ArticlePDF Available
Volume 2, Issue 3 • 2011 • Article 4
U.S. Presidents and Their Roles in Emergency Management
and Disaster Policy 1950-2009
Naim Kapucu, University of Central Florida
Montgomery Van Wart, California State University, San Bernardino
Richard Sylves, University of Delaware
Farhod Yuldashev, University of Pittsburgh
Kapucu, Naim; Van Wart, Montgomery; Sylves, Richard; and Yuldashev, Farhod (2011) "U.S.
Presidents and Their Roles in Emergency Management and Disaster Policy 1950-2009," Risk,
Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy: Vol. 2: Iss. 3, Article 4.
Available at: http://www.psocommons.org/rhcpp/vol2/iss3/art4
DOI: 10.2202/1944-4079.1065
©2011 Policy Studies Organization
U.S. Presidents and Their Roles in Emergency
Management and Disaster Policy 1950-2009
Naim Kapucu, University of Central Florida
Montgomery Van Wart, California State University, San Bernardino
Richard Sylves, University of Delaware
Farhod Yuldashev, University of Pittsburgh
Abstract
This paper attempts both to rate the quality and breadth of presidential involvement in
emergency management, as well as to examine the possible reasons for the differing quality. Using
three major factors for evaluation, it is possible to review the presidential records from the second
half of the twentieth century to today, and derive broad categorical assessments using a holistic
methodology. The major factors are the ability and willingness to appropriately distinguish the
needs and priorities of disaster management apart from civil defense needs and priorities, the
selection of well-qualified disaster management leaders with a background in natural and accidental
disasters, and the quality of implementation of programs including administrative execution,
number and level of presidential disaster declarations, and timely presidential involvement in
catastrophes. Using this framework, two presidents emerged as excellent, three as good, four as
average, and two as poor. Interestingly, while some presidents learned from previous executive
types of experiences, others did not. While some presidents learned from major catastrophes
(focusing events) that occurred just before or during their administrations, others were hard-pressed
simply to recover from especially disruptive or new disasters and failed to improve the system
as a result. A consistent finding is that the performance of presidents in emergency management
has had a growing effect on their overall reputations by the public and experts. Before 1950,
presidential roles were extremely modest and expectations almost nonexistent. After Truman and
through Regan, roles increased substantially and expectations were modest. From Clinton through
Obama, the roles have continued to increase and expectations have become exceedingly high.
KEYWORDS: disaster management, presidential involvement, focusing events, policy changes
Introduction
The roles and responsibilities of the U.S. federal government in managing both
natural and human-induced emergencies and disasters have vastly expanded over
the last 150 years. The U.S. president, as chief executive and commander-in-chief
of the military, has become increasingly involved in the provision of federal
disaster assistance to state and local governments (Kettl 2004; Relyea 2007).
Over time, the disaster management performance of various presidents has
become an important political and reputational variable. This study analyzes the
historical record of presidents, particularly since 1950 when the chief executive
was granted formal authority to issue disaster declarations with corresponding
relief assistance. We pose three questions: 1) how has the president’s involvement
changed over time, and what role, if any, did respective presidents have in making
those changes; 2) on what basis should the record of presidential leadership in
disasters and emergency management be evaluated; and 3) why is it that some
presidents perform disaster management duties better than others and what effect
does disaster management have on the reputation and legacy of presidents?
Evolution and Expansion of Presidential Responsibility in
Disaster Response
Consider how much the presidential role has changed from 1889 to 2010. In
1889, when the deadly Johnstown Flood wiped out a small city and several small
towns, then President Harrison had no statutory responsibility to assist. He
merely directed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repair, replace, or build
new bridges in the damaged area. He also asked the agency to apply additional
flood control measures. However, only the former was authorized by law at the
time (U.S. Army Corps 2010). Acting as a private citizen rather than as President,
Harrison convened a meeting of eminent persons in Washington, D.C., who
included many senior government officials. He implored attendees to make
monetary and material contributions (Schoenberg 1998). The President and the
assemblage raised $10,000 in private contributions though no federal relief
disbursements were made (McCullough 1968). While the President sent
communications to the Pennsylvania governor and the Johnstown mayor, he did
not offer more than pro forma statements of condolence through the press. There
is no indication that the President Harrison took further action in his capacity as
president. In disaster management parlance, this was a human-caused or
technological disaster because the dam which failed was owned by a club of
industrial tycoons and was not properly monitored or maintained before it
collapsed.
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One hundred and twenty years later, another human-caused disaster
transpired in the U.S. In 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform
was the scene of a gas blowback and subsequent explosion and fire that killed 11
and sent the entire platform to the sea bottom. The truncated oil pipes and the
failure of a sea floor cut-off device produced a breech that leaked massive
amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast for nearly three
months. Both this event and the Johnstown flood were attributed to private
negligence and irresponsible risk-taking. However, by 2010, the public had come
to routinely expect that the president, in this case President Barack Obama, would
be officially, comprehensively, and protractedly involved in addressing the
disaster and its consequences (Weisman 2010). Today the presidential role in
disaster management is remarkably different than it was a hundred years ago. The
augmentation of the presidential role did not occur suddenly, but as Birkland
(2007) explains, evolved over time through a series of distinct eras.
There are four discernible eras which help to classify change in
presidential authority in disaster management and the public’s expectations of
federal involvement when disasters occur. The first era (approximately 1889-
1926) saw growing public awareness about and interest in disasters. In this era,
news reportage advanced dramatically helped by the emergence of improved
communications and new forms of mass transportation. The invention and
widespread use of the telegraph and telephone, helped reporters convey news
stories quickly to distant locations (Mitchell 2007). The 1889 Johnstown flood
was covered nationally and internationally, as was the horrific Galveston
Hurricane of 1900 (Kapucu and Van Wart 2006), and the Great Miami Hurricane
of 1926 (Pielke et al. 2006). Often the stories of these disasters revealed glaring
deficiencies in the preparedness and response of state and local governments. The
shortcomings of charities and social institutions in major catastrophic events were
also exposed in sophisticated investigative reporting, sometimes referred to as
“muckraking” (Cook 1972; Gallagher 2006; Swados 1962). Not to be overlooked
is that more and more people began to recognize their vulnerability to disaster.
Increases in the purchase of various types of insurance against potential disaster
losses, including certain types of government-sponsored insurance, made it
evident that disasters and emergencies were part of risk management for both
corporations and households (Moss 2002).
The second era (1927-1949) began with the Great Mississippi Flood of
1927, generally considered the most extensive flood in American history. This era
extends through the 1940s when modest, but reactive, disaster response by the
federal government evolved on a case-by-case basis (Taranto and Leo 2004;
Steinberg 2000). Before he assumed the presidency, Herbert Hoover was
perceived by the public as a capable disaster manager as a result of his handling
of the federal response to this Great Mississippi flood. Hoover served in President
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Coolidge’s Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. Shortly after the flood began,
Coolidge tasked Hoover with the job of coordinating all levels of government, the
American Red Cross, and volunteer efforts. Hoover distinguished himself as both
a capable disaster manager and compassionate humanitarian, both of which would
help to propel him into the White House by 1929. The ad hoc nature of federal
response in this era is apparent because a private foundation funded much of
Hoover’s work and his disaster management duties were far from his formal
position as Secretary of the Department of Commerce (Barry 1927).1
In the third era (1950-1978), the federal government, often owing to
presidential efforts, began to structure its disaster management more coherently.
The Federal Disaster Relief Act of 1950 empowered presidents to issue
declarations of major disaster to states which would in turn pass on federal
disaster relief assistance to affected sub-state governments and other eligible
parties. This dramatically expanded the president’s role in disaster management.
A system evolved which allowed governors, and only governors or their
counterparts, to formally ask the president to issue them a declaration of major
disaster (or, by 1974, a declaration of emergency). Presidents had complete
discretion in deciding whether to approve or turn down these requests. That is,
they were not restricted by narrowly conceived sets of rules or conditions in
deciding matters of deservedness. Through this measure Congress trusted the
president to make sound determinations and in an expeditious way. The practice
of waiting for Congress to pass a law to address each homeland disaster largely
ended under this law and its subsequent amending laws.
The final era (1979-present) began with the increased formalization and
elevated status of emergency management in the executive branch exemplified by
the creation of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in
1979. This era ushered in public expectations of swift and authoritative
presidential responses to major disasters. Presidents were now crisis and
emergency managers (Boin et al. 2005). Emergency management came to have a
formal institutional presence in both the White House and in the executive branch.
For better or worse, how disasters were managed and how disasters were reported
came to have political relevance for presidents and their administrations.
In this paper we focus on the last two eras. Early in the third era, Congress
began to send the president legislation that codified the role of the federal
government in emergency management. As mentioned, the Federal Disaster
Relief Act of 1950, though not recognized as anything more than an incremental

1While Herbert Hoover’s cabinet post was far afield from emergency management, Hoover had
been in charge of a vast array of humanitarian efforts during and after World War I, so emergency
assistance was, in fact, a very strong part of his administrative experience. His technical success
was not surprising.
