Trump’s FEMA administrator faces his first big test
(CNN) — The man responsible for coordinating the federal response to the damage done by Hurricane Harvey has only been on the job for two months.
President Donald Trump selected William “Brock” Long to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency in April, and he was confirmed by the Senate with a 95 to 4 vote nearly eight weeks later. But Long is battle-tested, with decades of experience in emergency management.
Though Long only recently became the FEMA administrator, he is no stranger to the agency. He served as a regional manager there during George W. Bush’s administration before leading the Alabama Emergency Management Agency from 2008 to 2011, including during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
He most recently worked as the executive vice president for Hagerty Consulting, an emergency management firm based in Illinois.
The position of FEMA administrator is often a low-key role, but that can all change with one storm. Just ask Michael Brown, who was the face of the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though Bush initially praised him for doing a “heck of a job,” Brown later resigned in disgrace after many said the agency had underestimated the storm and mishandled its response to the crisis.
Hurricane Harvey is the first natural disaster that FEMA has faced in the Trump administration, and Long has been briefing the President regularly since Friday.
FEMA activated its National Response Coordination Center at its headquarters in Washington, where workers have been tracking the storm’s damage, along with its Regional Response Coordination Center in Denton, Texas — about four hours north of the hardest hit areas. It also set up an incident support base before the storm made landfall at an airfield near the city of Seguin, where FEMA pre-positioned supplies including water, meals, blankets and other resources near areas that would likely be affected the most.
Long said emergency management begins at the local level and that it is FEMA’s job to serve in a supportive role.
“They decide the mission priorities, they work them up through the state and our support is designed to help the states achieve those goals,” he said during an interview with Good Morning America.
Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert praised Long’s leadership as he briefed reporters at the White House as the hurricane barreled towards Texas.
“We couldn’t have picked a finer leader,” Bossert said. “He’s had state director experience; he’s had FEMA experience. He’s absolutely the top of the top.”
In an interview on CNN Sunday, Long warned that recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey could take “years.”
“This disaster recovery — this disaster is going to be a landmark event,” Long said during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” He added: “This event is nothing like Katrina.”
“This is completely different. Every storm impacts different jurisdictions differently. Every Category 4 storm is different. This is a storm that the United States has not seen yet.”
Long is also leading the agency at a time when it’s not fully staffed — Trump has nominated two deputy directors for FEMA who have yet to be confirmed. But Long said that is far from being his biggest concern.
“You know what?” Long said Sunday, “I don’t even have time to worry about it right now. But what I have seen inside my agency is, I have got some of the most dedicated people in the entire federal government, great lines of communications with the President. He’s extremely concerned, incredibly engaged.”