The woman in charge of leading the federal disaster response to Hurricane Ian is drawing upon years of experience coordinating emergency efforts on Covid-19, wildfires, flooding and other crises.
Deanne Bennett Criswell, who has been leading the Federal Emergency Management Agency since April 2021 as its first female administrator, has been warning of the looming dangers of Ian since it began pummeling Florida.
“Hurricane Ian is and will continue to be a very dangerous and life-threatening storm, and this is going to be for the days ahead,” Criswell said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
FEMA has search and rescue coordination teams staged in Miami and 128,000 gallons of fuel ready for rapid deployment, and the agency has moved in a variety of generators of all sizes and types to restore power to critical infrastructure and medical facilities, Criswell said.
Coordinating the federal response to Ian’s wrath will be among the toughest assignments of Criswell’s career.
As the head of FEMA during the Biden administration, she’s created initiatives to support the US health care system in the age of Covid and, more recently, was tasked with aiding the federal response to the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.
Prior to that, she was the commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department for two years, a time that overlapped with the coronavirus outbreak. At times in the earliest days of the outbreak, personal protective equipment was so scarce that city officials were using rain ponchos and garbage bags instead of surgical gowns.
“Us all being ‘in it together’ meant we were all competing for the same resources,” Criswell said when she recounted her experience earlier this year. “Necessity drove innovation and there wasn’t a problem in front of us that didn’t require a do-it-yourself solution.”
Criswell started her emergency management career in Aurora, Colorado, as head of the city’s emergency management and dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as she worked to secure housing for evacuees and reunite families.
She served in the Colorado National Guard for more than two decades and was deployed to Kuwait and Qatar, according to her official FEMA biography. She also worked as a firefighter.
During the Obama administration, Criswell worked at FEMA leading one of the Agency’s National Incident Management Assistance Teams, where she was in charge of response and recovery for flooding, hurricanes and wildfires, according to the agency.
Criswell obtained her bachelor’s degree in technology education and training at Colorado State University in 2003. According to the school, she attended with hopes of becoming the first college graduate in her family. Criswell went on to get her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado in 2006.
She also holds a master’s degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Homeland Defense and Security, according to her FEMA biography.
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