Commentary

Advice from W. Craig Fugate: Learn, Do Not Just Observe

by W. Craig Fugate

I was only 31 when I started in emergency management. There are a lot of young emergency mangers out there faced with some pretty hefty responsibilities. If I were to provide advice to the next generation of emergency managers, I would say this: Don’t let past lessons learned be only lessons observed.

W. Craig Fugate headshotIn a crisis, we tend to do what is comfortable. Even experienced emergency managers tend to plan for what will likely happen instead of what may happen in a worst-case scenario. We look at past events – even catastrophic events – and do not change our plans. We simply observe, but do not learn.

Today, we often teach young emergency managers what to do, without teaching them why. Without that “why” factor, they cannot adapt; yet adapting is the key to a successful crisis response. The focus should be more on training and education, more on why we do things, not simply what to do. If we focus on the “why” factor and emphasize adaptive planning, we will be able to adjust much more quickly and effectively when we need to adjust our plans.

For young emergency managers, do not just observe past events, study them, learn from them, and adapt your own strategies accordingly based on the “why” factor. Ask yourself, “Why did things fail, and how can we adapt to ensure a successful response next time?” It is never too late to learn that lesson.

W. Craig Fugate is currently senior advisor to the chief executive officer at The Cadmus Group Inc., a strategy and analysis company serving the homeland security, energy, and environmental communities. Previously, he served as the Administrator of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from May 2008 to January 2017. Prior to his tenure at FEMA, he served as the state of Florida’s emergency management director from 2001 through 2009. In 2016, he received the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Lacy E. Suiter Award for lifetime achievements and contributions in the field of emergency management.