his mantras in Florida: be prepared for the hurricanes so that when they strike, you are better able to handle the aftermath.

Sebren said if Fugate leaves to head the national agency, it would be a “bitter-sweet” thing for Floridians involved in emergency and disaster management. “We’ll be sorry to see him go,” Sebren said. “On the other hand, the fact that he was even nominated just underscores how well Florida does in disaster response.”

If Fugate is confirmed as the next head of FEMA, as he is expected to be, he will replace David Paulison, who was formerly a Miami-Dade (FL) fire chief.

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