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Most people think of hurricanes and tornadoes when they think of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but the agency has also been responding to another emergency: Covid-19. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell discussed all facets of her organization’s mission on Government Matters.

  • Criswell explained that FEMA manages not just natural disasters, but also pandemics and man-made events including cyber attacks, bringing together all relevant players to mitigate impacts.
  • FEMA’s role during Covid-19 has been to support the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and has evolved to encompass testing, vaccination, healthcare system expansion and resource distribution, said Criswell.
  • Disasters start with local jurisdictions, which go to states for assistance when capacity is exceeded, Criswell explained. States can then ask for either an emergency declaration or a major disaster declaration from the president, but FEMA can step in before that.
  • Some of the incidents FEMA is currently working to stabilize are flash flooding in Tennessee, Hurricane Ida in Louisiana, tornadoes in Kentucky and fires in Colorado, said Criswell.
  • She said the key for coordination is making sure FEMA has relationships in place ahead of time through preparedness efforts, adding that regional administrators are instrumental.
  • Criswell said it is important to start preparing more for future risks by learning how to better model anticipated events.
  • Criswell said disasters have increased in recent years, leading to longer, more complicated recoveries.
  • She said more than half of FEMA’s workforce are reservists, crucial to disaster response, and the agency can augment them with full-time staff and the Department of Homeland Security’s surge capacity force.
  • Criswell said she is really excited about an upcoming 2024 national level exercise that will focus on climate resilience, providing webinars, tabletop exercises and educational sessions with the emergency management community.
  • She said FEMA has prioritized equity in its strategic plan as it will be a critical component for the agency to move forward.

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