New FEMA Boss: The ‘Duct Tape’ Guy

If President George W. Bush thought appointment of new Federal Emergency Management Agency director David Paulison would end criticism of the agency’s questionable leadership he could find that thought buried under a mountain of duct tape.

Many career FEMA professionals consider Paulison a laughing stock because of his role in the “great duct tape controversy” of 2003.

It was then that Paulison, as director of FEMA’s preparedness division, recommended that Americans stock up on “plastic sheeting and duct tape” to prepare themselves for a possible biological, chemical or nuclear attack by terrorists.

Medical experts, emergency professionals and terrorism experts ridiculed Paulison’s suggestions as “absurd” and “useless,” saying such precautions would be useless and would also give Americans a false sense of security.

Nonetheless, sales of duct tape and plastic sheeting soared for the next few days.

Paulison recommended that households have on hand three days worth of water and food; an emergency supply kit for both home and automobile; radios with extra batteries; and plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal windows and doors.

Experts said Paulison’s “scare tactics” harkened back to the “duck and cover” days of the cold war when school children were told to hide under the desks and cover their heads with clothing in case of a nuclear attack – moves that offered no real protection against a bomb.

Before joining FEMA, Paulison was chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department in Florida, overseeing its 1,900 personnel with a $200 million operating budget and a $70 million equipment budget.

A paramedic, he also supervised the county’s emergency management office from 1995 until 2001. He was selected fire chief of the year by Florida in 1993.

The Miami native began his career as a rescue firefighter in 1971 and rose through the ranks before becoming chief in 1992.

“Chief Paulison has over 30 years of experience in emergency management, working his way up the ranks from firefighter to chief of the Miami-Dade County fire and rescue department,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a news release.

“I appreciate his willingness to take on the vital task of leading FEMA during this challenging time.”

President Bush also called Paulison on Monday evening and thanked him for taking the job. Last week, the same President told reporters on camera that he thought former FEMA director Michael Brown was “doing a heck of a job.” A few days later, Brown was relieved of his duties and sent home.