Correction to This Article
A Sept. 13 article about R. David Paulison, the new acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, incorrectly said that he was formerly president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. He was president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
New FEMA Chief

Paulison Is Skilled at Disasters

By Spencer S. Hsu and Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

R. David Paulison, appointed yesterday as acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has encountered disaster before: three months before Hurricane Andrew laid waste to part of South Florida in 1992, he became chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.

When one of the nation's worst natural disasters hit, he helped direct rescue and response efforts for the county even as 400 firefighters were made homeless by the storm.

Paulison was not available for interviews yesterday, FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said. But in testimony during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2001, Paulison said he headed Miami-Dade County's Office of Emergency Management and had handled hazardous materials spills, floods, tornadoes and deadly accidents such as a 1996 jetliner crash into the Florida Everglades.

"Whether in response to a major fire, as incident commander for Hurricane Andrew or in response to the crash of ValuJet 592, I have seen firsthand the need for communication and cooperation during the planning, response, recovery and rebuilding phases after disasters," Paulison told the Senate Commerce Committee.

International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold A. Schaitberger, whose organization Paulison formerly headed, said Paulison "not only has the administrative experience and skills that you need at the bureaucratic level, he really understands what the troops need on the front line."

Currently U.S. fire administrator and head of FEMA's division of preparedness, Paulison has a long list of emergency management credentials and was confirmed by the Senate for his current job. Those are two key considerations for an administration scrambling to rebut criticism that it has stocked the agency with unseasoned political appointees and de-emphasized natural disaster preparedness.

In a brief written statement, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he appreciated Paulison's "willingness to take on the vital task of leading FEMA during this challenging time."

"Regaining the confidence of the American people through actions, not press releases, will be job one for David Paulison," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who praised Paulison's appointment as "great news" and called on him to surround himself with experienced professionals. She said he must "turn his attention to what went wrong in the federal response to this tragedy and make sure it can never happen again."

Under a pending reorganization announced by Chertoff, the FEMA division that Paulison headed would be removed from the agency and merged into a new homeland security section responsible for emergency preparedness and planning.

In 1971, Paulison became a firefighter with the North Miami Beach Fire Department, which was absorbed by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department in the early 1980s. He worked as a rescue lieutenant, battalion commander, district chief of operations, division chief, assistant chief and deputy director for administration before becoming chief, according to his FEMA biography.

Chertoff said he would make additional FEMA appointments "in the days ahead," including a new, permanent deputy FEMA director.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company