FEMA Head Brown Quits, Replaced by Emergency Management Pro

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - Michael Brown, the embattled head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and under secretary for emergency preparedness and response, submitted his resignation today to President George W. Bush.

The resignation comes amidst a storm of criticism for Brown's ineffective handling of response to Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and claimed the lives of an undetermined number of others when it struck the Gulf Coast August 29.

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As head of FEMA, Michael Brown (left) participates in a news conference with President George W. Bush and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco September 5. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Brown said, "I came to the conclusion that this was in the best interest of not just the administration and not just me, but FEMA. They need to be focused on the continuing efforts in the Gulf."

The President is in the hurricane-stricken area today touring New Orleans and Gulfport, Mississippi. He made no direct comment on Brown's resignation, but he did announce his intention to nominate Chief R. David Paulison, administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration within FEMA, to fill Brown's role.

Amidst criticism that he mismanaged the intial response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Brown was recalled to Washington Friday from Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, where he was overseeing FEMA's response to the hurricane.

U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen took over for Brown Friday as the top official in charge of response to Katrina. Vice Admiral Allen is third in command of the Coast Guard and was overseeing New Orleans relief and rescue efforts.

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U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen (Photo courtesy USCG)
Brown appeared bumbling and clueless when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, trapping thousands of displaced people in the New Orleans Convention Center while Brown said he was unaware of their existence.

An attorney and former official of the International Arabian Horse Association, Brown became director of FEMA in 2003 after serving as deputy to his college roommate, Joe Allbaugh. Brown was further weakened by a report in "Time" magazine on Thursday that he slightly reworded his resume to make his past emergency management experience appear stronger than it was.

Brown is blamed for the fact that FEMA is moving more slowly to find temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina evacuees than it did last year to supply victims of Hurricane Ivan with housing. Deputy Director of the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness Col. Jeff Smith said Sunday he complained to Vice President Dick Cheney about the problem. Smith is asking FEMA to "cut some red tape" and get housing happening now for thousands of displaced people.

Still, Brown's immediate superior, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had words of praise today for the departing Brown. "Mike managed over 160 disasters during his tenure at FEMA, and his service in those disasters has been commended by many."

"He has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to the unprecedented challenge posed by Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans levee breach," Chertoff said.

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Chief R. David Paulison has been serving as head of the U.S. Fire Administration within FEMA. (Photo courtesy Department of Homeland Security)
The man nominated to take Brown's place, Chief David Paulison of Florida, will serve as acting under secretary for emergency preparedness and response as well as acting director of FEMA.

Paulison is an old hand at emergency management with more than 30 years of experience. He worked his way up the ranks from firefighter to chief of the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department. In that position, he oversaw 1,900 personnel with a $200 million operating budget and a $70 million capital budget. He also oversaw the Dade County Emergency Management office.

Paulison served as the director of the Preparedness Division of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate/FEMA, in the newly created Department of Homeland Security, from 2003-2004. During his tenure, Paulison administered programs designed to strengthen state and community emergency preparedness in order to reduce loss of life and property due to disaster.

He administered first responder grant programs totaling more than $1 billion; and oversaw more than 350 employees. He was also responsible for training federal, state, and local emergency managers and first responders, and for conducting a nationwide program of exercises.

Paulison is a former president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and also served on a Defense Sciences Board advisory group providing local emergency response expertise to the military.

In the days ahead, Secretary Chertoff says he expects to make additional appointments to the FEMA team, including a permanent deputy director to augment the resources available to assist with FEMA’s mission.