FEMA Chief Fugate Wants Public Involved in Preparation Efforts

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 4, 2009

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said this week 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.

"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 on Tuesday -- 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, without providing any specific details for how he planned to recruit average Americans for the task.

Fugate touted the agency's YouTube and Twitter efforts and DisasterHelp.gov as examples of the agency's efforts to spread the word in new ways. 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're not going to get there with a sound bite or a short campaign," he said.

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