THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 1, 2008
It was tough for President Bush to find a new FEMA director.
After Michael Brown resigned in 2005 during the disastrous aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina, convincing someone to take the top spot at the Federal
Emergency Management Agency wasn't an easy sell. The New York Times reported in
April 2006 that several people had turned it down, while others had declined
other high-ranking agency jobs. At the time, out of 30 top officials in the
agency, 11 were serving on an acting basis only.
But, someone eventually answered the call to lead. R. David
Paulison, whom Bush had appointed to fill Brown's shoes temporarily in
September 2005, agreed to take on the job permanently seven months later. Here
is a rundown of Paulison's vital statistics.
EDUCATION: B.A. from Florida
Completed the Program
for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University's
John F. Kennedy School
EARLY CAREER: He began in 1971 as a firefighter and
paramedic with the North Miami Beach Fire Department. He later served in
several deputy administrative roles and eventually became chief of the
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, which had roughly 1,900 members and a
$200-million budget. He is also a past president of the International
Association of Fire Chiefs.
DISASTER EXPERIENCE PRIOR TO FEMA: He became fire chief just
three months before Hurricane Andrew ravaged Florida in 1992. Four years later, he dealt
with response to the ValuJet 592 crash in the Everglades.
During a Senate confirmation hearing in 2001, he also described overseeing responses
to several tornadoes, floods, and hazardous material spills.
FEDERAL CAREER: Since 2001, Paulison has
served in various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) roles, including
director of the U.S. Fire Administration and director of the new Preparedness
Division of the Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate. And, of
course, for the last three years he's been directing FEMA.
CONTROVERSIES: In February 2003, Paulison issued a now
famous advisory about household materials people should have on hand in the
case of a terrorist attack. (The advisory is often incorrectly attributed to
then Homeland Security Director
These materials included three days' worth of food and water, as well as duct
tape to seal off doors and windows. The advisory led to a rush
on hardware stores to purchase duct tape. Some comedians and bloggers, among
others, dubbed the situation "duct and cover."
Since Paulison took over the agency, FEMA has faced
criticisms that the emergency trailers it provided to Katrina victims--at a
slower than acceptable pace, according to many--might contain high levels of
formaldehyde, a carcinogen. The agency has been accused of downplaying the
risks of the substance. In late 2007, it announced it would begin testing the
structures--and now, the agency's method of providing mass emergency housing,
should another disaster arise, remains unclear.