Firefighting, Hazmat, Leadership

Paulison: “You are my support group.”

FEMA Director R. David Paulison outlined his plan to applying lessons learned from the 2005 hurricane season at FDIC’s general session in Indianapolis.

Paulison began by stating to the audience, “You are my support group.” He stated that President Bush’s appointment of a firefighter to the director of FEMA post displayed Bush’s “confidence in our service and what we do for our country.” After that, he immediately got into the meat of his presentation which was to describe his vision for how to implement changes made necessary by the 2005 hurricane season.

First, future supplies will be tracked better. A major problem during the Katrina aftermath was that supplies would leave FEMA facilities, and no one would know when/if they ended up where they were supposed to. In the future, all vehicles leaving these supply centers will be equipped with a GPS tracking system.

Emergency communications, an issue at so many incidents, was a problem. There was no flow, to the point that at times FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) weren’t communicating as they should. Stricter procedures and protocols have been developed to ensure it does not happen again. Also, new land mobile radio units and satellite communications will be used to maintain a constant stream of communication between federal, state, and local agencies.

Paulison also addressed the agency’s deficiencies in situational awareness, citing what happened at the Louisiana Superdome as an example. Paulison stated that FEMA personnel should have known what was going on there, but did not. FEMA has established recon teams to address problems like the ones at the Superdome. It will also use real-time video streaming to monitor conditions at many locations after a disaster.

Local communities will no longer be penalized for using their own contractors to remove debris after a natural disaster, greaty simplifying the debris removal process.

To better address victims’ needs, FEMA will equip multiple mobile registration vehicles to assist victims of natural disasters. And there will be a better trained, more robust disaster workforce employed at these incidents.

Paulison concluded his presentation by citing the many successes at the United States Fire Administration, which Paulison had headed since 2001. These successes include:

  • The USFA’s LODD program;
  • The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program which has distributed $3 billion to 30,000 departments since its inception; and
  • Baby/toddler fire prevention programs.

Paulison ended by asking for continued support of the USFA and encouraged all attendees to work with other agencies in their municipalities. All agencies have differences, but the fire service cannot let them stand in the way of the ultimate goal, which is to protect the people. All members of the fire service must make the commitment to work together with other agencies.