In May 2011, Serino was in Kansas City, Mo., with tornadoes headed his way. "Tornadoes??? What??" Serino later wrote on FEMA's blog. The deputy FEMA administrator found himself on the other side of disaster. "We preach preparedness," he wrote, "But are we really ready?" Serino, 59, has spent his whole career getting ready. He worked for 36 years in Boston's Emergency Medical Service, where he "held pretty much every position" until he became the department's chief in 2000. (Serino has Boston in his blood; he was born and raised in the city and attended Boston State College.) Coming to its federal counterpart in 2009 after its post-Katrina lows, Serino wanted to "have people proud to wear the FEMA shirt, and proud to wear the FEMA logo." During his tenure, Serino has been on the ground in areas racked by hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. For him, it's all about keeping focus on survivors and creating a community to best serve their needs. Even with nearly four years at FEMA and 40 years of service behind him, Serino isn't ready to settle. "There's always more we can do," he says. "Every disaster is an opportunity to learn and see the ways we can do things better."
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the agency where Serino spent much of his career. It was Boston's Emergency Medical Services.