North Carolina

Why does FEMA’s Brock Long take Florence so seriously? Because he remembers Hugo.

Take a look at when Hurricane Hugo hit Charlotte in 1989

The Queen City was hit pretty hard when Hurricane Hugo rammed through the state.
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The Queen City was hit pretty hard when Hurricane Hugo rammed through the state.

For North Carolina native Brock Long, Hurricane Florence is personal.

Long, who grew up in Newton, was 14 in 1989 the night Hurricane Hugo swept in, toppling trees and damaging buildings.

“Hurricane Hugo . . . came right over my house,” he told CBS News Tuesday. “We were out of power for 10 days. I was out of school I remember for two weeks. This storm is setting up to be very similar to that one.”

Now 43, Long is the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He’s in charge of the federal response to the storm building off the Carolinas coast. It’s the first storm since Hugo expected to make landfall as a Category 4.

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Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long, right, briefs U.S. President Donald Trump on the looming threat of Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office of the White House Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery TNS

On Tuesday Long was in the Oval Office as President Donald Trump briefed reporters on preparations for Florence, which the president calls “extremely dangerous.”

Since taking office in mid-2017, Long has had a baptism of many storms. He has dealt with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in addition to floods and wildfires.

Hurricane Florence's path for this week, according to NOAA.

The agency drew fire for its response to Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico. A federal government report said the agency was stymied in its response by staffing shortages, logistical challenges and limited preparedness by territory officials. (On Thursday Trump questioned the number the government said were killed in Puerto Rico.)

Also on Thursday, Politico reported that Long is under investigation by an inspector general’s office for frequent trips from Washington to Hickory with aides in government cars.

Until taking over FEMA, Long was virtually unknown outside professional circles. Before his Senate confirmation, he was living in Hickory and working for a national consulting firm, according to a 2017 Observer story.

Long earned two degrees from Appalachian State University, the Observer reported. He went on to work in emergency management for more than 16 years before landing the FEMA job. He drew praise from virtually all sides.

New York Magazine profiled him in a story headlined: “Trump’s FEMA Director Doesn’t Seem Incompetent.”

Long could boast a deep resume. From 2008 to 2011, he served as director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency, where he oversaw the response to 14 disasters, including BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Before that he was FEMA’s Regional Hurricane Program Manager in Georgia, where he worked in emergency operations planning, evacuation procedures and response logistics.

Hurricane Florence swept into the Carolinas in 2018 and caused extensive damage in both states. Florence set a record for the costliest storm to hit the Carolinas. Here's a look at other costly hurricanes.

Since 2011, Long was executive vice president at Hagerty Consulting, a nationwide emergency management consultant. From his home in Hickory, he worked on more than 50 projects across the country.

All of which makes him keenly aware of the challenges posed by Florence.

“Florence could be the most dangerous storm in the history of the Carolinas,” he tweeted this week. “But it will also bring significant impacts throughout the Mid-Atlantic. We are getting ready from the Carolinas to Delaware – you need to be ready too.”

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill
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