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Former head of FEMA takes on new role at Indian River State College

Craig Fugate offers advice ahead of hurricane season
Craig Fugate at Indian River State College on May 4, 2021
Posted at 4:34 PM, May 04, 2021

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — He's been at the forefront of disaster preparedness on both the state and federal levels.

Now, Craig Fugate is bringing his expertise to the Treasure Coast to help shape how to best teach and train for emergency situations.

Fugate served as director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management when the state was battered by four hurricanes in 2004.

"The biggest lesson we learned was speed. We never get time back, so the faster we get there, the quicker we get to stabilization," Fugate said.

He then went on to serve as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Barack Obama.

"I got asked by a lot of my friends in Tallahassee, 'How's Washington?" And I said, 'It's bigger,'" Fugate joked.

Craig Fugate in 2004
Craig Fugate was the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management in 2004.

Now, he's joining the staff at Indian River State College, serving as a strategic consultant in emergency management.

"We've not always done a great job teaching them how to operate in a crisis," Fugate said.

He said students on the Fort Pierce campus should be taught more public policy.

"How many times have you heard it called a natural disaster. I'm like, 'There's no such thing. It's a natural hazard.' It only becomes a disaster where and how we have built," Fugate said.

With hurricane season just around the corner, Fugate offered his best advice on preparing now.

"Now, go get an insurance checkup. Make sure you understand what's covered and ask for flood insurance, and make sure that policy is in effect because it has to be in effect 30 days before it happens," Fugate said. "For every inch of water damage in your home, FEMA calculates as $25,000 in damage."

If you live in an evacuation zone, Fugate said your plan is to move inland, not necessarily out of state.

When it comes to home preparations, not all supplies have to cost money.

"Like take Ziploc bags, fill them full of water and throw them in the freezer. Fill in all the voids, so if the power goes out, that ice will keep things cooler, and as it melts, you've got ice-cold water," Fugate said.

Fugate said the Institute of Business and Home Safety, a group funded by insurance companies, looked at ways as to how damage occurs during a storm. Their simple trick is to close all interior doors in your home.

"They found that structural integrity of the homes improved by keeping all the interior doors closed, so if a window or something broke, it would only affect that room. It couldn't get to the rest of the house," Fugate said.

Fugate said he learned in Washington that FEMA is not the answer for everything, but he hopes to have more answers to prepare Indian River State College students for the future.