New FEMA Head's Little Trick: Counting Waffle Houses

Craig Fugate brings years of know-how to disaster recovery

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 4, 2012 4:16 PM CST

(Newser) – Obama administration officials aren't exactly known for wearing cowboy boots and talking about Waffle Houses. But Craig Fugate, current head of FEMA, brings a down-to-earth attitude to the post he's held since 2009, the New York Times reports. Supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, Fugate brings a philosophy unusual for FEMA: preparing and stocking up for disasters ahead of time. "Because we always talk about FEMA so much,” he says, “I think the general public assumes we are part of the [initial] response team."

FEMA is actually designed to provide financial aid, search-and-rescue, and water removal—but Fugate likes positioning supplies before disaster strikes, to avoid the boondoggles that dogged Hurricane Katrina relief. No doubt Fugate learned real-world lessons as a volunteer fireman and paramedic, and head of Florida emergency management, before taking over FEMA. As for the Waffle Houses, he likes gauging the health of a post-disaster economy by how many are open. The northeast doesn't have many, however, so he's assessing Superstorm Sandy recovery by two new indicators: Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.

President Barack Obama and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate walk from the White House to Marine One, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate gestures during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug., 29, 2011.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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