Now-former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate, KK4INZ, told a US House subcommittee this week that the agency needs to have a new and experienced administrator soon, or it could lose its forward momentum. That sentiment was echoed by House members during a February 28 hearing on FEMA’s future held by the House Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee.
“It’s not a good job to do on-the-job-training,” Fugate told lawmakers. “It’s too brutal, and the citizens deserve better.” He said that whoever ends up heading the agency should understand that FEMA’s role in disaster response “is not about putting FEMA in charge.”
“My parting advice for the FEMA team was to continue going big, going early, going fast, and being smart about it,” Fugate said in his written testimony. The new FEMA head should build upon “the strides the agency has made since [Hurricane] Katrina.” During his time at FEMA, from 2009 until this January, Fugate was a strong supporter of Amateur Radio as a communication resource in disasters.
The hearing was the second in a series that will provide recommendations to the next FEMA Administrator. Former FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison also testified. The officially vacant position is being filled for now by Robert Fenton Jr., FEMA’s Region IX administrator.
Fugate focused on Amateur Radio’s role in disasters during a recent interview on HamRadioNow, explaining to host Gary Pearce, KN4AQ, how he became familiar with emergency management from the ground up, first as volunteer firefighter and paramedic in Florida, and then as head of Alachua County’s emergency management program for 10 years. That experience, he said, “was my first intersection with Amateur Radio.” He eventually self-studied for his license and passed the test after arriving in Washington.
He told Pearce that FEMA supports state, local, and tribal governments in emergencies and disasters, and will work with whatever resources are available. While it has taken advantage of radio amateurs and signed a Memorandum of Agreement with ARRL in 2014, the agency looks at Amateur Radio “a bit differently.”
“We’ll work with whoever’s up and operating,” said Fugate, who has not quite taken off his FEMA hat. He said that could be an ARES group, a RACES group, or an individual radio amateur who may have key information coming out of an area hit by an emergency.
“Training is great,” he told Pearce. “We shouldn’t think it’s exclusionary.” He said FEMA needs to remain open to any Amateur Radio resource available, “because that person may be the only one up and running.”
Fugate told Pearce that FEMA under his watch tried to be inclusionary, taking advantage of the entire spectrum of radio amateurs, not just the institutionalized emergency communication organizations. “If you have the luxury of being exclusionary,” he said, “it’s probably not a bad disaster.” Fugate said that while he favors formal emergency communications training, those completing the courses may not always be available when a disaster strikes.
Fugate said now that he’s home in Florida, he is hoping to have more opportunities to pursue his interest in digital modes. He belongs to the Gainesville Amateur Radio Society (GARS).