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change at the time, proved to be a watershed change in federal disaster assistance
policy. The federal government committed itself to be a major contributor and
partner with states and localities in addressing major disasters. Significant disaster
management authority shifted from Capitol Hill to the White House. The
President could decide when the federal government should become involved in a
disaster. Congress, owing to its power of the purse, its ability to legislate changes
in federal organization, its capacity to approve supplemental appropriations of
disaster relief money, and its role in confirming presidential appointees to
disaster-relevant agencies, was still a major player. The Federal Disaster Relief
Act was a starting point from which subsequent presidents and lawmakers would
restructure and expand the disaster management role of the Federal Government.
The creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979,
opening the fourth era, facilitated more focused and professionalized emergency
management at the federal level, and by example to many state and local
governments. FEMA, through modest annual grant programs, encouraged and
helped states and local governments expand, create, or perfect their own systems
of emergency management. Conversely, federal emergency management proved
seriously deficient at times. In the cases of Hurricane Andrew in Florida (1992),
Hurricane Hugo in the Carolinas (1989) and the Loma Prieta Earthquake in
northern California (1989), FEMA’s disaster management was acknowledged to
have been incompetent, slow, and disorganized. In these disasters, intense news
coverage and high, often unrealistic, public expectations combined to heap
criticism on both the agency and the president. The managerial reputation of
President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) was adversely affected by these events
and this was possibly a factor in his failure to win re-election (Sylves 2008).
GHW Bush’s disaster management difficulties made a strong impression on his
successor, Bill Clinton.
Two epic events during the administration of President George W. Bush
not only reshaped the contours of federal emergency response systems, but
sparked an enormous national debate about the roles and relationships of
homeland security activities and emergency management (May 1985; OIG 2009).
The September 11th terror attacks impelled the President and U.S. policy makers
to make dramatic changes in the purposes and processes of emergency
management. Owing to a succession of new laws and major reorganizations,
emergency management, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism were in several
respects merged (Waugh and Sylves 2002). The terror event triggered a major
revamping of the national response system which sought to integrate, coordinate,
and standardize the disaster response of local, state and federal authorities, as well
as redefine the roles of nonprofits and volunteers. By early 2003, the Homeland
Security Act of 2002 brought about the largest federal reorganization since the
creation of the Department of Defense in 1947. It culminated in the creation of the
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U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Coincident with this action,
federal emergency management and homeland security officials refashioned the
National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the National Response Plan
(NRP).
The second event was Hurricane Katrina, which struck the U.S. Gulf
Coast in 2005. This catastrophe demonstrated that, despite extensive changes,
grant funding infusions and a new terror-focused DHS, FEMA, the states, and
even the president, were not prepared for such a destructive event. Katrina made it
apparent that regardless of increased resources, training, and network articulation,
disaster management could fail, and fail miserably. Katrina spotlighted imprudent
mitigation strategies, ineffective inter- and intra-governmental collaboration,
inexperienced disaster management, and major failures in leadership. Ensuing
public opprobrium carried political repercussions. President GW Bush made a
personal televised public apology to the nation for the government’s bungled
disaster response. In early 2008, federal authorities formally replaced the NRP
with the National Response Framework (NRF). The NRF incorporated NIMS and
reflected improvements prompted by problems in the 2005 Hurricane Katrina
response and by the need to better incorporate state and local concerns.
Evaluating Presidential Records in Emergency Management
Some presidential administrations have been blessed with few or no catastrophes,
though no administration escapes regional or localized disasters. History shows
that from 1950 to 2000 presidents received an average of about two disaster
declarations requests a month, though this average has risen considerably from
1989 to the present. Presidential experience with catastrophic disasters is
meaningful (Birkland 2007; Kingdon 2003; Rubin, Cumming and Renada-Tanali
2004). Often, post-1950 presidents who had previously served as governors
(Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and GW Bush) attained a level of executive
experience in emergency management owing to disasters that have befallen their
respective states when they were governors.
Additionally, emergency management is sometimes intertwined with
national security issues. In the Eisenhower and Kennedy years (and arguably
through the terms of Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan), federal emergency
management was predicated largely on preparing the nation for a Soviet attack
with nuclear weapons; non-war disaster management was often a secondary
concern. The USSR detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949. The Cold War
involved a weapons rivalry in which both the U.S. and the USSR possessed
thermonuclear bombs by the mid-1950s. Increasingly sophisticated and high
speed intercontinental ballistic missiles (1957) (Eisenhower through Reagan), the
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nuclear weapons embargo standoff with Cuba in 1963 (Kennedy), and later, the
9/11 attacks, convinced several presidents (especially GW Bush, and perhaps
Obama) that civil and/or homeland defense should be the centerpiece of federal
emergency management. Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton saw federal
emergency management as less a matter of civil of homeland defense and more as
management of non-war disasters and calamities (Sylves and Buzas 2007; Sylves
2008).
Some presidents take an interest in emergency management and provide it
with an administrative locus; some take care to appoint capable leaders to top
emergency management posts; and some press for adequate federal disaster
management budget authority. A few do some combination or all three. Others
either intentionally or unintentionally neglect these needs. For some presidents,
how interested they are in disaster management is directly related to whether
states and localities suffer catastrophes, or highly publicized successions of lesser
natural or human-caused disasters, during their tenure. Major disasters and
catastrophes tend to change presidents and their policies; rarely do presidents alter
their disaster management behaviors and policies “pro-actively” (Sylves 2006).
While all four phases of emergency management – prevention, mitigation,
response, and recovery – involve the president in some capacity, we emphasize
the response and early recovery phases in this analysis. These phases usually draw
the most news media and public attention and so shape the public’s perception of
a president’s leadership skills.
General Criteria for Evaluation of Presidential Performance
As Pfiffner (2003) notes, there is both continuity and volatility in the ranking of
presidents. The factors that affect ratings vary considerably (King 1999). Indeed,
the estimates of professional historians and the popular sentiment do not always
concur. For example, the general public tends to rank Kennedy and Reagan more
highly than historians, while historians tend to rank Johnson more highly than
does the public (Rasmussen 2007; Siena 2010). Similarly, there is, as yet, no clear
consensus about how to evaluate and rank presidents based on their disaster
management performance. We base our evaluation on three sets of assumptions
that appear in the literature.
Status and Structure of Emergency Management. We assume that presidents with
superior disaster management performance are those who have been able to
distinguish between the management of natural disasters and the management of
national security or terrorist-related events and threats. Further, there is the
assumption that the management of natural or human-caused disasters (e.g.,
industrial accidents and biological disasters) is not made secondary to civil or
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homeland security concerns. Many emergency managers in recent decades have
come to possess professional knowledge, skills, and abilities. Their effectiveness
may be compromised or stifled if they are subsumed within large hierarchies with
skewed emergency management priorities. For instance, top federal emergency
managers need access to the president at certain points. Some presidents have
made access easy (Carter, Clinton) and others have made it challenging (GHW
Bush, GW Bush).
Presidents tend to meet these criteria when they support and sign
emergency management-related laws, executive orders, and special messages to
Congress, and when they advance emergency management-friendly presidential
reorganizations (Cooper 1986; Krause and Cohen 1997; Mayer 2001). For
example, President Carter helped to consolidate a bevy of disparate agencies into
the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a small but independent
agency. Carter ensured that the head of FEMA would report directly to the
president. By the mid-1990s, President Clinton elevated the Director of FEMA to
cabinet status, signifying his concern about emergency management and his
desire for FEMA-led inter-departmental coordination in times of disaster (Gerber
and Cohen 2008).
Competence of Appointees. Second, presidents enhance their records when they
select and appoint emergency management directors who are experienced and
competent in the field of emergency management and who have the ability to
communicate well with the president and public (e.g., James Lee Witt, David
Paulison, and Craig Fugate). The reverse is true when presidential political
appointees who lack knowledge or experience in emergency management win
political appointment. While it is not uncommon for highly capable individuals to
succeed in their appointed posts in spite of lack of experience or knowledge in the
field of their agency, this is much less the case in emergency management. This is
because the nature of the work often requires performing in compressed
timeframes. There is little or no time to “learn on the job” (Birkland 2007;
Kapucu 2009a; Kapucu and Van Wart 2006; 2008).
Implementation and Support. Third is the quality of implementation and concrete
support of emergency management by a president. Although an imperfect
indicator, we assume that the number of disaster declarations issued by a
president is useful in determining a president’s engagement and support. While
some presidents encounter more disasters and/or more catastrophes than others,
the propensity of governors to request disaster declarations from the president
may sometimes be more a function of exploiting political advantage. Presidents
who rarely turn down governor requests (Clinton, GW Bush, Obama) may tempt
governors to frequently seek help for events that are only marginally definable as
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disaster. Conversely, presidents who are tough on requestors (demanding that they
document need) and who have relatively high turn down rates (Carter, Reagan)
may discourage governors from requesting declarations (Sylves 2008).
Presidential-congressional relations are part of the nexus of emergency
management as well. Presidents with poor congressional relations may be second
guessed or challenged by various members of Congress. Political opponents or
dissatisfied allies may make the administration’s efforts seem uncoordinated or
inadequate. Affable and regular communications between a governor and
president may expedite federal relief assistance. A presidential disaster
declaration makes federal aid and loan programs available to affected areas. In
some rare but publicized instances of emergency management failure, problems
arose when the president and respective governor were of different political
parties and then engaged in political feuding (Gerber and Cohen, 2008).
