Hurricane Harvey First Natural Disaster For Brock Long As Trump's FEMA Director Brock Long, while new to Washington, is well-regarded in the esoteric field of emergency management. "He's absolutely the top of the top," homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said on Friday.
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New, Respected FEMA Chief Faces First Major Challenge With Hurricane Harvey

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New, Respected FEMA Chief Faces First Major Challenge With Hurricane Harvey

New, Respected FEMA Chief Faces First Major Challenge With Hurricane Harvey

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Tropical Storm Harvey is the first test of the Trump administration's response to a natural disaster. And much of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the new administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long. NPR's Brian Naylor has his profile.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: William Brock Long was confirmed as FEMA administrator by the Senate in June just a few months ago. But he is not exactly a stranger to the agency. He was a regional manager there during the George W. Bush administration. And he went on to serve as Alabama's emergency management director. His Trump administration colleague, Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert, gave Long a strong endorsement.

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TOM BESSERT: We couldn't have picked a finer leader. He's had state director experience. He's had FEMA experience. He's absolutely the top of the top.

NAYLOR: In Alabama, Long oversaw recovery efforts from tornados and the BP oil spill. Barry Scanlon, who worked at FEMA during the Clinton administration, says Long is well-regarded in the field.

BARRY SCANLON: So he's got the relationships throughout emergency management, throughout the state. He has the respect of people who do this every day, which is vitally important.

NAYLOR: Long was not available to be interviewed for this story. In July, he told the National Governors Association that his biggest concern as FEMA director was a lack of a culture of preparedness, as he put it. People, he says, are just not as prepared as they need to be for a major storm.

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BROCK LONG: I believe in has - what I call hazard amnesia, OK? We've had some bad disasters. We've had Sandy. We've had Matthew. We've had flooding. But 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, you know? So sometimes I think we forget the worst.

NAYLOR: FEMA's role in a big storm like Harvey is to prepare residents and position supplies like bottled water and blankets and food, should they be needed. But it's largely up to states and local government to be first responders. In fact, Long believes that individual citizens are the real first responders.

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LONG: We have to think about the way we train our citizens and refocus these programs to give them lifesaving skills. Come back to CPR. How to shut off the water valves to your homes. How can they do simple search and rescue in their communities after they face these disasters. I think we have to take a comprehensive look at how - what we're asking citizens to do, but empower them to be a part of that response.

NAYLOR: While Long will be doing most of the management of the federal response. Ultimately, it's President Trump who will get the blame or credit for how his administration deals with its first natural disaster. And he'll be closely watched as he performs the role of healer in chief. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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