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April 14, 2004

Clinton Administration's disaster czar to deliver Shah Lecture

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during the Clinton Administration, will deliver the fifth annual Shah Family Lecture at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, in the Bloch Lecture Hall at Stanford. The title of the lecture is "Disaster Risk: The Odds Are Changing In Nature's Favor." The event, which is sponsored by Stanford's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is free and open to the public.

Now president of James Lee Witt Associates LLC in Washington, D.C., Witt served as FEMA director from 1993 to 2001. He has been at the forefront of disaster and crisis management for more than 25 years. During his tenure at FEMA, he led the agency through more than 300 presidentially declared disasters in all 50 states and in several territories -- including the most costly flood in American history, the most costly earthquake and a dozen damaging hurricanes.

Under his leadership, FEMA adopted a new emphasis on customer service ­ providing communities and businesses with skills, knowledge, services and technology to minimize damage and loss from disasters. He is often credited with transforming FEMA into an effective disaster-response agency that provides hands-on assistance before and after disaster strikes.

A native of Arkansas, Witt's professional career began with the founding of Witt Construction, a commercial and residential building company. He was elected county judge for Yell County at age 34, becoming the youngest elected official in Arkansas. After winning re-election six times, Witt was tapped by then-Governor Bill Clinton to assume leadership of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services.

As president of James Lee Witt Associates, Witt continues to provide disaster mitigation advice to corporations, local governments and a wide range of nonprofit organizations here and abroad. He is writing a book based on his first-hand experiences dealing with disasters.

The Shah Family Fund was established in 1995 to provide annual fellowships for students in civil engineering, an annual prize for an outstanding staff member in the School of Engineering and an annual distinguished lecture on catastrophic risk management and related areas. The fund is named for Haresh Shah, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

For directions and more information about the lecture, contact Kimberly Vonner at (650) 723-4121 or



Mark Shwartz, News Service: (650) 723-9296,


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