For the president, effective communications in times of disaster provide a
means to engage in important types of public and political persuasion (Neustadt
1960). Mass media exposure serves important symbolic purposes as well:
demonstrating responsiveness, compassion, leadership, engagement, and that an
event is a presidential priority. The president’s approval of a governor’s disaster
relief request provides an opportunity to garner managerial and political credit.
Means of Rating
There may be other evaluation factors besides these, but we will rely on the ones
we have posed above as the basis of our analysis. Many of these factors are
difficult to measure and subject to dispute. This makes a strict numeric ranking
problematic given that executive privilege makes many records in this area
unavailable. Therefore we will rely on cluster groupings of the type commonly
performed in generalized Presidential rankings (e.g., Taranto 2004). This analysis
rates presidents as disaster managers on the scales of excellent, good, average and
poor.
Reviewing the Presidential Records in Dealing with Disasters:
1950 – 2009
Disaster policy overlaps a great many other policy domains in so much as major
disasters affect the interests, constituencies, and clientele of nearly all other
federal departments and agencies. What presidents do in handling major disasters
contributes to their political legacy and personal image. The U.S. Constitution
empowers the president to protect and defend the nation. This, combined with
“implied powers,” has come to mean that the president has constitutional
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obligations to address emergencies and disasters that befall the nation (Relyea
2001). Moreover, presidential disaster declaration authority has, since 1950,
invested the president with emergency management leadership authority (Sylves
and Cumming 2004).
In this study, we examine the period 1950 to 2009, during which
presidents possessed disaster declaration authority and when some form of
functional federal emergency management was in place. Appendix A arrays
presidents from Truman through Obama. The second column of the table briefly
describes the emergency-management experience of each leader before he
assumed the presidency. It is assumed that prior emergency management
experience, especially gubernatorial experience, will help prepare a president for
the disaster management duties they must confront when in office. Column three
lists disaster-relevant legislative achievements and executive orders of presidents
while they were in office. Finally, column four lists catastrophes or great disasters
that transpired during their administrations.
It is obvious that each president has his own way of relating to disasters.
For some, they are approached as issues of intergovernmental relations,
federalism, and budget control. For others, disasters are a form of distributive
politics which enable them to exhibit compassion, responsiveness, and federal
funding. For others still, disasters are a presidential management responsibility
which affords them the opportunity to creatively handle acute problems and
calamities Congress could not be expected to address as quickly or decisively.
President Truman (1945-1953)
Harry S. Truman served several months as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last
Vice-President. Before that he had served in Congress. Truman assumed the
presidency when Roosevelt passed away in early 1945. Truman’s executive
experience prior to his election to Congress was as a chief county administrator in
Missouri when he was elected as judge, primarily an administrative position, for
the Jackson County Court in 1922 (Oshinsky 2004). He is most remembered for
his decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to
force the surrender of Japan in World War II. Later, Truman was forced to
confront Soviet communist expansion into Eastern Europe after the War. In 1950,
he faced a North Korean invasion of South Korea, and with UN support, entered
U.S. troops in a three year war concluded by his successor through an armistice.
Truman’s term coincided with the Texas City ship explosion in 1947 in
which 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up. Still considered to be the
deadliest industrial disaster in U. S. history, the detonation killed 581 and injured
an estimated 3,500. Truman ordered in the National Guard, but at the time he had
no authority to provide much-needed financial assistance. Ultimately, a long legal
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battle by Galveston citizens for relief under the Federal Tort Claims Act was
denied by a Supreme Court decision in 1953 in the famous Elizabeth Dalehite, et
al. v. United States case, after which in 1955 Congress finally passed a private bill
to provide relief (Belli 1963).
Truman signed into law both the Disaster Relief Act of 1950 and the Civil
Defense Act of 1950 (CDA). Truman also proposed flood insurance programs in
1951 and 1952, due to the Great Flood of 1951 in the central Midwest; however,
Congress did not push these proposals forward (FEMA 2002). Truman also
signed the Small Business Act of 1953 which expanded federal involvement in
the disaster relief needs of the private sector (see appendix A). He issued some 20
declarations of major disaster, but basically dispensed war surplus as relief to
each affected jurisdiction.
It is fair to say that Truman’s role in helping the nation cope with two
wars, his backing of the Marshall Plan to rebuild and finance post-War Europe,
his approval of the Berlin airlift (1948-49), and his handling of domestic
emergencies provided him substantial experience in international and domestic
disaster management. The early 1950s started a new era in emergency
management and civil defense. However, Truman’s general approach rested on a
view of limited federal responsibility for emergency management and civil
defense operations, each assumed to be primarily state and local responsibilities.
Hence federal emergency management lacked focus, support, program definition,
and internal coordination (Green 2003).
President Eisenhower (1953-1961)
A West Point Military Academy graduate, Dwight D. Eisenhower extended a
successful military career into a political career. He is highly rated as a capable
president by both public opinion and professional historian surveys (Siena 2010;
Vision Critical 2011). He was known for his even-handed and confident approach
(Ambrose 1984). During World War II, Eisenhower ascended the ranks until he
commanded the Allied Forces in North Africa in November 1942, and then the
Supreme Allied Expeditionary Force on D-Day, 1944. After the War, in 1951,
Eisenhower assumed supreme command of the new NATO forces (White House
2008).
Three great tornado clusters, each killing more than 100 people, occurred
during his presidency. These included the May 1953 “Waco” Tornado sequence,
the June 1953 tornado sequence from the Midwest to New England which killed
247, and 1955 Great Plains Tornado Outbreak of 46 tornadoes, two of which were
F5s. During his presidency, Eisenhower signed more than 100 Presidential
Disaster Declarations conveying more than 65 million dollars in 2003 constant
dollars (Sylves and Buzas 2007). However, Eisenhower did not see a relationship
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between the role of disaster declarations and the health emergency posed by the
1957 Asian flu pandemic. The disease took the lives of 70,000 Americans. He
took a relatively passive role in the rapidly occurring health event, allowing the
free market to regulate inoculations (as it had done with success in the polio
vaccine) rather than taking a more active leadership role for the government.
In civil defense Eisenhower advanced a mass evacuation policy and
defense shelter program. The Soviet launch of the world’s first intercontinental
ballistic missile in 1957, followed by Sputnik, the first earth orbiting satellite,
increased pressure for corresponding technological successes by the U.S. The
Eisenhower Administration reacted in part by launching a federal reorganization:
the Federal Civil Defense Administration and the Office of Defense Mobilization
were merged, forming the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization under the
leadership of Leo Hoegh, former Governor of Iowa. The primary result was a
renewed emphasis on civil defense at the expense of (natural) disaster
management efforts related to the federal government.
President Kennedy (1961-1963)
Prior to his presidency, John F. Kennedy was decorated for his service in the U. S.
Navy and later became a Democratic Congressman representing the Boston area.
Although narrowly elected, he became a popular president owing to his personal
qualities and his tough stand against the Soviet Union (Schlesinger 1965). His
public appeal has remained extremely high over time, though less so with
professional historians (Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011).
Kennedy signed more than 50 Presidential Disaster Declarations, the most
prominent of which was for Hurricane Carla in 1961 (Sylves and Buzas 2007).
Later Hurricanes Donna and Ethel occurred not long before his assassination in
November 1963. Owing to the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962-1963) and heightened
tensions in the Cold War, Kennedy’s focus was clearly on the side of civil
defense. Kennedy “emphasized the importance of home, school, or workplace
fallout shelters as a means to save lives” (Sylves 2008, 49). He separated civil
defense from disaster management in 1961 by transferring most civil defense
functions to the U.S. Department of Defense. With Kennedy’s approval, the U.S.
Department of Defense created the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) to manage
civil defense functions. Kennedy’s reorganization efforts gave emergency
management a stronger civilian identity, but did little to bring a high level of
focus to emergency preparedness and response related to other types of disasters.
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President Johnson (1963-1969)
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president following the
assassination of President Kennedy. He promoted the Great Society program,
which included aid to education, civil rights, attack on disease, Medicare, urban
renewal, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight
against poverty, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, and removal of
discriminatory obstacles to the right to vote (White House 2008). Although
generally appreciated by professional historians for his administrative agenda, he
holds poorer public rankings (Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011), attributable to
public perceptions of his over-reach in foreign and domestic policy (Bernstein
1994).
During Johnson’s presidency, civil defense was downplayed on account of
several enormous natural disasters: Hurricane Hilda (1964); Hurricane Betsy
(1965); the Great Alaska Earthquake (1964); and the Palm Sunday Tornado in
1965. The Great Alaska Earthquake alone took 141 lives, left thousands homeless,
and disrupted the economy of the state. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy devastated
portions of the southeast resulting in 76 deaths and an estimated $1 billion in
losses. Hurricane Betsy mobilized a tremendous response from federal and
American Red Cross representatives who worked with state and local civil
defense agencies. President Johnson assumed a direct role in this disaster’s
management. He directly monitored the actions of federal agencies and ordered
federal personnel to remain in the area. “President Johnson modeled a new role
for the president as an active and engaged emergency manager” (Rubin 2007, 91).
Johnson signed the 1966 Disaster Relief Act and the National Flood Insurance
Act of 1968.
