FEMA Chief W. Craig Fugate

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Phil Coale / AP

Craig Fugate, left, accompanied by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Fugate is President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Craig is the right person for the job and will ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated," President Barack Obama proclaimed after nominating W. Craig Fugate to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Figuring out what the President was alluding do isn't rocket science: the agency's inability to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and George W. Bush's now-infamous accolade of then-FEMA director Michael Brown ("Heck of a job, Brownie!") have become touchstones of bureaucratic mismanagement. (See Obama's White House.)

If confirmed, Fugate will take over a 4,400-worker agency charged with the daunting task of rescuing America from man-made and natural disasters, as well as nuclear attack. Luckily, Fugate, 49, has plenty of emergency experience, having served as the go-to guy when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan battered Florida's coast in 2004, followed by Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005 — not to mention the various droughts, tornadoes, wildfires and tropical storms that have visited the state during his nearly 15-year tenure as assistant director and then director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. (Read "A Brief History Of FEMA.")


• Born at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, the son of a career Navy veteran. His mother died when he was 11; his father when he was 16.

• Became a volunteer firefighter in high school, like his father and his uncle. Later attended Florida State Fire College.

• After working as a paramedic and a fire department lieutenant, Fugate went on to serve 10 years as Alachua County's emergency management chief, a position that reportedly came with a basement office that was so tiny Fugate had to dodge the door when unexpected visitors dropped by or risk getting hit in the head.

• Liked to surprise the 130 state employees he oversaw with "thunderbolt" exercises by walking into their offices and saying, "Okay — there's a fire in the building and you have to evacuate. What do you do?"

• A self-described Democrat, he was tapped by Republican Governor Jeb Bush in 2001 to head Florida's Division of Emergency Management. He was kept in the powerful state post by Florida's next Governor, Republican Charlie Crist.

• Turned down George W. Bush's nomination to replace Michael Brown, who resigned in September 2005 amid a public outcry over his handling of Hurricane Katrina relief. Fugate has said he declined the job because "the timing wasn't right."

Quotes about Fugate:

"This one really has me worried. I wish a certain governor was from Louisiana ... and his emergency manager."
— Michael Brown, blasting Louisiana officials in an Aug. 27, 2005 email to Fugate while praising his and Governor Jeb Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina in Florida (AP, Oct. 17, 2005)

"Craig Fugate is widely considered to be among the very best emergency managers in the country, and Florida is being looked upon as one of the very best prepared states."
— Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder (Florida Trend magazine, Mar. 01, 2006)

"Kudos to President Obama for a great choice."
— Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, praising Fugate's nomination (The Miami Herald, Mar. 5, 2009)

Quotes from Fugate:

"There should not be any more hurricane amnesia in Florida."
— On the four hurricanes that devastated the state in 2004 — later dubbed "The Big 4 of '04" — after several years of doomsday predictions never came true. (AP, May 10, 2005)

"There is a tendency to think that we are a very sophisticated modern society and disasters shouldn't be this inconvenient for those of us not directly impacted. The reality is no nation is that well immune to catastrophic disaster."
— When asked about Floridians who complained that ice and water didn't immediately arrive on the scene following Hurricane Wilma, even though Fugate and his staff had successfully cut their response time in half (TIME, September 12, 2005)

"It's a good document, [but] we may have to use a 2-by-4 on a couple of folks."
— On resistance to the newly unveiled "National Response Plan," the government's 426-page manual introduced after Hurricane Katrina (AP, May 31, 2006)

"Pigs do fly."
— In a Twitter message shortly after Obama announced Fugate's FEMA nomination (New York Times, Mar. 5, 2009)

— With reporting by Michael Peltier/Tallahassee