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FEMA Prototypes Design For Rapid Response

When Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead, Florida in 1992, FEMA was excoriated by media and lawmakers for its slow, uncoordinated response. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was originally authorized to assist local response efforts, when asked, and for the most part, stayed out of view of the camera.

Nonetheless, after Hurricane Andrew, lawmakers took to grilling FEMA’s director James Lee Witt demanding the agency improve. Witt, a Bill Clinton appointee and one of the more respected FEMA directors, decided that the agency’s communications need to improve.

FEMA is always operating somewhere in the nation, providing federal assistance, even sometimes for years afterward.  To satisfy Witt, a team of communications managers and professionals gathered atop Mt. Weather, a government outpost located near Winchester, Va., roughly 50 miles from the nation’s capital. The team looked to ways of responding in a variety of emergency situations. They developed a blueprint for how FEMA could deploy communications in 48 hours. They then ran successive drills to prototype ways of responding.

A few weeks later, a tornado ripped through much of Arkansas, leveling towns to the point in which residents could not navigate to find where their houses once stood. The disaster provided a trial run for FEMA’s new communications plans, including tents with stations to advise residents where to find shelter and food, and how to file insurance claims. Besides helping repair FEMA’s reputation, residents were able to more quickly restore normalcy.

Steven Slater

Steven has spent decades in the service industry, aligned to building programs (services) for membership organizations, consumer brands, professional services, and, public agencies and non-profits reach the general public or specific demographics. Steven has a Master’s in Marketing Sciences (MBA program) from the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University; a Master’s in Arts in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University; a Bachelor’s of Arts in International Relations and Communications from Syracuse University; and an International Baccalaureate from the International School of Geneva, Switzerland.

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