President Nixon (1963-1969)
President Nixon gained administrative experience as Vice President during the
Eisenhower administration. He ultimately suffered greatly in his personal
reputation owing to political scandals (Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011). This
overshadowed his relatively strong legislative and administrative record
(Ambrose 1991).
President Nixon signed 196 Presidential Disaster Declarations during his
presidency. This total exceeded that of all previous presidents and was only
topped by the Clinton (380) and GW Bush (est. 457) administrations years later
(Sylves 2008). Nixon awarded declarations for the Rapid City (SD) Flood and for
Hurricane Agnes (both in 1972), and for the greatest recorded U.S. tornado
outbreak in 1974 (with an estimated 148 tornadoes). After the poor and much
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criticized federal response to Hurricane Camille in 1969, President Nixon charted
a new course for federal emergency management in the 1970s.
Nixon introduced National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) 184,
which recommended a dual-use approach to federal citizen preparedness
programs. He replaced the OCD with the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency
(DCPA) and placed it under the umbrella of the Department of Defense. The
Nixon administration put in place significant federal disaster management
reorganization plans in 1970 and 1973. However, these efforts produced a
profusion of different agencies and offices scattered about the executive branch.
In effect, Nixon created some 100 different disaster-related federal agencies, thus
satisfying a wide array of Congressional interests without threatening his Cabinet-
level departments with loss of jurisdiction (Sylves 2008).
The Nixon administration is credited with moving the Federal
Government away from a preoccupation with ‘structural’ hazard mitigation (e.g.,
building dams, levees and other flood works) to greater emphasis on the use of
‘nonstructural’ mitigation (i.e., using wetlands to buffer against flooding, pressing
localities to better regulate land use) (Waugh 2000). These reforms and growing
expectations of federal responsiveness in the wake of destructive natural
calamities encouraged President Nixon to support and sign the Disaster Relief Act
of 1974. This measure, for the first time, provided direct assistance to families
after disasters, rather than simply to state and local jurisdictions. Nixon increased
federal disaster funding levels, and as authorized in the 1974 law, he became the
first president empowered to issue declarations of emergency (these often
subsidize state and local funding when disasters are imminent or in the acute post-
incident stage when it makes little sense for governors to prove deservedness
through damage assessment).
President Ford (1974-1977)
President Gerald R. Ford served as a Vice President, an office he assumed by
appointment rather than election. Later he was elevated to the presidency after
Nixon’s forced resignation (Kissinger 1999). Ford eventually issued Nixon a
presidential pardon and this, though probably necessary, tarnished Ford’s
reputation in the mind of the public (Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011). During his
presidency, Ford signed 76 Presidential Disaster Declarations in his single term
producing some $800 million in current dollar spending (Rubin 2007; Sylves
2008). There were no exceptional natural disasters during his presidency and he
discouraged dual use (civilian and national security) activity that worked to the
benefit of civilian emergency management (Sylves 2008).
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President Carter (1977-1981)
President James E. Carter defeated President Ford in the 1976 general election
and he served from 1977 to 1981. Carter had administrative experience as
Governor of Georgia, where he emphasized ecology, efficiency in government,
and the removal of racial barriers (White House 2008). His general reputation
today is in the middle of modern presidents (Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011).
President Carter, former governor of Georgia, “knew natural disasters
well, and he was anxious to respond to the calls of other governors and the
National Governors Association for improvements in the organization of federal
disaster management” (Sylves 2008, 56). In 1977, President Carter directed a
study on federal preparedness and response to natural, accidental, and wartime
emergencies, which had been plagued with problems in defining responsibility
and accountability since the 1950s. In response to the chaos typical in federal
emergency operations before 1979, Carter created the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) through executive branch reorganization in 1979.
The small agency absorbed a wide range of responsibility. FEMA was comprised
of certain offices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well
as the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control
Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program,
the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration, and the
Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. FEMA provided the president
significant power in dealing with disasters in a more focused way. It is fair to say
that few presidents before or after have had as much positive influence on federal
emergency management as Carter did.
Carter issued in his single term 112 major disaster declarations and 59
declarations of emergency. This was an extraordinarily high level of declaration
issuance for a four year interval. Perhaps even more remarkable was that Carter
turned down 91 major declaration requests and 37 emergency requests, a record
of turn down unmatched by any president before or since (Sylves 2008). During
his tenure, Carter faced some relatively unique incidents: the Three Mile Island
nuclear power plant emergency in Pennsylvania in March 1979 and the volcanic
eruption of Mount St. Helens in southern Washington State in 1980. The nuclear
accident at Three Mile Island proved to be both a corporate and governmental
fiasco, with confused responsibilities and bungled communication to the public.
Nonetheless, the failures of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Carter
grounds to furnish FEMA authority to review, and approve or deny, off-plant site
emergency plans of commercial nuclear power generating stations, authority
shared with the NRC (Miskel 2008).
The volcanic eruption at Mount St. Helens was predicted by the U.S.
Geological Survey, but nonetheless 57 people were killed, most of whom
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disregarded evacuation warnings. The federal response through FEMA, the Small
Business Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers amounted to nearly $1
billion in supplemental funding to help those suffering loss in the down-wind
multi-state recovery area. Carter paid close attention to these events, personally
visiting Mount St. Helens and its environs (Saarinen and Sell 1985).
President Reagan (1981-1989)
President Ronald Reagan served two terms. At the end of his presidency,
“…Reagan viewed with satisfaction the achievements of his innovative program
known as the Reagan Revolution, which aimed to reinvigorate the American
people and reduce their reliance upon Government” (White House 2008). Reagan
was for much of his administration highly popular with the public, even among
many liberals. Reagan has been held in less esteem by professional historians
(Beschloss 2008; Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011). President Reagan’s
administrative experience started in 1966 when he was elected as Governor of
California and he won a second term in 1970.
President Reagan issued 184 major disaster declarations and 9 declarations
of emergency, though his tenure as president was surprisingly free of catastrophic
natural disasters. During Reagan’s presidency, the average number of presidential
disaster declarations decreased. Reagan, like Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, and
Carter, had a high rate (34 percent) of turn down for major disaster declaration
requests from governors. Reagan turned down 64 percent of the emergency
declaration requests he received – a turn down rate unmatched by any other
president (Sylves 2008). Emergency declaration requests are made without having
to justify need in terms of damage assessment. President Reagan obviously looked
at most of these requests with disfavor. This may also in part be attributed to
Reagan’s philosophy of federalism. He advocated less federal involvement in
state and local affairs and greater decentralization or delegation of federal powers
to the states. Consequently, this policy may have discouraged governors from
automatically requesting help from the federal government and it encouraged
states and localities to assume more disaster management responsibilities
independent of the Federal Government (Sylves 2008). Reagan intermittently
used FEMA’s sheltering and public evacuation functions as a tool of his
aggressive anti-Soviet foreign policy (Sylves 2008).
In 1988, he signed the Robert T. Stafford Act, named for its chief Senate
architect. This law was a major overhaul of the Federal Disaster Relief Act of
1974 and previous federal disaster-related statutes. The Stafford Act increased the
president’s role in national disaster management and promoted disaster mitigation
and prevention in a variety of ways. The Stafford Act “authorizes the president to
issue major disaster or emergency declarations, sets broad eligibility criteria, and
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specifies the type of assistance the president may authorize” (Sylves 2008, 60).
While Congress deserves much credit for its careful deliberation in crafting the
Stafford Act, one of those rare instances when disaster legislation was crafted in
an environment largely free of immediate disaster demands, President Reagan
deserves credit as well for signing this measure into law during his final year in
office.
President G.H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
President George H.W. Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 1989 as President
Reagan’s second term expired. His overall record is generally ranked in the
middle of modern presidents (Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011). He was Reagan’s
Vice President for two terms, had served as an Ambassador to the United Nations
and China, and as Director of the CIA. Though tremendously experienced in
foreign and domestic affairs, his perceived administrative competence while in
office was poor (Green 2000). In the G.H.W. Bush years, civil defense issues
moved to a lower priority as relations with the Soviets improved and as Soviet
Communism fell in 1989-1990.
President George H.W. Bush issued more major disaster declarations on
average (158 for four years) than did President Reagan (184 for eight years, an
average of 92 per term). Like Reagan, G.H.W. Bush turned down a very high
percentage of emergency requests (60%), but unlike Reagan he turned down only
1 in 5 requests for major disaster declarations. President G.H.W Bush had to deal
with several large scale events. The October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused
widespread damage (estimated more than $8 billion) and resulted in more than $1
billion in FEMA spending, reminding the nation of the costliness of natural
disasters (Nigg 1998). Two additional enormous disasters occurred during
President George H.W. Bush’s presidency: Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (nearly coincident with Hurricane Iniki, which heavily
damaged areas of the Hawaiian Islands). Hurricane Hugo left thousands of people
homeless, forced Bush to dispatch military police to restore public order and
resulted in $2 billion in damage. Hurricane Andrew killed 23 people and caused
more than $26 billion in damage, mostly in South Florida (Birkland 2007; Kapucu
and Ozerdem 2012; Waugh 2000).
Bush passed over his FEMA Director and instead appointed Andrew Card,
Secretary of Transportation, to lead the federal response to Hurricane Andrew.
This is considered a low point in the history of federal emergency management.
