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FEMA Chief Wants Greater Public Role in Preparing for Disasters

By Ed O'Keefe

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said Tuesday that he will devote considerable efforts to boosting citizen participation in disaster preparedness, a shift from previous emergency management perceptions of the general public as a liability. Part of those efforts, he said, should include a concerted effort by the federal government to better promote preparedness as a basic American responsibility.

Craig Fugate
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. (AP)

“As we prepare for disasters, we have to look at the public as a resource, not as a liability," Fugate said during a conference call with homeland security bloggers -- one of the first times a DHS official has hosted a forum exclusively for online journalists.

"With all the other stuff we do at FEMA, that’s one area that you’ll probably hear and see me talk about more consistently than probably any other subject," he said.

Fugate touted the agency's YouTube, Twitter and RSS efforts and DisasterHelp.gov as examples of the agency's efforts to spread the word in new ways. The agency is now focused on establishing more of a two-way conversation with its online audience, he said, and is working on personalizing its online offerings.

During a visit to FEMA headquarters late last week, President Obama urged residents of hurricane-prone areas to plan ahead for this year's tropical weather, suggesting that preparedness is a responsibility of citizenship.

Fugate agreed, but cautioned that changing the perception of preparedness will take a long-term concerted effort. It took broad public campaigns to alter the nation's views on smoking and seat belt use, he said, suggesting similar efforts will be necessary to sell the importance of disaster preparedness.

"I’m not sure what’s going to work," Fugate admitted. When asked, he said it will take much more than statements similar to the one Obama made last week.

"You look at seat belts, you look at smoking, the bully pulpit itself did not bring about the change," he said.

“I look at preparedness in the same vein: You’re not going to get there with a soundbite, or a short campaign."

FEMA is slated to announce plans today to virtually give away roughly 1,800 mobile homes to 3,400 families and will also will make available $50 million in rental vouchers to eligible trailer occupants. Fugate stayed silent on the matter when pressed yesterday, deferring to a spokesman.

Obama nominated Fugate in mid-March and won Senate confirmation last month following a delay prompted by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 3, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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