PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where somebody important answers questions about something very unimportant. Our guest today is Craig Fugate. He is head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which means he's busy for the next 10 minutes or so. So if a giant asteroid crashes into the earth, you are on your own.
SAGAL: Craig, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
CRAIG FUGATE: Hi, my pleasure. Thank you.
SAGAL: We were looking into your - your bio, your resume. And it seems like you were born to do this job. You went to something called fire college?
FUGATE: Yeah, I trained as a professional firefighter and paramedic early in my career.
SAGAL: Right, so you actually went to - they call it fire college? Is that like a four-year university where things are constantly on fire?
FUGATE: No, it's about 200 hours of learning how not to burn.
SAGAL: I understand.
SAGAL: Now, so to you trained your way up. You were a firefighter, an EMT and seriously you were in charge of the Florida Department of Emergency Management or something, the equivalent? Is that right?
FUGATE: I was director of emergency management, most notably in 2004, when we were hit by four hurricanes in one year.
SAGAL: Yeah, I was about to say you didn't take it easy on yourself. You picked Florida.
SAGAL: That state is basically one rolling disaster.
FUGATE: Yeah, it gets kind of interesting down there...
FUGATE: ...Particularly when you have the alligators and everything else.
SAGAL: Really? Do you ever have to - do you have any part of your organization that tries to anticipate disasters that haven't happened yet?
FUGATE: Oh yeah - geomagnetic storms, your asteroids coming out of space, space debris, disease outbreaks...
SAGAL: Hold on.
FUGATE: ...You name it.
SAGAL: Let me back up a little. You practice for asteroids crashing?
SAGAL: So do you do this any other way than watching, like, "Armageddon" over and over again?
SAGAL: And if the asteroid comes, do you have to be like Bruce Willis and go up there and blow it up yourself?
FUGATE: No, we have people for that.
SAGAL: I understand.
ROXANNE ROBERTS: I - this is Roxanne. I have a question for you. Do you travel - do you go to a lot of these various sites?
FUGATE: Yeah, and that's generally a bad sign. If I show up, it's not good.
SAGAL: Right. You did invent something we found out called the Waffle House index.
FUGATE: That came out of the '04 hurricanes.
SAGAL: Could you tell us what the Waffle House index is?
FUGATE: Sure. If the Waffle House is open, everything's good. If the Waffle House is open...
LUKE BURBANK: Heck of a job, Fugey (ph)...
SAGAL: No, I read about this, an article that basically the theory is, like, Waffle Houses are the cockroaches of the restaurant industry. They cannot be killed.
SAGAL: So the first thing that happened...
FUGATE: They are open most of the time. And that was the index. If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad. We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow...
SAGAL: All right, all right, and if they have regular menu, you just - it's everything's fine.
FUGATE: If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the have bad stuff yet.
SAGAL: Oh, that's amazing.
SAGAL: We were looking into your management style, and we came across something called - I think they're called thunderbolt exercises.
FUGATE: Yes, no notice exercises where we develop scenarios. And without giving anybody a heads up, we call everybody in and say this has happened. Deal with it. And they have to rush through all of their drills to get ready and do the exercise without any preparation or knowing it's going to happen.
SAGAL: So you just call them up and some regional manager picks up the phone? And you say this is director Fugate. The dam just broke, go.
FUGATE: Or the earthquake happened or the tornado hit or the bomb blew up.
BURBANK: Do you ever just tell them the Waffle House isn't serving grits?
FUGATE: That actually would be a good thunderbolt.
SAGAL: Come up with that.
SAGAL: We have to - despite, you know, a number of disasters the last few years - maybe I'm just a child of the '70s and the disaster movies - when I think about disasters, I think of disaster movies. Do you like disaster movies?
FUGATE: I trained on them.
SAGAL: Really? Like, which ones and what did you learn?
FUGATE: Oh, let's see "Towering Inferno," you don't want to be at the top of a burning building.
FUGATE: "Monty Python And The Holy Grail."
SAGAL: Wait a minute, "Monty Python And The Holy Grail?"
SAGAL: What did you...
SAGAL: ...The director of FEMA learn from "Monty Python And The Holy Grail?"
