The woman tasked with leading the federal disaster response to Hurricane Ian draws on years of experience coordinating emergency efforts for Covid-19, wildfires, floods and other crises.
Deanne Bennett Criswell, who has been leading the Federal Emergency Management Agency since April 2021 as the first female administrator, has been warning of the dangers of Ian since it began pounding Florida.
“Hurricane Ian is and will continue to be a very dangerous and life-threatening storm, and this will be the case for the next several days,” Criswell said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
FEMA has search and rescue coordination teams in Miami ready to rapidly deploy 128,000 gallons of fuel, and the agency has moved generators of all sizes and types to restore power to critical infrastructure and medical facilities, Criswell said.
Coordinating the federal response to Ian’s outrage will be one of the toughest tasks of Criswell’s career.
As head of FEMA in the Biden administration, he created initiatives to support the US health care system in the time of Covid and, most recently, took responsibility for supporting the federal response to the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.
Before that, he was the commissioner of the New York City Department of Emergency Management for two years, a period that coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus. At times, in the early days of the outbreak, personal protective equipment was so scarce that city officials used rain ponchos and garbage bags instead of surgical gowns.
“The fact that we were all ‘together’ meant we were all competing for the same resources,” Criswell said when recounting his 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 began his emergency management career in Aurora, Colorado, as the city’s chief of emergency management and dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, working to secure housing for evacuees and reunite families.
He served in the Colorado National Guard for more than two decades and was deployed to Kuwait and Qatar, according to his official FEMA biography. He also worked as a firefighter.
During the Obama administration, Criswell worked at FEMA as head of one of the agency’s National Emergency Management Support Teams, where he was responsible for flood, hurricane and wildfire response and recovery, according to the agency.
Criswell earned a bachelor’s degree in technology education and training from the University of Colorado in 2003. According to the school, he attended with hopes of becoming the first college graduate in his family. Criswell earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado in 2006.
He also earned a master’s degree in Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for National Defense and Security, according to his FEMA biography.