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FEMA campaign a great service

It was known as the Federal Civil Defense Agency when it first arrived in Denton and its small start in a building on the campus of Texas Woman’s University may have belied its importance.

But those involved in bringing what is now known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency regional center to town remember just how significant the decision was — for Denton County and the region.

A team of local leaders including Roy Appleton and Bill Utter worked for six months to convince the government that the facility should be in Denton. The effort included a campaign to raise $25,000 to buy a parcel of land on Loop 288, and those involved recall that it took phone calls from then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, House Speaker Sam Rayburn and other prominent Texans to cement the deal.

Friday morning, FEMA will mark 50 years in Denton County with a celebration at the Federal Regional Center featuring local leaders and agency officials past and present. It’s an invitation-only event with special security befitting the agency that has moved from worries about nuclear war to emergency management for Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and 68 American Indian tribal nations.

The sprawling FEMA center has guided Texas and the region through tornadoes, hurricanes, explosions, fires, floods and other disasters, including the Challenger explosion in 1986, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the tornado that struck downtown Fort Worth in 2000 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When local leaders began their campaign to bring the facility to Denton, it was to be a secondary location for the government to use for operations if the primary location, in High Point, N.C., came under attack. As the years have passed, the world’s political environment has changed and so has the mission of the facility, which once was a buttoned-up, underground building.

Today, although the Cold War setup is mostly gone, the 13-ton blast doors remain in the 50,000-square-foot facility, which sits 58 feet underground.

Current Regional Administrator Tony Robinson said the agency has continued to evolve. Looking at the future, Robinson said FEMA will continue to focus on assisting survivors in the communities who need help the most.

“We have to ensure for generations to follow that that is our main point,” he said. “[And] preparedness as a nation and how we get better prepared — in our schools, in our communities — that individuals are prepared to not only help themselves, but their neighbor. We made tremendous strides over the last several years, [and I] still think it’s something we can continue to work on.”

Dale Hoff, a natural hazards program specialist at the center, told us that Region 6 has done one thing better than the other FEMA regions.

“And I know we’re not supposed to compare, [but] after all these years of attending disasters all over the country, I really feel our region is one of the best in actually assisting the state to do their job,” he said.

It would be impossible to measure the full impact of the Federal Emergency Management Agency regional center during the past 50 years, but those involved in the campaign to bring it to Denton performed a great service.

Thanks to their foresight and dedication, many have benefited, and the needs of future generations will continue to be served.