CSU alumna Deanne Criswell confirmed as first woman to head FEMA

Deanne Criswell
Deanne Criswell

Colorado State University alumna Deanne Criswell is now the first woman to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency since its creation in 1979.

President Joe Biden nominated Criswell on Jan. 15, and she was confirmed by Congress on April 22.

Having led disaster planning and recovery efforts with FEMA for nearly six years under the Obama administration – from severe flooding in North Dakota to wildfires in Colorado – Criswell is no stranger to the agency and its work.

“As I kick off Day 1, I am proud and excited to (re)join and lead this amazing team of public servants,” Criswell tweeted on April 27, one day after her official swearing-in. “Together, we will continue building a more prepared and resilient nation.”

Ready, willing, able

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas congratulated Criswell following her confirmation. “Deanne is a proven leader on issues related to climate change, emergency management, and disaster response. She brings nearly six years of prior FEMA experience to this role. I look forward to working together to confront our most urgent challenges,” he said in a statement.

Criswell transferred to CSU in 2001 with a drive to become the first in her family to receive a college degree. In 2003, she secured her Bachelor of Science in technology education and training, a program offered by the College of Health and Human Sciences’ Department of Construction Management until 2004.

She earned a Master of Public Administration from the University of Colorado Denver in 2006 and a Master of Science in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2011, further equipping herself for an impactful career in public service and administration.

From 2005 to 2011, Criswell managed the Office of Emergency Management for the City of Aurora – Colorado’s third-largest city – where she led numerous emergency and disaster planning efforts, including the coordination of transitional housing and family reunification for roughly 2,000 evacuees displaced by Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast only a few months after she started in the role.

“As an emergency manager, I have always focused on keeping families and communities safe,” Criswell said during her confirmation hearing. “There is nothing more rewarding than being able to help the people of this country.”

Criswell also served 21 years as a firefighter and deputy fire chief with the Colorado Air National Guard, with numerous deployments to the Middle East.

In July 2019, after a two-year stint in private consulting, Criswell became New York City’s commissioner of emergency management, where she managed the city’s readiness plans and preparation for major events, emergencies and natural disasters. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she coordinated the delivery of critical aid, relief and guidance to city residents.