As Hurricane Harvey made landfall late Friday, many eyes in Texas and beyond were upon William "Brock" Long, the man appointed by President Donald Trump to head FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Many were also watching Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, as emergencies on the scale of Harvey require communication and coordination between state and federal agencies.
Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph, could become one of the most powerful storms to hit Texas in more than a decade.
Long, a former FEMA regional manager who also once headed Alabama’s emergency management operation, is an experienced civil servant known for a steady hand in mitigating natural disasters.
At a White House briefing Friday, Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert expressed full confidence in Long, calling him “the top of the top.”
“I’ve known Administrator Long now for 15 years. We couldn’t have picked a finer leader. He’s had state director experience. He’s had FEMA experience. He’s absolutely the top of the top,” Bossert told reporters.
Unlike some of his predecessors at FEMA, Long has been involved in disaster relief for most of his career. In 1999 he was a statewide planner at Georgia’s Emergency Management Agency, then in 2001 became a regional manager at FEMA under President George W. Bush.
After four years at FEMA, Long became director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency, where he guided efforts to relieve areas affected by tornadoes and a BP oil spill.
His successful directorship in Alabama drew bipartisan praise. Barry Scanlon, a former senior FEMA official under President Clinton, said Long is well-respected among people working in disaster relief.
"He's got the relationships throughout emergency management, throughout the states," Scanlon told NPR. "He has the respect of the people who do this every day, which is vitally important."
Perhaps it is not surprising that Long’s nomination by Trump to become FEMA director met with little resistance. The Senate confirmed his nomination in June by a 95-4 vote.
"The combination of his work for FEMA, state emergency management, and the private sector makes Brock Long well suited for this nomination by the president,” U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in June. “Because of his experience, Brock understands it is the work done before a storm that saves lives.”
Long is one of the few Trump appointees who has been celebrated by environmentalists who see danger in not responding to climate change, New York magazine reported.
The FEMA chief also came out in support of cutting federal government coverage for flood-prone homes so that local authorities could take responsibility, Bloomberg reported.
But while Long remains an important figure in containing Hurricane Harvey, Texans were also looking to Abbott, a first-term Republican who took office in January 2015.
Abbott received some help from the White House on Friday, when President Trump declared Texas a disaster area. The move helps provide Texas with federal funding for emergency response efforts.
Abbott, meanwhile, activated around 700 National Guard members shortly before Harvey made a landfall. In a statement, he assured Texans that all levels of government were working together to mitigate the effects of the hurricane.
According to the National Hurricane Center, floodwaters resulting from Hurricane Harvey could reach as high as 12 feet above ground level along the Gulf Coast of Texas and around 3 feet of rain could fall in the most-affected areas.
The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Corpus Christi warned that the hurricane’s impact could range from “structural damage to sturdy buildings” to “complete destruction of mobile homes.”
“Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months,” it added.
It was clear as Harvey made landfall that both FEMA’s Long and Gov. Abbott had plenty of work ahead of them.