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Obama's Brazil Visit Overshadowed By Libya


Welcome to the program.

CRAIG FUGATE: Thanks for having me.

HANSEN: I'll start with the big question: Is FEMA prepared for the next disaster?

FUGATE: Well, you know, when everybody says what's the next disaster - let's put it in the backdrop or the context of what we're seeing in Japan. And the answer is we're much better prepared than we were from Hurricane Katrina. But one of the lessons that we learned is we have to look at not just what government is going to do but the whole team, including the private sector, volunteer and the faith-based. But also recognizing that many of us need to prepare to the best of our abilities.

HANSEN: So, be specific. How does your agency coordinate with the response teams at the state and local level?

FUGATE: So when people ask who's in charge? Why isn't somebody in charge of this? It's a very simple answer: It's the elected leadership at that level of government that's managing that disaster. So it is the mayor, the governor, and ultimately the president in supporting them but not in charge of that disaster. That's our job to facilitate and coordinate that.

HANSEN: You know, it's often the surprise event that that catches people unawares and can turn into catastrophes. How vivid is your imagination when you are plotting out certain disaster scenarios?

FUGATE: What we learn is you can not plan to what you're capable of doing. You have to plan against the events that could happen and build systems that start with that and can scale down; versus that you going to scale up from small disasters and be successful in a catastrophic event.

HANSEN: But wasn't failure of imagination part of the explanation for the Katrina effort?

FUGATE: WE'RE moving stuff out of these warehouses up closer to where it may be needed this flood season, without actually having a formal request yet.

HANSEN: Considering the fears in Japan now about uncontrolled radiation from the failed nuclear power station, is your agency prepared to handle a nuclear emergency?

FUGATE: So these are the things that are around every commercial nuclear power plant in this country. There are exercises and drills held every year to ensure that we can execute plans if something happens.

HANSEN: Do you think the average American is adequately prepared for a disaster?

M: No. But I also recognize that for most people, even seeing what's seeing happening in Japan is it won't happen here. And given everything we're dealing with, I think sometimes we tell people you need to get prepared because of that. And they go: Well, that won't happen here; that such a low probability of an event.

HANSEN: Work on a family communications plan and then start from there. Go to our website Ready.gov and take those steps. But start first with a family communication plan. It pays off with everyday events.

HANSEN: FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. Thank you for coming in to our Washington, D.C. studio.

FUGATE: It was an honor. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.