Back to Officials


Name: Fugate, Craig
Current Position: Previous Administrator

Taking over the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one of the most historically ridiculed federal operations in the United States, is W. Craig Fugate, whom some have called “Mr. Hurricane.” Fugate brings a long resume of tackling disasters, after heading up Florida’s version of FEMA for most of this decade. Fugate assumed the office in May 2009.

A native Floridian whose ancestry traces back to Spanish land grants, Fugate, 49, was born at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, the son of a career Navy veteran. He grew up outside Gainesville in the town of Alachua. His mother died when he was 11 years old, and his father five years later. He was active in the Future Farmers of America chapter at Santa Fe High School in Alachua. Then, in addition to raising cows, he became a volunteer firefighter like his father and his uncle.
Fugate went to the Florida State Fire College. After graduating, he signed on as a paramedic with Alachua County. In time he became a lieutenant in the fire department, and a management training program led to his appointment as the county’s emergency rescue manager in 1987.
He served 10 years as the emergency rescue manager for Alachua County, until May 1997, when he was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Preparedness and Response with the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM). He was heavily involved in the state’s response to the massive fires of 1998 and the drought that plagued Florida in the early part of this decade.
Fugate eventually rose to deputy director and was in charge of running the state’s Emergency Operations Center, before Republican Governor Jeb Bush tabbed Fugate on October 3, 2001, to take over FDEM. This made Fugate something of a rarity in Florida—a Democrat being asked to join a GOP administration.  Fugate considers himself a fiscal conservative and somewhat of a libertarian on social issues.
Taking control of Florida’s emergency management division meant coordinating disaster response, recovery, preparedness and mitigation efforts with the state’s 67 counties and local governments. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Fugate oversaw the management of Federal Homeland Security funding for Florida and developing the state’s Domestic Security Strategy with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
In 2004, Florida was impacted by four major hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne), setting a record in both numbers of storms as well as damages for the state. In 2005, Florida was again impacted by four hurricanes with Hurricane Dennis and Wilma striking as major hurricanes (Category 3 or greater). That year, Fugate had to deal with meddling US military officials who tried to step in and take over emergency operations. The Pentagon’s Northern Command, established as a domestic military force after 9/11, tried to take charge in Florida before Rita crossed the Florida Keys. Then, six days before Wilma hit, a three-star general called the Florida National Guard commander to say he was flying troops into Florida and would set up a joint command. Gov. Bush intervened by calling Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff to complain about the unnecessary intrusion. Chertoff, who worked for Bush’s brother, agreed to the governor’s request.
Fugate did take some heat in 2005 for not distributing enough ice, water and other supplies immediately after Hurricane Wilma. Fugate had warned residents before the storm that they should have enough supplies for three days after it passed, but many did not, which taxed the state’s emergency supplies.
In December 2006, Republican Governor Charlie Crist reappointed Fugate as director of FDEM. During his tenure as Florida’s top emergency official, Fugate has dealt with 23 Declared State Emergencies, 11 of which were Presidential Declared Disasters totaling over $4.5 billion in federal assistance.
His nomination to take charge of FEMA was praised by the International Association of Emergency Managers, members of Congress, Jeb Bush, and other emergency management officials. “He’s not your typical government bureaucrat,” said Max Mayfield, the former director of the National Hurricane Center. “He has a grasp of all aspects of emergency management from preparedness to response to recovery.”
“Craig is an unflappable, steadying influence for the state,” said Wayne Sallade, the emergency management director in Charlotte County, FL, echoing other comments that Fugate is often “the calmest guy in the room” when disaster strikes.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Fugate will be the second Floridian to head FEMA—after the infamous Michael Brown, who led FEMA during the Katrina crisis in New Orleans.
Fugate and his wife Sheree (whom he married in January 2002) are enthusiastic sea kayakers and Fugate maintains a web site on the subject.
Craig Fugate’s Sea Kayaking Blog (
Obama picks Florida's Fugate to head FEMA (by Eileen Sullivan and Brent Kallestad, Associated Press)
Calmest Guy in the Room (by Neil Skene, Florida Trend)
Bookmark and Share