G.H.W. Bush was criticized for poor responsiveness. Most famously, the Director
of Emergency Response for Dade County, Kate Hale, exclaimed in a news
conference three days after Hurricane Andrew: “Where in the hell is the cavalry
on this one? They keep saying we're going to get supplies. For God's sake, where
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are they?” (Adair 2002). Critics blamed many pre- and post-Hurricane Andrew
problems on state and federal administrative and political deficiencies. South
Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings lambasted FEMA’s Hugo response in these
words: “FEMA is widely viewed as a political dumping ground, a turkey farm, if
you will, where large numbers of positions exist that can be conveniently and
quietly filled by political appointment ...” (Gertz 1992).
President Clinton (1993-2001)
President William Clinton gained considerable administrative experience during
his two terms as an Arkansas Attorney General and later as Governor of Arkansas
serving two non-consecutive terms. He came to know what federal assistance
meant to states and governors. Clinton’s presidency has a very high overall
ranking from the general public, with a more moderate ranking from professional
historians. Some continue to hold critical views of Clinton owing to scandals of
personal behavior (Posner 1999; Siena 2010; Vision Critical 2011).
President Clinton is lauded among professionals of emergency for
appointing James Lee Witt to head FEMA for all eight years of his presidency.
Witt, who compiled considerable experience in emergency management as a
county official in Arkansas, improved FEMA morale and deftly interacted with
Congress and the public in times of disaster (Platt 1999; Sylves 2008). President
Clinton extended Witt ex officio cabinet member status in 1996 (Hogue and Bea
2006). “Indeed, with this positive publicity and concomitant presidential
promotion, foreign leaders sought advice from FEMA administration about how
other nations could form or improve their emergency management agencies”
(Rubin 2007, 113).
In the summer of 1993, widespread and continuous rainfall across the
central Midwest saturated the soil and resulted in prolonged and extensive
flooding. Eventually dubbed the Great Midwest Flood, this was the first major
emergency management challenge for President Clinton. Witt sent regional staff
out before the flooding became serious to help states apply for disaster assistance;
they prepared preliminary damage assessments before President Clinton’s formal
disaster declaration was issued. “Witt directed FEMA workers to respond
immediately to any state requests and he anticipated requests rather than waiting
for state officials to tell FEMA what they needed” (Rubin 2007, 152). In 1994,
southern California experienced the Northridge Earthquake; the event totaled
$6.97 billion and became one the U.S. most expensive pre-9/11 disasters dealt by
FEMA. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd lashed 14 mid-Atlantic and northeastern states.
Again the Clinton-Witt FEMA responded capably, evacuating 2.6 million people,
the largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history (NOAA 1999) and won
congressional praise (Congressional Record 2000).
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Near the start of President Clinton’s first term a new era of terrorism for
the U.S. began. The 1993 World Trade Center bomb attack and the1995 truck
bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City impelled the Clinton
administration adapt emergency management policy for terrorist attacks inside the
U.S. by adding terrorism annex of the Federal Response Plan in 1998 (Kapucu
2009b). “The Oklahoma City bombing was the first disaster in which FEMA
officials had to work closely with FBI officials” (Sylves 2008, 67).
Clinton, often at the behest of Witt, advanced many reforms in emergency
management. One made the process of governor declaration requests more
expeditious by dispatching Federal damage assessment teams without waiting for
a formal state request for these teams (Sylves 2008); another helped reduce the
administrative burden of paperwork by FEMA for federally assisted state
programs and officials (Radin and Chanin 2009). President Clinton issued 380
major disaster declarations and 68 declarations of emergency during his
presidency and he helped increase the level of federal aid significantly. Clinton
and G.H.W Bush have identical turn down rates for major disaster requests (21
percent) but Clinton turned down only 16 percent of the emergency requests he
received. His receptivity to governor requests for both major disasters and
emergencies significantly exceeds that of all of his predecessors back to Truman.
Clinton’s supporters view his prodigious issuance of major disaster and
emergency declarations as evidence of both his interest in disaster management
and his desire to express his compassion to disaster victims. Critics of Clinton
tend to judge him as having used disaster declarations for his political gain and as
an instrument of presidential distributive politics. They also sometimes allege that
his frequent trips to damage zones were mostly for reasons of favorable public
relations. Regardless of which is true, the Clinton-Witt era is sometimes referred
to as the golden age of emergency management (Sylves 2008).
President G.W. Bush (2001-2009)
President George W. Bush came to the office in January 20, 2001 and was
reelected in 2005 to a second term. Currently, both the public and professional
historian assessments place him at or near the bottom of all presidents (Siena
2010; Vision Critical 2011). Yet, G.W. Bush has strong advocates (Barnes 2006)
who have attempted to refute detractors.
The September 11 terrorist attacks inspired the G.W. Bush administration
to make massive changes in emergency management policy. President Bush
signed a rare Declaration of National Emergency soon after the attack. Congress
quickly approved a $40 billion emergency supplemental appropriation for disaster
relief and to further antiterrorism and counterterrorism actions. Though initially
reluctant, President Bush proposed the formation of the Department of Homeland
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Security (DHS). G.W. Bush made counterterrorism the top priority of his
administration; the Congress and the President brought forth the Homeland
Security Act of 2002. “The measure authorized the creation of DHS, a super
department with 180,000 employees” (Sylves 2008, 87). DHS represented the
largest federal reorganization since Truman’s Department of Defense
reorganization in 1947 (Bullock 2006). As a result, FEMA lost its independent
agency authority and was folded into DHS.
President G.W. Bush was criticized for political cronyism; in his first term
and part of his second, he nominated as FEMA directors or administrators people
who lacked emergency management experience (U.S. House of Representative
2006). However, FEMA Director Michael Brown, someone with no emergency
management experience before his appointment, had argued against the
absorption of FEMA into DHS. He sent a long memorandum arguing that the new
plan would “fundamentally sever FEMA from its core functions,” “shatter agency
morale,” and "break longstanding, effective and tested relationships with states
and first responder stakeholders" (Grunwald and Glasser 2005).
President G.W. Bush issued a record breaking 457 major disaster
declarations and about 139 declarations of emergency over his total eight years in
office (FEMA 2011). These totals exceed those of any other president, including
Clinton. Bush dispensed emergency declarations to all states that incurred
expenses for hosting those who migrated away from their Katrina damaged
environs, thus driving up his emergency declaration totals measurably. The Bush
turn down rates for governor major disaster and emergency requests parallel those
of Clinton (Sylves 2008). The Bush administration was one in which declaration
totals generally escalated almost year by year. Moreover, the Bush administration
experienced many multi-state disaster incidents, which tend to multiply
declaration numbers.
Yet the Bush presidency stumbled just as Brown had predicted when
Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck the U. S. consecutively in
2005. FEMA’s response was highly criticized (Sylves 2008). However, Hurricane
Katrina alone constituted a true catastrophe for the Gulf Coast and most
particularly for New Orleans and nearby areas. The Hurricane Katrina Emergency
Management Reform Act of 2006, signed into law by President Bush,
reinvigorated FEMA organizationally and ensured that future FEMA
administrators would have access to the president in times of disaster or
emergency. The measure, as well as hard-earned lessons of the Bush
administration, ensured that future FEMA administrators would be vetted for their
emergency management experience prior to their confirmations. FEMA
Administrator David Paulison, Michael Brown’s successor, helped the G.W. Bush
administration improve its federal emergency management legacy as it came to a
close.
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President Obama (2009-present)
President Barack Obama is establishing his own record in disaster management.
He was quick to issue disaster declarations for states hit hard by blizzards in the
winter of 2009. He appointed an experienced and respected FEMA administrator,
Craig Fugate. Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush both dramatically increased the
number and frequency of disaster declaration issuance, but it was President
Obama who broke the record for the largest number of presidential disaster
declarations issued in a single calendar year (2010). However, a deep and
persistent recession may have tempted him to generously encourage governor
requests of federal disaster relief as a form of targeted economic recovery aid.
The Obama administration has issued about 227 major disaster
declarations and about 41 declarations of emergency since taking office and up to
15 September 2011 (FEMA 2011). Though he approved 54 majors in 2009, he
went on to okay 81 in 2010 and 82 for 2011 prior to 15 September. The 2010 and
2011 totals stand as annual high records unmatched by any previous president.
Obama turn down totals are difficult to obtain, though it is fair to say the
administration has a relatively low rate of turn down for major disaster and
emergency requests compared to both G.W. Bush and Clinton.
Yet, the Obama White House suffered a setback in April 2010 when the
BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster (mentioned previously) transpired.
Investigations revealed the deficient off-shore drilling regulation of the scandal-
ridden Minerals Management Service, now reformed and renamed the Bureau of
Ocean Energy Management and Enforcement. Like President G.H.W Bush in the
case of the 1989 EXXON Valdez oil tanker spill, President Obama chose not to
use FEMA and the Stafford Act to manage the federal response and recovery.
Obama told the public that he would assume responsibility for managing the spill
and its effects. The U.S. Coast Guard was given lead agency authority.
Management of the spill was conducted in conformity with the National Response
Framework and the National Incident Management System (both strongly
associated with DHS and FEMA).
