As early as July 2010, Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, has been talking about a “whole community” approach at FEMA. During testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in March 2011, Mr. Fugate explained that the “whole community” approach “recognizes that FEMA is not the nation’s emergency management team – FEMA is only a part of the team. In order to successfully prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards, we must work with the entire emergency management community. This ‘Whole Community’ includes FEMA and our partners at the federal level; our state, local, tribal and territorial governmental partners; non-governmental organizations like faith-based and non-profit groups and private sector industry; and most importantly, individuals, families, and communities, who continue to be our greatest assets and the key to our success.”
Many people (especially FEMA employees and local municipalities) fondly remember “Project Impact: Building Disaster Resilient Communities” introduced by James Lee Witt in 1997. While not exactly the same, it seems that Fugate’s vision of a “whole community” is very much in line with the values and principles evinced by “Project Impact”. A couple of years ago I was in FEMA’s Region III office and I still saw hats and pins for Project Impact!
With the release of the National Disaster Recovery Framework and the promise of forthcoming frameworks for mitigation and preparedness, Mr. Fugate’s time at FEMA has been revolutionary. Under his watch, FEMA has experienced an incredible number of disaster declarations. From 2009 to this current moment, FEMA has been charged with response and recovery operations for 238 disaster declarations. For context, from 1980-1989, FEMA only had 237 disaster declarations! Mr. Fugate’s calm and effective leadership during extraordinary times is not just noteworthy, but is worthy of study for future generations.
Amid talk of a “new, new FEMA” and along with all the progress FEMA and the emergency management field in general has made since Hurricane Katrina, the timing is perfect for Mr. Fugate’s vision of a whole community strategy to motivate a new generation of public servants at all levels (whether they are in the Federal/state/local/tribal government or a community organization/volunteer active in disasters).