FUGATE: Run away, run away.
SAGAL: I have one more question before we go to the game. Have you guys in all your wargaming and planning thought about what you would do in the zombie apocalypse?
FUGATE: Yeah, we want everybody to download the FEMA app so we can get you instructions on what to do if there's a zombie outbreak.
SAGAL: Oh, I should mention - I forgot to mention that FEMA is now - you're as hip as Tinder.
SAGAL: There is an app. And we don't want people trying to - like, we don't want people - if, like, the flood waters are rising to their neck, you don't want them holding up their phone and trying to download the app then. You want them to do it now.
FUGATE: Yeah, or use a selfie stick and stand up on top of high ground.
SAGAL: You are a practical man with a tool bag filled with solutions. Well, Craig Fugate, what a pleasure to talk to you. It's somewhat comforting to know you're out there looking out for us. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: FEMA Meet Zima.
SAGAL: You run FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so we're going to ask you about Zima, a terrible beverage from the 1990s.
SAGAL: And as it happens, an actual federal emergency.
SAGAL: Answer two of these three questions right and you will win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who was Craig Fugate playing for?
KURTIS: Jesse Cox from Louisville, Ky.
SAGAL: Now, I have to ask - you seem of an age - do you remember Zima?
FUGATE: I have no idea what it was.
SAGAL: Oh. So what it basically was the sort of clear beverage that tasted like bad Sprite mixed with vodka. And it ended up being a terrible failure. But here's your first question - in its first year, they sold millions and millions of cases. But then what happened? A, an urban myth went around saying it was made of Kool-Aid and rubbing alcohol, B, stores stocked it in the soda pop section where drinkers could not find it, or C, people actually tasted it?
FUGATE: Oh, Cs too easy. It's got to be B.
SAGAL: No, it was actually C.
SAGAL: Always go for the cruel answer here, sir. It's a tip. What happened was driven by these amazing advertisements, people flocked to buy it. They sold a million cases - or a million barrels, I should say. And then people drank it and sales plummeted.
All right, you still have two more chances. Despite the fact that it tasted pretty bad, sales did continue for a while based in part on what false rumor? A, that drinking enough of it could instantly make you able to speak Japanese, B, that it was an excellent solvent for removing dried gum and tar, or C, that no matter how much you drank, you could still pass a breathalyzer test?
FUGATE: I would go with frat boy C.
SAGAL: You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Although it wasn't frat boys.
SAGAL: Apparently, it was a rumor among high school students that breathalyzers could not detect a Zima drunk.
SAGAL: They were wrong.
SAGAL: All right, if you get this last one right, you will win our prize. Coors finally pulled the plug on Zima, stopped production in 2008. And then there was this movement to bring it back - bring back Zima, Coors. But what happened to that movement? A, the leader of the movement, a young woman from South Carolina, admitted she never actually tasted it but liked the name, B, nobody came to the meetings because the only beverage served there was Zima...
SAGAL: ...Or C, an online petition out of the million needed got 850 signatures.
FUGATE: Let's go with C.
SAGAL: You're right...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: ...Mr. Fugate.
SAGAL: It was the million man march to bring back Zima, and only 850 sad people showed up. So it didn't happen.
BURBANK: Their other support group - Zalcoholics Zanonymous also never took off.
SAGAL: No, I guess not.
SAGAL: I will tell you a true story. I saw so many ads for this thing during the '90s, I had to try it. And I was in a bar, I said all right, I'd like a Zima. And the bartender said no, you don't.
SAGAL: And I said no, I'd like to try. He says really, don't try it. It's terrible. Do you like flat Sprite? That's what it taste like. So I never tried a Zima. Bill, how did Craig Fugate do on our quiz.
KURTIS: No disaster here. Craig, you got two right. And in our books, that is a win.
SAGAL: Craig Fugate is the head of FEMA. And you can find the new FEMA app on the app store of your choice now.. Get it before the next disaster hits you. Craig Fugate, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
FUGATE: Thanks for having me.
SAGAL: Great to have you, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) I didn't see it then but it meant total disaster, total disaster...
SAGAL: In just a minute, we get frisky with a bear in our Listener Limerick Challenge game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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