Craig FugateMonday, August 7, 2023
5:30 pm MDT
Disaster Preparation and Management in the Face of a Changing Climate
Craig Fugate is the former administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), during which time he organized recovery efforts for a record eighty-seven disasters in 2011 alone. Before that, as director of the Florida Emergency Management Division, he coordinated the state’s response to Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne (the “Big 4 of ’04”), and Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Wilma in 2005.
At FEMA, Fugate emphasized a “whole community” approach to emergency management; spearheaded the effort to build capacity to stabilize catastrophic events within 72 hours; incorporated “Thunderbolt exercises” using fake disasters and lightning inspections to train emergency operations centers and helped develop smart phone apps for citizens to use to report problems to FEMA.
On a somewhat lighter side, he is also known for the unofficial “Waffle House Index” that FEMA still uses to help determine how much attention a specific disaster area requires. He explains: “The Waffle House has a very simple operation philosophy: get open.” So if the local Waffle House is up and running in the wake of a disaster, that’s probably not the most hard-hit area. If it’s open but with a limited menu, power outages have probably knocked out freezers. If it’s still closed, the situation there is really bad and needs immediate attention.
Fugate’s interest in combatting disasters goes back a very long way. He trained as a volunteer firefighter while still in high school, attended fire college and paramedic school at Santa Fe College, and gradually rose through the ranks of Florida fire and rescue organizations until tapped by Florida Republican governor Jeb Bush in 2001 to become director of the Florida Emergency Management Division. He was then appointed FEMA Administrator by President Obama, with bipartisan support in Congress, and served in that post throughout the Obama administration.
After leaving FEMA, Fugate founded Craig Fugate Consulting LLC. He also founded disastersrus.org, a website with disaster planning advice and resources, and is a licensed amateur radio operator. In November 2020, he was a volunteer member of the Biden presidential transition team for the Department of Homeland Security.