President Obama had little disaster management or executive experience
prior to becoming president. He had done community service work as a lawyer,
served as a state senator, and as a U.S. Senator. His reputation for competence
and coolness under fire may serve him well in the heat of a crisis, but it may also
lead to public perceptions of lack of empathy and intensity in time of catastrophe
(Ciulla 2010).
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Evaluation Results and Discussion
There are many categories on which to rank presidents (Historical Rankings 2011;
Siena 2010).2 In this study, the rating of presidents as disaster managers rests on
the following general criteria:
The willingness and ability to advance civilian disaster
management without subsuming it under civil defense activity,
The appointment of qualified and experienced emergency
managers as opposed to appointing unqualified people for
political reasons, and
The quality of emergency management policy implementation
during their terms, including how and to what degree the
president personally addressed major disasters.
Admittedly, this comparison of presidential records using our prescribed criteria
and rating schema may ultimately embody some subjectivity. With this in mind,
Table 1 furnishes our general ratings.
Two presidents receive marks of “excellent.” Those in the top category are
relatively easy to identify owing to their exceptional and widely well-regarded
emergency management records. Jimmy Carter created FEMA in 1979 as a
separate agency, after responding to his former fellow governors. His selection of
John Macy, a longtime and highly respected federal management generalist and
personnel specialist, was appropriate to attend to the details of setting up the
agency. His administration had to deal with three relatively unique (at the time)
incidents: Three Mile Island (TMI), the Love Canal toxic substance controversy,
and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. While the immediate handling of both of
the nuclear and toxic events was poor, Carter made strong comebacks. For TMI,
he ensured that FEMA would share authority to act on nuclear plant offsite
emergency plans and evacuations. For Love Canal he worked with Congress to
create the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability
Act of 1980, or Superfund for short. FEMA’s handling of Mount St. Helens
eruption effects was adequate. However, Carter’s overall, long-term reputation
was more affected by foreign policy failures than emergency management
successes (White House 2008).

2The most recent Siena Research Institute ranking of presidents by presidential scholars was
(from best to worst): Truman (9), Eisenhower (10), Kennedy (11), Clinton (13), Johnson (16),
Reagan (18), GHW Bush (22), Nixon (30), Carter (32) and GW Bush (39).
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Table 1. Generalized Ratings of Presidential Leadership Related to Federal Emergency Management
Rating President Key Reasons for Rating
Excellent Jimmy
Carter
Created FEMA as separate independent agency at request of governors
Responded actively to disasters
Bill Clinton Nominated the best FEMA Director in agency’s history
Provided FEMA with cabinet status in 1996
Elevated major disaster and emergency assistance levels while
instituting accountability
Refined national flood insurance plans by improving incentives and
expanding coverage
Good Harry
Truman
Signed the Disaster Relief Act of 1950, formalizing presidential
authority to respond unilaterally, a critical element for a proactive
federal response
Ultimately subordinated emergency disaster management under civil
defense organizational structures as Cold War matured
Proposed national flood insurance (1951 and 1952) but it did not pass in
Congress
Lyndon
Johnson
Signed the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968
Paid close attention to the disasters during his administration
Richard
Nixon
Executive Order 11490: Assigning emergency preparedness functions to
Federal departments and agencies (1969)
Signed the 1969 Disaster Relief Act (provided for a Federal
Coordinating Officer)
Special message to Congress about emergency management needs
(1970)
Signed the 1974 Disaster Relief Act expanding coverage to households
(also amendments in ‘70, ‘71, and ‘72); increased the level of federal
funding for disaster relief
Average Dwight
Eisenhower
Maintained subordinated emergency management system; civil defense
and emergency management operations considered poor
Signed national flood insurance plan in 1956 which was subsequently
withdrawn for lack of funding (1957)
Failed to mobilize for the 1957 Asian Flu
John
Kennedy
No new initiatives and few major disasters during his short
administration
Gerald Ford Few major disasters and no new initiatives
Ronald
Reagan
Few major disasters during his administration and decreased levels of
funding
Selected former military commanders to head FEMA
Poor George H.W.
Bush
Poor response to many major disasters during his administration,
particularly Hurricane Andrew
Weak FEMA leadership
George W.
Bush
Subordinated natural disaster management to civil defense concerns,
especially from 2002 to 2006
Selected incompetent leadership for FEMA until after Katrina
Allowed emergency management to become politicized prior to Katrina
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President Clinton, also in the top category as a presidential emergency
manager, did more than any other president to end or curtail the role of civil
defense in federal emergency management. He is also the only president to
provide the FEMA Director with cabinet status (something quickly discontinued
in the G.W. Bush administration). His long-time friend, James Lee Witt, was
qualified in emergency management and has been considered one of FEMA’s best
directors to date. Finally, Clinton increased emergency management funding in
general, but nonetheless put in stricter controls on flood insurance for cost
containment (FEMA 2002). Clinton’s overall, long-term reputation was favorably
enhanced in part through his management of the nation’s disasters. History may
be less kind to President Clinton in regard to preparing the nation for terrorist
attacks on the homeland.
Using a holistic assessment based on the outlined parameters, we conclude
that three presidents have done a “good” job. Harry Truman supported and signed
the immensely important Disaster Relief Act of 1950 which allowed for a
proactive executive approach to federal disasters for the first time. He also was
the first president to actively promote the idea of flood insurance backed by the
federal government. Nonetheless, he ultimately subordinated federal emergency
management functions to civil defense on account of the Cold War. Truman’s
flood insurance proposals did not pass Congress. His long-term reputation was
probably little affected by his emergency management efforts (albeit with the
possible exception of his support for the Marshall Plan’s war relief and the United
Nations) but it was consistent with his pragmatic approach to problems.
Lyndon Johnson was successful in securing passage of the National Flood
Insurance Act of 1968. Further, his administration was responsive to the many
disasters of his time and he was personally involved in disaster relief despite the
attention he had to give to the Vietnam War and Great Society programs. For
example, within three days of the Palm Sunday Tornado cluster, he walked
through the rubble in Dunlap, Indiana, giving personal support to the victims.
Johnson’s long-term reputation has likely been positively affected because it gave
the public an opportunity to see a “caring” president publicly manifest his
concern. Johnson, however, only modestly advanced emergency management
organizationally and as a field.
Richard Nixon helped advance laws that strengthened federal emergency
management coordination and augmented relief resources. The Disaster Relief
Acts of 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1974, as well as executive order 11490,
which itself was a prototype for better coordination among federal agencies, stand
as examples of Nixon era laws (Miskel 2008). Nixon was critical of the federal
response to Hurricane Camille (1969) and ordered better warnings. He personally
visited the sites of several major disasters, among them, the tornado-damaged
towns of the 1974 Super Outbreak. Nixon’s long-term, overall reputation among
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historians was probably improved slightly by his interest in disaster management
policy improvements, something he also advanced prominently in foreign and
environmental affairs (Ambrose 1991). Yet, the Watergate Scandal and the
breakthrough in Sino-American affairs will likely always overshadow these
accomplishments in the mind of the general public.
Most relatively “average” presidents did not preside over catastrophic
debacles but neither did they seem to do harm to the role and execution of
emergency management. Their long-term, overall reputations were largely
unaffected by disaster management issues. Dwight Eisenhower institutionalized
the new presidential declaration power established under Truman. His military
perspective was characterized in that he subordinated civilian emergency
management to civil defense. His administration experienced numerous disasters
and yet the level of assistance was modest by today’s standards. Eisenhower’s
conservative political ideology continued to view disaster management as
fundamentally a state and local responsibility. Eisenhower lacked the foresight to
recognize the Asian Flu Pandemic of 1957 as a category of disaster management.
John F. Kennedy tried to diversify emergency management and civil
defense by returning many civil defense functions to the military. Hurricane
Carla was declared a major disaster but got little of the new president’s attention
owing to foreign affairs issues. While several studies have shown that presidents
cannot be statistically shown to use their disaster declaration authority in overtly
partisan ways (Garrett and Sobel 2003; Reeves 2005; Sylves and Buzas 2007), it
is evident that presidents seeking re-election seldom turn down governor requests
for disaster declarations when the states in question are considered battleground
areas in the fight for electoral votes (Reeves 2005; Sylves and Buzas 2007).
Gerald Ford’s short presidential administration was not marked by
catastrophic events, but he did issue nearly 100 Presidential Disaster Declarations.
Ronald Reagan’s two-term presidency was fortunate in its remarkably low
number of catastrophic events. With his philosophy of providing minimal federal
“intervention,” he signed disproportionately fewer Presidential Disaster
Declarations than his immediate predecessors and successors. His selection of
FEMA directors with military and civil defense backgrounds did little to advance
the field.
Two presidents stand out for their “poor” disaster management
performance. George Herbert Walker Bush focused on other aspects of his
administration, and tended to use FEMA a “dumping ground” for returning
political favors. FEMA leadership during his presidency was very weak, which
proved to be more problematic for him than for his predecessor. G.H.W Bush had
the misfortune to experience great and massively publicized disasters: the Loma
Prieta Earthquake (1989), Hurricane Hugo (1989), and Hurricane Andrew (1992).
