FEMA's Challenge: To Get People Ready For Irene



That is part of the reason the government is urging people to begin now taking this storm very seriously.

Craig Fugate heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he joins us on the line from Washington, D.C.

Good morning.

Mr. CRAIG FUGATE (Administrator, FEMA): Good morning.

GREENE: What is your sense of the effect that this storm could have? I read a pretty powerful quote from Max Mayfield, the former director of the National Hurricane Center. He said one of his greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane ride up the Northeast Coast.

Mr. FUGATE: Yeah, this is - again, you tend to think down in North Carolina, where they've had these before. But a lot of folks up in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and New England states don't really think about hurricanes. And so that's been the challenge, to get people to get ready, and to heed evacuation orders as required.

GREENE: Well, let's take a place like New York, that isn't used to being right in a hurricane's path. What is your agency doing there already to start getting people ready?

Mr. FUGATE: Well, again, in the state of New York, in that area, we've been moving supplies ahead of time, getting our teams into the State Emergency Operations Center and establishing liaisons with the New York City Office of Emergency Management.

I mean, a lot of this is really based upon the catastrophic planning that's been done in these regions, working with local and state officials. So, you know, we're getting ready for that. But the other part of it is just for the public to get ready. And that window of getting ready is going to close very quickly for many residents, particularly in the New York City area.

GREENE: And let's look at the exact path of the storm. I mean, North Carolina, we're talking about landfall and then moving northward. What are you recommending for people who are in the direct path at this point?

Mr. FUGATE: Well, it's really basic. If you're in the evacuation zones and evacuation orders have been given, you need to heed those evacuation orders and move to a safer location.

If you're not in that evacuation zone, you need to be prepared for heavy rainfall, flooding, power outages, trees down. And make sure you have supplies on hand for at least no less than three days, maybe longer. And again, be prepared for a lot of disruptions, power outages for days to weeks, you know, a lot of trouble trying to get around with flooding.

So if you're not an evacuation zone, make sure you have the supplies you need for your family, be safe. And for the first couple days of this storm, as it comes through, probably the best place to be will be in the safety of your home outside an evacuation zone, not having to go get stuff right away when the storm comes through.

GREENE: And real briefly, Mr. Fugate, what about cities like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, you know, real urban centers, where people aren't used to facing, you know, this sort of weather?

Mr. FUGATE: You know, the - haven't been up here for a couple of years, it's like the blizzards, except we won't be able to move all the water with the front-end loaders. You know, you're going to have power outages. We're going to have a lot of flooding, particularly those areas that flooded previous storms, along the low-lying areas of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay.

Again, even though we're not forecasted yet to get hurricane-force winds this far inland, we need to be prepared for strong, gusty winds, heavy rainfall, flash-flooding and power outages. So, again, stock up, get your supplies. When the storm gets here, tune to your local stations to get the best information about what to do. And stay inside.

GREENE: We'll have to stop you there. Thank you so much.

Craig Fugate is the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator. Thanks so much.

Mr. FUGATE: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.