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Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator, talks about emergency preparedness in the Coverdell Center in Athens, Georgia on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

With climate change rapidly altering the environment, we are forced to modify our lives to account for this sudden change. One such process is the government’s response to natural disasters and other emergency situations.

The Signature Lecture Series provides students, faculty and the Athens community with the opportunity to hear from notable speakers.

Most lectures in the series are made possible through endowments, but some recognize prominent UGA figures and the school’s historic milestones.

“I think it’s good to be well-rounded with what you’re listening to,” said mechanical engineering graduate student John Green. "It’s important to learn about different subjects.”

Green, who came to the lecture for class participation, ended up learning more than he thought possible.

“It really showed how complicated things are, that if you don’t plan to succeed you plan to fail,” Green said.

A room full of students and professors listened intently to Fugate, who served for almost eight years under President Barack Obama.

“Emergency management is extremely important as the interconnectivity of our society grows and the human and economic cost of disasters increases,” College of Engineering Dean Donald Leo said in an email.

Fugate’s talk focused on how to prepare for and act during a natural disaster, what changes the government needs to make in response to national emergencies and how climate change is shaking up the emergency management system.

“He brings a common sense, non-partisan message to Americans about emergency management and preparedness,” director for UGA’s atmospheric science program Marshall Shepherd said in an email.

His sins of emergency preparedness include failing to plan for the worst case scenario, fear of overspending when sending too many resources to an area and building the response system around the government.

The solution? Planning for success from the start by analyzing all possible outcomes and relying on the public’s help instead of treating it as liability.

“The bigger the disaster, the less government we have and the more we need to depend on the public,” Fugate said. “We are confusing the fact that recurring or increasing natural hazards always have to result in disasters.”

Climate change poses an increasingly difficult challenge. Officials are now working on creating new emergency management plans that continue to ensure public safety.

“We can plan for future risk with appropriate building codes and land use planning,” Fugate said.

Fugate is now the chief emergency management officer at One Concern, a group that is “on a mission to save lives — and livelihoods — before, during and after a natural disaster.”

One Concern uses artificial intelligence technology to monitor climate change’s impact on the frequency of natural disasters. Its vision is to help every group of people prepare for emergencies and ultimately live in a safe world. Their system monitors earthquakes and floods for over 12 million residential buildings and over 36 million people.

The lecture emphasized the importance of correctly informing the public on how to prepare for future emergency weather events.

“His advice is a good reminder that at the end of the day we are a community that needs to be prepared to help others,” Shepherd said. “Usually the first people to help in disasters or emergencies are neighbors or people close to us. Know the emergency procedures of the university.”

The next Signature Lecture will be held on Jan. 28 in the Chapel at 1 p.m. Freda Scott Giles will speak about civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.

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