The Grill: W. Craig Fugate

The FEMA chief wants to use mobile technology to customize alerts during a disaster.

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We need to ask what kinds of things would be useful to people and then build it in such a way that it's the least amount of effort for the person using it, because in a crisis you don't want to have to get out the instruction manuals.

Today, if you were to use an "I'm not OK" app, your friends would know. But would FEMA or your first responders? Not necessarily. And quite honestly, letting FEMA know you're not OK is not useful. FEMA is not a response agency. We're in a support role to governors and local responders. You want those calls for help to go to local responders. We want to build a system that will give that information to the closest unit. FEMA also wants to look at that so we can anticipate if we have enough resources in the area.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA had problems with fraudulent claims for assistance. How are you using technology to reduce fraud? Previously, when people applied for assistance, we took their information and determined whether they were eligible. If the information was bogus, we didn't have an immediate way to validate that. After Katrina, we tapped into credit history resources to verify employment and addresses to make sure there was an actual home there.

We can be dealing with tens of thousands of applications a day, so if we're not using technology, you end up slowing down the process. We use these tools to quickly identify the most obvious ones that have questions without slowing up the people who need help.

In the future, how do you envision FEMA operating, and what role will technology play? I want to tear down the walls between what we're doing with our data and our partners and the public. There's privacy issues if I'm collecting information about you for assistance. I need to keep that protected. But I'd like all of the things we're doing in trying to help people be much more transparent.

The other part is to make sure we have data feeds in a standard format so we're not seeing data entered at multiple points repetitively. We get information from the closest place where it's shared, so we don't have to call people to ask, "How many shelters do you have open?" As I update my shelter information, I'm publishing it, and you should see it in your GIS maps. Those are the kinds of things we need. FEMA can't do all of it, but at least we can be the catalyst, the grit that makes the pearl.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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