FEMA Deputy Administrator Dr. Daniel Kaniewski

On April 4, 2018, the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security hosted the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Deputy Administrator Dr. Daniel Kaniewski at the Elliott School of International Affairs to discuss FEMA’s reflection on the 2017 hurricane season and the Agency’s recently published 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. Dr. Kaniewski began his speech by noting the record-setting impacts that natural disasters had on the United States in 2017, recounting the tragedies and long-term impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Despite these disasters, though, Dr. Kaniewski maintained a positive outlook on the future, highlighting FEMA’s lessons learned and the successes the Agency had in its 2017 disaster response, which included the largest air and sea, commodity, and medical response missions conducted in FEMA history.     

Dr. Kaniewski emphasized the lessons learned from these disasters and subsequent recovery programs, including the need to be ready to support logistical requirements for states and U.S. territories not located near U.S. continental coastlines; the continued capability to coordinate with states to ensure long-term sheltering and housing solutions for disaster survivors; the adaptation of the Agency’s capabilities to meet the challenges of long-term infrastructure outages; and, the establishment and maintenance of partnerships across the federal government, in order to ensure that FEMA has adequate resources and staff to concurrently support numerous disasters. Dr. Kaniewski then proceeded by noting the impacts of the 2017 disaster season on the production of FEMA’s newly published strategic priorities of fostering a culture of preparedness, readying the nation for catastrophic disasters, and reducing the complexity of FEMA programs.

A major theme throughout the Deputy Administrator’s speech and subsequent discussion with CCHS Director Frank Cilluffo was the role that empowered and educated individuals can play as first responders to disasters and in subsequent recovery efforts. He noted that FEMA, along with the federal government writ large, must continue to empower both individuals and local- and state-level governments in assuming primary disaster response efforts. Dr. Kaniewski reiterated that, despite common belief, FEMA is not a first responder but is rather the promoter of a federally-supported, state-managed, locally-executed, and individually-educated emergency management complex.

In his conversation with Frank Cilluffo, the Deputy Administrator also placed emphasis on coordination with the private sector as a critical component of disaster response. Companies in the private sector, including telecommunications, oil, and gas corporations, should partner with FEMA now to improve the resilience of U.S. critical infrastructure, as a means of mitigating disaster-related issues later. FEMA has already had success in such partnerships. For example, in Puerto Rico, cellular providers rapidly fixed cellular towers and allowed for open roaming to improve destroyed communications capabilities in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

This coordination with the private sector, as well as with state and local governments in empowering themselves and their citizens, will continue to play a vital role in the execution of FEMA’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan and in reducing complexity within the Agency. To ensure the success of the Plan’s applicability and everyday use, the Deputy Administrator also highlighted the various levels of accountability within FEMA, including Administrator Long, senior executives overseeing FEMA goals, and performance managers at all levels of the Agency.

Dr. Kaniewski concluded his remarks by reiterating the importance of prepared individuals, who should be educated and insured in advance of any potential disaster, whether likely or unlikely to occur. Those who are prepared and insured, he noted, are more likely to recover quickly and fully from a disaster, and in turn be more resilient to numerous disasters, whether natural or man-made. Resiliency, in turn, reduces loss of life and disruption, creates what he notes is ‘smarter infrastructure’, and promotes continued economic stability.

Summary prepared by Aleyson Huesgen