Pencils, Clipboards and Office Work

Throughout all of Team Leader Training (TLT) we have experienced the roller coaster ride of the never-ending unknown surrounding AmeriCorps*NCCC FEMA Corps.  With so many uncertainties, every answer we received sparked hundreds of questions.  I feel that even now, as TLT comes to an end and Corps Members (CMs) start arriving in the morning, there are so many people asking what they will be doing over these next ten months of service. 

I don’t hold all of the answers.  None of the Team Leaders (TLs) know everything.  FEMA Corps is a brand new program, a new initiative that has yet to reveal all of itself.  In Denver, our motto for NCCC was “Be flexible, from the F to the E.”  Here, with its beginnings, us TLs have taken that approach, becoming what we now consider “FEMA Flexible.”  Semper Gumby. 

One of the earliest comments that got everyone concerned (both TLs and CMs) was the statement that FEMA Corps was going to be the office workers of NCCC.  Instead of shovels and chain saws, we would be wielding pens and clipboards.  Many of us were and are still expecting to be the boots on the ground immediately after a disaster, a role that the traditional NCCC excels in. 

Throughout TLT we began to understand the role of FEMA in disaster response and the roles that we, as AmeriCorps members would be playing.  Unlike first responders, FEMA usually does not participate in the initial response to a disaster.  Due to procedures and policies, the mission of FEMA (and as a direct reflection, FEMA Corps) is a supporting role throughout disaster response. 

When a disaster strikes, the local first responders are the first to arrive on scene.  In the event that they are overwhelmed, they request the support of surrounding counties, agencies and municipalities.  In the event that they are overwhelmed, the Governor of the state may declare a State Disaster and request the support of resources throughout the state and surrounding area.  At this point, if things are bigger than the State resources can handle, the Governor must send a request to the President of the United States to announce a National Disaster.  Upon this declaration, FEMA, now a section of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has 72 hours to set up whatever is needed, from Joint Field Offices (JFOs) to Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs). 

This is a brief overview of disaster response from memory.  It may not be completely accurate, so don’t base any of your arguments or opinions on my writings.  I’m sure FEMA’s website has a better description of all the steps it takes before they have the authority to act

FEMA is a supporting agency.  They do not come in and take over, but they do set up the structure so that the local municipalities, the local response teams have the support needed to accomplish their goals. 

FEMA Corps role in all this complex beast is complex and hard to explain because at this point in time, it is all theoretical.  The members of FEMA Corps will be assigned specialist roles, trained by FEMA and utilized throughout the various JFOs and DRCs. 

While we will not be the traditional NCCC, we will be doing a lot more than just walking around with a clipboard and a stack of forms.  We will be interacting with individuals affected by the disasters, hearing their stories and assisting them as they rebuild, recover and continue living after their world has been shattered.  We will be working in warehouses and distribution points.  We will be setting up shelters and coordinating with volunteer agencies.  Inspecting local infrastructure and building relationships throughout the communities. 

This will be nothing new to NCCC.  In disaster response traditional NCCC teams have filled these roles before.  In my time in Joplin, my team (as well as members of several teams) found ourselves doing the same work that we will be trained to do through FEMA Corps. 

Yes, it will be different.  Yes, it will be challenging.  Yes, there will be a lot of work (and some of it will include paperwork, computers, and forms.  We are working with/for the Federal Government, it happens).  Yes, it will be an adventure. 

So with hearts racing and blood rushing through our veins, us TLs eagerly await the arrival of the 219 CMs that will flood into campus.  So, to all the CMs that may be reading this;  May your travels be smooth and your hearts be light.  We loved you before we met you, and will be here to welcome you into the Amer-family.  For all those that will not be here physically for this journey;  May your thoughts and prayers guide us safely through these next ten months. 

God Bless and PEACE