His FEMA received low marks for Hugo but slightly better evaluations for Loma
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Prieta. However, Hurricane Andrew, occurring late in his tenure, proved to be an
emergency management debacle. He received criticism for FEMA’s slow and
bungled response. At times, the President’s special task force chair, Andrew Card,
and the military worked at cross purposes (Schneider 1995). In this case, the
public perception of the President did directly suffer and it played a minor role in
his failure to be reelected (Frankovic 2010).
Finally, George Walker Bush, another poor emergency management
performer, is generally considered the president who has most undermined the
emergency management system: he emplaced FEMA within the enormous and
terrorism-fixated DHS bureaucracy; until three weeks after Hurricane Katrina
struck in 2005, he was satisfied with a succession of untrained and highly political
FEMA leaders; and he allowed non-terror disaster management to lag dismally
such that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita mimicked the Hurricane Andrew federal
response experience. It is true his administration’s support was strong before,
during and after the “horde of hurricanes” that struck in Florida in 2004, when his
brother was Governor of the state and supported him positively (Kapucu and Van
Wart 2006). Yet, by the time of Katrina, his administration was unprepared to
deal with a poorly organized local response to a major catastrophe. G.W. Bush
learned too late the importance of emergency management and the significance of
capable FEMA directorship. The G.W. Bush Katrina experience, combined with
other setbacks, measurably aided the opposition party in the congressional
elections of 2006 and undercut Republican presidential prospects in 2008 (Wolf
2006).
The reasons for differing performance levels certainly vary. Some
presidents seem to learn from prior experience while others do not. Some seem to
ignore the risk of any natural or man-made disaster. Admittedly, some have been
victims of bad luck in the sense that they, and their administrations, cannot
possibly cope with truly catastrophic disasters no matter how well prepared they
are for them. Two of the best emergency management presidents were governors,
but so too was one of the worst and one who was average. Length of term does
not seem to matter since both single and double term presidents are at the top and
bottom of the scale. Major catastrophic events do have an impact in some cases,
such as floods impelling Truman to try to propose national flood insurance and
inspiring Johnson to succeed. Clinton learned from his own experience as
governor, and from G.H.W. Bush mistakes in managing the Hurricane Andrew
response, that emergency management is important. Nixon’s subsequent attention
to emergency management is based on the poor federal responses to Hurricane
Camille his first-year in office. Some presidents institutionalized positive learning
gathered from coping with new or anomalous incidents, as did Carter, Clinton and
G.W. Bush (especially terrorism). Yet some presidents essentially dealt with the
natural disasters of their eras in a relatively procedural way and without giving the
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events much attention, as was the case with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, and
Reagan. For the first three, it must be remembered that federal emergency
management was largely confined to certain types of natural disasters.
Conclusion
In terms of presidential reputations, several observations seem clear. First, most
presidents before 1950 spent extraordinarily little time on the disasters that
occurred during their terms, but the public gradually came to expect them to do
so. Arguably, their popular and scholarly reputations may have been improved
had they done so. One pre-1950 individual used his emergency management
experience as an enormous asset in campaigning for the presidency (Hoover)
(Rasmussen 2007; Siena 2010). As late at the Texas City explosion of 1947
(Truman), very little was expected of the president when disasters transpired, yet
public outrage often demanded that the federal government do more to provide
relief.
Second, the Federal Disaster Relief Act of 1950 transferred authority for
handling both major and minor disasters from Congress to the executive branch.
This converted federal emergency management from a system of legislated relief
to one of executive action and discretion.
Third, the quality and performance of federal emergency management
leadership had only a minor role in the public and expert assessments of
presidents from Truman through Reagan. For example, Carter and Nixon’s overall
popular ratings were little helped despite their stronger than average performance
in emergency management. The popular reputations of Eisenhower and Kennedy
were not hurt, despite their lackluster emergency management performance.
Fourth, the reputations of all presidents since G.H.W. Bush seem to have
been substantially affected by disaster management performance. While there are
many areas of public concern about excessive federal involvement, the public’s
expectation of federal involvement and very strong presidential leadership in
emergency management continues unabated. While occasionally perceptions of
competence can improve popular and scholarly reputations, such as in the case of
Clinton, more often than not, the high expectations of the contemporary public in
times of very great disaster are likely to tarnish presidential reputations.
Successful emergency management presidents appoint capable emergency
management officials, refrain from distorting the core mission of federal civilian
emergency management, and take an immediate and personal interest in disasters
when they occur.
Despite the magnitude of the challenges the administration faces in other
areas, it has certainly become clear to President Obama that he must address the
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heightened expectations of presidents in emergency management. His selection of
Craig Fugate, former director of Florida Division of Emergency Management, as
head of FEMA is a significant sign that the administration takes this seriously.
Presidential disaster management will not soon displace the importance of
the president’s duties in many other domains of foreign and domestic policy, but
disaster management has a place in every president’s White House and personal
legacy. Disaster management is gradually coming to define an increasing share of
presidential image, as many of the living presidents reviewed here well know.
This study is an elemental step in casting further light on this subject.
Appendix A: Presidents and Disaster Management Involvement
President Experience Prior
to Presidency
Presidential Disaster
Declarations and Directives Select Major Disasters
Harry S.
Truman
(1945-1953)
Vice-President,
member of
Congress, County
Court Judge
Signed the Defense Relief Act
of 1950 creating presidential
declarations
Texas City explosions in
1947; Great Flood of
1951
Dwight D.
Eisenhower
(1953-1961)
Supreme
Commander of
NATO forces
Signed more than 100
Presidential Disaster
Declarations for more than 65
million in current dollars.
1953 Tornado outbreaks
in May and June; 1955
Great Plains Tornado
Outbreak; 1957 Asian
Flu Pandemic; Hurricane
Donna in 1960
John
Kennedy
(1961-1963)
Member of
Congress
Signed more than 50
Presidential Disaster
Declarations
Hurricane Carla 1961
Lyndon B.
Johnson
(1963-1969)
Member of
Congress, Vice
President in the
Kennedy
Administration
Signed 93 Presidential
Disaster Declarations; Signed
the 1966 Disaster Relief Act,
the National Flood Insurance
Act of 1968 and the National
Flood Insurance Program of
1968
Hurricane Hilda 1964;
1964 Alaska Earthquake;
Hurricane Betsy 1965;
Palm Sunday tornado in
1965
Richard
Nixon
(1969-1974)
Member of
Congress, Vice
President in
Eisenhower
Administration
Introduced National Security
Decision Memorandum
(NSDM) 184; signed the
Disaster Relief Act of 1974;
Signed 196 Presidential
Disaster Declarations
Hurricane Camille in
1969; 1972 Rapid City
Flood ; Super Outbreak
of Tornadoes in 1974
Gerald R.
Ford
(1974-1977)
Member of
Congress, Vice
President in Nixon
Administration
Signed 99 Presidential
Disaster Declarations
Thompson Canyon
Flood
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James E.
Carter
(1977-1981)
Governor of
Georgia
Signed 171 Presidential
Disaster Declarations;
Created the Federal
Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) in 1979;
supported and signed
Superfund (CERCLA)
legislation (1980)
1979 Nuclear Accident
at Metropolitan Edison’s
Three Mile Island
(TMI); Mount St.
Helen’s volcanic
eruption
Ronald
Regan
(1981-1989)
Governor of
California
Signed the Stafford Act of
1988; Signed 193 Presidential
Disaster Declarations
George
H.W. Bush
(1989-1993)
Member of
Congress, Vice
President in the
Reagan
Administration;
Ambassador to the
UN, Director of
the CIA.
Signed 160 Presidential
Disaster Declarations; signed
Federal Response Plan
1989 Loma Prieta
Earthquake; Hurricane
Hugo of 1989; Hurricane
Andrew of 1992
William
Clinton
(1993-2001)
Governor of
Arkansas
Signed 448 Presidential
Disaster Declarations; Federal
Disaster Mitigation Act
(2000)
Great Midwest Flood of
1993; World Trade
Center Bomb Attack in
1993; Northridge
Earthquake of 1994;
Hurricane Floyd of
1999; 1995 Truck
Bombing of Murrah
Federal Building in
Oklahoma City
George W.
Bush
(2001-2009)
Governor of Texas
Signed more than 345
Presidential Disaster
Declarations; Created the
DHS subsuming FEMA in
2002; strengthened FEMA
within DHS in 2006
September 11, 2001
Terrorist Attacks; “hoard
of hurricanes” in Florida
in 2004; Hurricane
Dennis 2005; Hurricanes
in 2005 Katrina; Rita;
and Wilma
Barack
Obama
(2009-
present)
Member of
Congress
Considers elevating the status
of FEMA
Responds to the Gulf Oil
Spill primarily through
the U.S. Coast Guard
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... Several scholars (Blanchard, 1985;Task Force, 2006;Kapucu, Wart, Sylves, & Yuldashev, 2011) look at the evolution of civil defense in relation to presidential priorities over time. This course of analysis is powerful, since the executive branch can have a tremendous impact on preparedness activities at the local, state and national level. ...
... These recommendations fell on deaf ears. The prevailing popularity of limited government meant that both the Truman Administration and Congress saw both emergency management and civil defense as state and local responsibilities (Kapucu, et al., 2011). ...
