Transcript: FEMA Administrator Brock Long on "Face the Nation," September 16, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with FEMA Administrator Brock Long that aired Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


JOHN DICKERSON: We want to go now to the head of FEMA Brock Long who is at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Good morning administrator Long. Let's start with a statistic I've been thinking about all week, the number of people who die from wind is down around 8 percent, this is from the Associated Press. But storm surge, flooding, that's almost 50 percent, is that the big concern with this storm?

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: Well initially when when a hurricane makes landfall particularly one that has major what we call major category winds Category 3 4 or 5 winds. Storm surge has the highest potential to create the most amount of damage, but unfortunately it also has the potential to cause the most loss of life. It's one of the storms I want to point out is Katrina. 270 people lost their lives in Mississippi because the ocean rose well over 25 feet in some areas. And anybody that didn't evacuate from that doesn't live to talk about their experience from storm surge--

JOHN DICKERSON:-- And so does that concern him?--

ADMINISTRATOR LONG: Well. So initially Florence it's a different storm than Katrina. Obviously we didn't have a cat 5 landfall in Florence, but what happens is you saw a lot of damage you see a lot of people being rescued from storm surge on the coastal islands, the west side of the Pamlico Sound, but now it's turning into a flood event. And the flood event, you know people fail to heed warnings and get out or they get into the flood waters trying to escape their home. And that's where you start to see deaths escalate. So when even though hurricanes are categorized by wind it's the water that really causes the most loss of life.

JOHN DICKERSON: What about the interruption of medical care from these kinds of events? We reported over 700,000 are without electricity. What about the interruption of medical care? How dangerous is that?

ADMINISTRATOR LONG: So what we always do is work with our partners over at HHS and we forward deployed disaster medical assistance teams. You know there's there's hundreds of people out into the field and not only to support the medical needs, but also we are ready to support any evacuation transportation needs.

JOHN DICKERSON: The interruption of medical care that you were just talking about was responsible I believe for 47 percent of the fatalities in Katrina and is a big part of that number that's been disputed this week about Puerto Rico. The 3,000 number. So the president said that 3000 number didn't exist, that they didn't die. So how is it true that you're preparing for an interruption of medical care in Florence, but the president says people who died as a result of interruption of medical care in Puerto Rico are not worth counting?

ADMINISTRATOR LONG: Well you know look, these studies are all over the place the Harvard study was done differently studies a different period of time versus the George Washington study. There's a big discrepancy whether it's direct deaths or indirect deaths. You know if you look at the the root cause of any problem is one round here one death. These guys know one death is a death to many. We work every day to make sure that we try to prevent that. But if you want to get into Puerto Rico from the standpoint of what needs to happen next. We've got to fix aging infrastructure that wasn't ready to support you know the Commonwealth before the storm hit. And when when they were blown out and the infrastructure is blown out it exponentially causes problems on the beach.

JOHN DICKERSON: But the reason it's so important obviously is if you figure out how people died last time you can keep it from happening again. You say the numbers are all over the place, but the numbers are more than zero which is what the president said. He said the deaths didn't happen. I guess my question is this, the GW report as you mentioned again the bulk was from interruption of medical care which you're trying to take care of in Florence. They interviewed people from FEMA to come up with that number. So who's right? The president who says those deaths didn't happen or the FEMA officials who helped G.W. put together that report?

ADMINISTRATOR LONG:  Yeah I don't know who they interviewed with him -- agency. They may have looked at funeral benefits to help, you know, calculate whatever number. And that's a number, you know, that's the only number that we would really be able to contribute to any study going forward. But as far as--

JOHN DICKERSON:  Let me ask you this. Puerto Rico might get hit again during hurricane season. People who worry about dying from interruption of medical care, which is the bulk of those deaths that get to the 3000 number. Does FEMA -- is FEMA concerned about people who might die from that result in Puerto Rico?

ADMINISTRATOR LONG: What we do is we coordinate the fire power of the federal government down. So for example, FEMA, you know, FEMA doesn't rebuild power grids. We we basically pay for it and help to coordinate the resources they need. And that's the same case that would be within the health and medical industry- and you know my authority to support rebuilding the power if you get the power back up that solves 95 percent of the problems--

JOHN DICKERSON: I mean--

ADMINISTRATOR LONG:  You know bottom line is, we push forward on that authority as much as we can. And Puerto Rico is a very vulnerable place right now. But we're focused on putting billions of dollars of work to-to prevent this and build it more resilient so that it doesn't happen again.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you a final question. The Wall Street Journal has some reporting which- about you and your state and it suggested that because of your use of travel that there was an inspector general's report and that Department of Homeland Security secretary Nielsen went to you and discussed whether you should- you should continue in your job. What's your response about that?

ADMINISTRATOR LONG: Yeah. So that narrative is that, yes there is an ongoing investigation. We've been working with the OIG you know very clearly and I can come back and put context around that. But in regards to Secretary Nielsen I've never been asked to resign. Secretary Nielson I talk everyday we have a very professional, functional relationship. You know we are both focused on Floyd right now. And you know let's put some context on what the vehicles are that they're talking about. So this job is incredibly complex. All my shoulders is presidential preparedness directive 40 which means you know I have to make sure FEMA has to make sure that the executive branch of government works on its worst day at any given time regardless of what we see and a lot of that is continuity of government. Those vehicles are to supply me with secure comms. The program was developed in 2008 way before I even got here -- it ran for me the same way that it ran for anybody before me and we comply everyday we'll make meaningful changes. You know I have never made -- I would never intentionally violate any rules, you know, that I was there- aware of, so.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right administrator Long thanks so much for being with us and good luck with that long to do list. Thank you.