"I think the big [lesson] ? and this is one Congress recognized and passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act ? was that we shouldn't have to wait until a state is overwhelmed to begin getting ready, that we should be able to go in before the governor's made a request, have supplies ready, have our teams in the state and work as one team, not waiting for damages to occur and that formal request to come," Fugate said on ABC News' "This Week" last year.
Another lesson learned from Katrina: the president is held responsible for FEMA's successes or failures.
With the election only a few days away President Obama suspended his campaign and instead remained in Washington to monitor the storm, including making phone calls to governors and elected officials in states across the East Coast.
"My instructions to the federal agency has been: Do not figure out why we can't do something. I want you to figure out how we do something. I want you to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy," Obama said at the Red Cross today. "There's no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they're needed as quickly as possible."