- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

R. David Paulison yesterday began work as acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency with a clean slate and the full backing of President Bush to help rebuild the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.

“I can’t deal with what happened in the last two weeks, but I can tell you from this point forward, we are going to be focusing on the victims of this hurricane,” Mr. Paulison said.

Getting victims off cots and out of the Astrodome and church basements into homes is the focus, Mr. Paulison said in a press briefing with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“We’ve had a hurricane of unimaginable proportions, and we’re going to deal with it. We’re going to get those people out of shelters, and we’re going to move and get them the help that they need,” said Mr. Paulison, who was chief of the Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue Department from 1992 to 2001.

Mr. Paulison, whose experience in hurricane recovery began just two weeks on the job as Miami’s fire chief when Hurricane Andrew slammed the city, takes the helm of the federal agency two weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

He replaces Michael D. Brown, who resigned Monday after state and local officials said FEMA failed in responding to the storm and critics questioned his limited background in overseeing disaster relief.

“If ever a government agency needed rescuing, it’s FEMA, and Mr. Paulison has the right credentials for this crucial job,” declared a Miami Herald editorial yesterday.

Capt. Faye Davis, president of the predominantly black Miami-Dade chapter of the Progressive Firefighters Association, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that Mr. Paulison “did a good job being sensitive to our concerns.”

“I think Chief Paulison is going to bring to FEMA a sense of urgency. He understands you have to have things, supplies and people in place. If you wait until after the fact it could be too late,” she said.

Asked yesterday whether future FEMA directors, who are political appointments, will be selected based on disaster emergency management experience, Mr. Chertoff said it will be “a significant consideration.”

“Certainly my recommendation of Chief Paulison was his wide experience in dealing with the issue of fire and emergency,” Mr. Chertoff said.

FEMA fulfills many roles after an emergency, including coordinating federal financial assistance to states, communities, businesses and individuals, and the responses of the Red Cross and other charities.

Less than two weeks after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Paulison, who became a fireman at age 19, was nominated by Mr. Bush to lead the nation’s firefighters as chief of the U.S. Fire Administration.

Mr. Paulison said he did not hesitate when Mr. Bush asked him to take charge of FEMA.

“The president called last night, and I was, obviously, humbled that he would take the time to do that,” Mr. Paulison said.

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