It occurred to me this morning that I’ve been writing a few things about the CDP and its programs, but not really giving people a comprehensive idea of what to expect at the CDP. And since people from Vinton have apparently been reading this blog (thank you, Vinton campus!), I feel like giving an account of what to expect here. Here goes.
Swag. FEMA will give you a LOT of stuff. In the first few days of being here, we all got a Blackberry and a bunch of accessories, a laptop (complete with indestructible case) and a RSD token that allows you to connect securely to the Internet. I would still advise newcomers to bring your personal computers, because the FEMA computers are slow and Windows-y and you’re not supposed to use them for personal business anyway. For someone who has never owned a smartphone, the Blackberries are your best friend and worst nightmare; they allow you to stay in touch instantly with everyone at all times, and they force you to stay in touch with everyone at all times.
As far as clothing, we just got that a couple of days ago. Everyone gets three FEMA Corps T-shirts, two like polo shirts, one long-sleeved shirt, one sweatshirt, one rain jacket and one baseball cap (the last two items magically transform the wearer, visually speaking, into a high school football coach). To Vinton: Plan for this when you’re packing your red bags!! I wasn’t informed about what we’re getting, and now I have no earthly idea how I’m going to fit all my swag in the bag. Now you know better than I did. Prepare accordingly.
Food. When I was looking up data for my Mississippi and Alabama preparation posts, I discovered that those states (and the Deep South in general) have really high obesity rates. After eating pure Southern food for a week, I now completely understand why. Don’t get me wrong, everything is absolutely delicious, but I tried early on in my stay to regulate my food intake to one incredibly unhealthy thing per day. That failed. Then I tried to regulate it to one incredibly unhealthy thing per meal, and sadly, that failed too. I’ve never seen so much fried food in one place in my entire life, most of which has been meat. (My vegetarian friends tell me their options are decent but monotonous.)
Worldview and expectations. As I described a few posts ago, the classes are a lot less hardass-y than we thought going in. It looks like FEMA really made a concerted effort to teach to our generation… which makes sense, because generational issues are a huge thing at FEMA. Most of the FEMA higher-ups are on their second career, having retired from the military or a fire department or something before coming to emergency management. (Nancy Jo, one of my teachers, is on her fourth career.) At a Q & A panel yesterday, the panelists agreed that most FEMA reservists were in their late fifties, if not their sixties. We even heard yesterday that at least one nonagenarian has been lending a hand!
One of the benefits of FEMA Corps, from FEMA’s point of view, is infusing new blood into the organization. The Corps is on a five-year agreement with CNCS, and I think the idea is that we’re going to be something of a farm system for FEMA. Another panelist mentioned that CNCS and FEMA were looking into getting us preferential treatment for government job openings after this year, and my teachers kept pushing the idea of a career at FEMA during class. It seems like there will certainly be opportunities for us in FEMA after this year is over, is what I’m trying to say. If that’s your thing, you’re in a good spot.
Classes. The first week is a basic overview of FEMA: what they do, why they do it, what’s their legal authority for doing it, what they do not do, where their money goes. The second week, which starts today, is specialist position-specific training. Again, the class structure is much more forgiving than you might expect in a hardcore Department of Homeland Security facility. There are lots of Powerpoint slides that can get monotonous, but they’re pretty good about designing creative activities for you (although I’m sworn to secrecy about the details), and everything is pretty easy to follow. The test at the end is not worth mentioning, except to say, really don’t worry about it. (They also let you keep the binder we got, which primitive man could probably build a house with. It’s large, thick and certainly will not fit in my backpack.)
Lodging. Is awesome. If not for the barbed wire around campus, you’d never know you weren’t staying in a classy hotel. DHS doesn’t exactly help itself by designating buildings by numbers (“Building 61” just sounds ominous), but buildings 322 and 294 are posh as hell. There are nice lounges, foosball tables and comfy couches, and the whole place has cable TV. Outside, the grass is well-manicured and (mostly) free of fire ants. There are lots of grassy fields and we’re doing team-by-team physical training, so Ultimate Frisbee has rapidly become a huge thing. Bring your disc if you have one. The only caveat is that we’re not allowed in the bar on campus, and the Anniston bars are far away and can only be reached by government van, which is officially prohibited.
So that’s Anniston. All the Alabama research I did turned out to be mostly useless, because there are few opportunities to explore outside the CDP, but inside the wire is still a good time. Be warned that the training is constant and there are no days off. Today (Sunday) was my first half-day off since arrival, and we still have class in the afternoon. It’s a lot of time in the classroom, but we're hungry for it. Hope the Vintoners are feeling the same way.