Politics & Government

FEMA chief handling Harvey response is a little-known App State grad. Is he ready?

FEMA: 'We need the whole community' to help after Harvey

Brock Long of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday called on the people of Texas and Louisiana to "be involved" as the states struggle with the devastating impact of Tropical Storm Harvey. He added that FEMA was anticipating that over
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Brock Long of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday called on the people of Texas and Louisiana to "be involved" as the states struggle with the devastating impact of Tropical Storm Harvey. He added that FEMA was anticipating that over

Brock Long is suddenly becoming a household name.

As administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he’s been all over TV news. He’s headlined news conferences and been on the ground in Texas coordinating rescue and relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the worst storm to hit the United States since Katrina in 2005.

“FEMA’s going to be there for years,” Long told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “This disaster’s going to be a landmark event.”

Until two months ago, Long was virtually unknown outside professional circles. Before his confirmation this summer, he was living in Hickory and working for a national consulting firm.

A native of Newton, 40 miles northwest of Charlotte, he earned two degrees from Appalachian State University. He went on to work in emergency management for more than 16 years before he was nominated by President Donald Trump to run FEMA. He won Senate confirmation in June by a vote of 95-4 and, unlike some presidential appointments, drew praise from all sides.

New York Magazine profiled him in a story headlined: “Trump’s FEMA Director Doesn’t Seem Incompetent.”

Unlike former FEMA director Michael Brown, famously fired for his performance during Hurricane Katrina, Long boasts a deep resume.

From 2008 to 2011, he served as director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency, where he oversaw the response to 14 disasters, including BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Before that he was FEMA’s Regional Hurricane Program Manager in Georgia, where he worked in emergency operations planning, evacuation procedures and response logistics.

And since 2011, Long worked as executive vice president at Hagerty Consulting, a nationwide emergency management consultant. From his home in Hickory, he worked on more than 50 projects across the country.

“There’s nothing that can take the place of experience, of knowledge and the skills and ability that grow from that experience,” said Lanita Lloyd, president of the U.S. Council of the International Association of Emergency Managers. “He’s definitely been a friend to emergency managers across the county. They know him. They’ll feel comfortable working with him. And they trust him to make the right decisions.”

Former Gov. Pat McCrory, who helped resettle Katrina refugees as mayor of Charlotte, was also said to be under consideration for the FEMA post.

Marvin Hoffman was running Appalachian’s graduate program in public administration when Long entered it in the late 1990s after finishing a bachelor’s in criminal justice at the school in Boone. Long was one of just a half-dozen people who planned to focus on emergency management.

“He wanted to enter into a career he knew would be challenging,” said Hoffman, who recalls Long as a serious, highly motivated student.

Hoffman’s successor, Mark Bradbury, said Long has returned often to speak to students and alumni groups.

“He has a real enthusiasm for emergency management,” Bradbury said. “He wants it done well. And he’s really tireless. Always a genuine enthusiasm in a positive way.”

Long told reporters Monday that more than 450,000 people are expected to seek disaster assistance and 30,000 will need emergency shelter after the flooding that followed Harvey left the Houston region a giant inland sea.

He said FEMA has nearly 5,000 staffers in Texas and neighboring Louisiana. They’re prepared to be there for a long time.

“While we’re focused on response right now and helping Texas respond,” he told CNN, “we’re setting up and gearing up for the next couple years.”

Speaking to the the National Governors Association in July, Long said America lacks a “culture of preparedness.”

“I believe in what I call ‘hazard amnesia,’ ” Long said, according to NPR.

“One of the things that keeps me up at night is this nation has not seen the devastation of a major land-falling hurricane since 2005. So sometimes I think we forget the worst.”

As flood waters continue to rise in and around Houston, TX, civilians and their boats are helping rescue thousands from immediate danger.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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