... Congress and the Administration continued to insist that civil defense and emergency management were primarily a state and local responsibility (Kapucu et al., 2011). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in the wake of the September 11th 2001 terrorist events. DHS’s formation, the largest reorganization of a governmental agency in over 50 years, brought a new emphasis on the protection of the nation, its citizens and its infrastructure to government emergency management policy. Previously, the locus of emergency management had lain with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which had strongly emphasized natural disaster response. The rise of FEMA and DHS were only the latest iterations in a long history of policy shifts in this space driven by the perceived threats and prevailing political dynamics of the day. Arguably, the complex and intertwined nature of contemporary hazards calls for a dual emphasis in the homeland security and emergency management (HSEM) enterprise; that is, awareness and capabilities that span both fields. As applied disciplines, scholarship in homeland security and emergency management has always had strong links to the evolving practice of the HSEM enterprise. In addition to providing research to guide practice, baccalaureate programs in both homeland security and emergency management have emerged to address the operational and educational capabilities required by practitioners. In the post-9/11 environment, the increasingly complex demands placed upon our homeland security and emergency management enterprise require a better-integrated education. This study serves to demonstrate consensus regarding the significance of an integrated curricula in homeland security and emergency management meeting the needs of the workforce.
... The federal government has played an increasingly important role in disaster relief in the United States (Schroeder, Wamsley et al. 2001;Sylves 2008;Kapucu, Van Wart et al. 2011). Before 1950, disaster relief was the responsibility of neighbors, churches, charities, and local governments. ...
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The New Orleans Flood in the summer of 2005 caused by Hurricane Katrina ranks as one of the biggest US natural disasters in terms of human and economical loss (Howitt and Leonard in Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 30(1):215–221, 2006; Waugh in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 604(1):10–25, 2006).
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Since the inauguration of George Washington as president in 1789, the United States of America has been governed by almost four-dozen presidents. Although such figures share a variety of elements, they still differ considerably from one another by several metrics, which may be used to construct distinct families of American leaders. By analyzing the C-SPAN Presidential Historians Surveys from 2000, 2009, and 2017, we identified a consistent set of presidential "families" with similar traits. This included the All Stars; the Conservative Visionaries; the Postwar Progressives; the Average Joes; the Forgettables; and the Regrettables. This categorization, in turn, could provide historians with the guidance to evaluate and reevaluate presidential performance in both the past and the present. This article is set to be published in the Michigan Academician in January 2021.
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The Sewol ferry accident, occurring in the ocean in South Korea on April 16, 2014, resulted in the loss of 304 lives. Some argue that one of the primary reasons for such an excessive death toll was because the post-disaster rescue operations led by the Korea Coast Guard (KCG) were neither timely nor efficient and effective. In this study, we attempt to understand whether there was any systemic cause behind such an unsuccessful disaster response on the part of the KCG. In doing so, we analyze the KCG's aptitudes, attitudes, and behaviors vis-à-vis its rescue operations in the broader context of Sewol ferry disaster management, while utilizing the classic theories of bureaucratic accountability. We conclude this research by arguing that the KCG was more concerned about hierarchical, political, and legal accountability than professional accountability in the midst of the accident, and discuss theoretical and practical ramifications of our findings. © 2017 Policy Studies Organization.
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The recent implementation of the FEMA Corps program, which expands the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps program, will provide disaster relief efforts with rapid access to a cadre of 1,000 trained responders. The program is designed to provide cost-effective labor to disasters, as well as instill a civic ethic among program participants. This research examines the effect that participation in disaster responses among a sample of AmeriCorps NCCC members has on disaster participation later in life. Respondents were not found to give or volunteer to the Hurricane Katrina and Rita efforts at significantly different rates than other NCCC members. Participation in NCCC does appear to positively predict whether an individual donated time to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, although it did not predict if an individual gave money. Rather, age and income were better predictors of monetary donations.
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This article examines the varied national responses to selected disasters. Rather than attempting to provide a rating of presidents or to duplicate previous studies, it identifies political ideology as an element in response effectiveness. Presidents who perform more effectively tend to be those who are inclined toward activism, who accept an active role for government, who understand the implications of a given situation, and who learn from the experiences of their predecessors.
Book
Crisis management has become a defining feature of contemporary governance. In times of crisis, communities and members of organizations expect their leaders to minimize the impact, while critics and bureaucratic competitors make use of social media to blame incumbent rulers and their policies. In this extreme environment, policymakers must somehow establish a sense of normality, and foster collective learning from the crisis experience. In the new edition of this uniquely comprehensive analysis, the authors examine how strategic leaders deal with the challenges they face, the political risks and opportunities they encounter, the pitfalls they must avoid, and the paths towards reform they may pursue. The book is grounded in decades of collaborative, cross-national and multidisciplinary case study research and has been updated to include new insights and examples from the last decade. This is an original and important contribution from experts in public policy and international security. © Arjen Boin, Paul 't Hart, Eric Stern, and Bengt Sundelius 2017. All rights reserved.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) path to Homeland Security was paved for 24 years by (1) the actions of five presidents and by new laws, (2) by the outcomes of the agency's bureaucratic "turf wars" with other federal departments or agencies, (3) by staffing decisions inside the agency that relied on "generalist" managers more than "technocratic" managers, and (4) experience with human-caused disasters ranging from terror bombings to radiological and hazardous materials incidents, under all-hazards emergency management. These are the determinants that prepared FEMA for a major role in homeland security.
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Listen to Richard Sylves on his interview from “Homeland Security Inside & Out” Click Here to ListenRichard Sylves Interview Interview from ‘Homeland Security Inside and Out’ which airs on KAMU. Interview air date: May 20, 2008. In this groundbreaking book, long-time expert and scholar in the field of disaster management, Richard Sylves, comprehensively surveys the field of emergency management while building on his original research and sharing his insider knowledge. Providing much needed synthesis of the field's major findings, scholarship, and current developments, Sylves structures the book with an analytical framework that focuses on the challenge of effective intergovernmental relations—both across levels of government and across types of disasters—to guide readers through instructive and important political history as well as recent crises. Whether for an undergraduate studying the topic for the first time or a practitioner looking for professional development, Disaster Policy and Politics will prove to be a highly readable, informative text and handbook aimed at laying a foundation of knowledge and know-how. Ten chapters offer, among other topics: a contextual history of disaster policy and politics; a discussion of global issues and influences; an exploration of the politics of planning and funding for the next disaster; a look to the future, to where emergency management goes from here, including its maturation into a profession. A valuable learning resource available with the book is a website sponsored by the Public Entity Risk Institute that tracks presidential disaster declarations issued for every state and county from 1953 through 2006. © 2008 by CQ Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc. CQ Press is a registered trademark of Congressional Quarterly Inc.
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Introduction to Homeland Security: Principles of All-Hazards Risk Management, Fifth Edition, provides users with a substantially updated version of previous versions, clearly delineating the bedrock principles of preparing for, mitigating, managing, and recovering from emergencies and disasters, while also offering a balanced account of all aspects of homeland security. This new edition features coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, analysis of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework for critical infrastructure protection, and examines the DHS “Blue Campaign” to stop human trafficking. To provide added perspective, this edition features additional “another voice” sections and examines the emergence of social media as a tool for reporting on homeland security issues.
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The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act(the Stafford Act) authorizes the President to issue a major disasterdeclaration to speed a wide range of federal aid to states determined to beoverwhelmed by hurricanes or other catastrophes. Financing for the aid isappropriated to the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), administered by theDepartment of Homeland Security (DHS). Funds appropriated to the DRFremain available until expended (a "no-year" account). The Stafford Actauthorizes temporary housing, grants for immediate needs of families andindividuals, the repair of public infrastructure, emergency communicationssystems, and other forms of assistance.Because the Stafford Act provides the President with permanentauthority to direct federal aid to stricken states, Congress need not enact newlegislation to meet immediate needs. Congress appropriated over $10 billionto the DRF in FY2005, largely in response to the four hurricanes that struckFlorida in the fall of 2004. The appropriations legislation for FY2006 includes roughly $2 billion for the DRF in both the House and Senateversions of H.R. 2360 in conference at the time Hurricane Katrina struck.Congress can elect to consider supplemental appropriations should additionalmoney be required to meet the requests for assistance.
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Federal disaster policy is an important but overlooked aspect of federal action that has provided a rich arena for pursuing our more general research interests concerning federal program implementation and management. May brought to the research task both a familiarity with the broad issues of federal disaster policy-having recently completed a book (May, 1985) about disaster relief policy and politics-and an understanding of the day-to-day workings of emergency management at the federal level. Williams provided the "imple mentation perspective" that undergirds the book, having previously devel oped and applied the perspective in two books (Williams, 1980a, b) about social programs. The study focuses upon the intergovernmental implementation of selected emergency management programs, primarily as played out at the federal and state levels. Our fieldwork and resultant description of disaster policy implementation allow us: (I) to analyze the implementation of selected aspects of disaster policy and to discuss federal management choices in this area; (2) to gain a greater understanding of federal program implementation under "shared governance"-a term we develop more fully in the book in referring to programs under which the federal and subnational governments share responsibility for program funding and management; and (3) to con sider the relevance of the lessons of earlier social program implementation research to a very different policy setting. Many individuals assisted us with this research. Our greatest debt is to those federal and state officials who took time from their busy schedules to offer their implementation perspectives about emergency management."