Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tidbits From FEMA Week I: You Thought Americorps Loved Its Acronyms...

In keeping with the "Keep Vinton informed about the goings-on at the CDP!" theme, I'm going to post a brief (read: less than 1,200 words) summary of what we did last week. That was "Intro to FEMA, all specialist positions". This week is more like "FEMA 200: Advanced Specialist Training". 
Vintoners: posts about the general feel of the training and a general overview of the place are already up. 

-FEMA's motto is the following: "Protect communities by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters." It may be a good idea to memorize this; apparently the FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate, is in the not-at-all-unsettling habit of walking around disaster sites and randomly asking FEMA employees to recite said Motto at inopportune moments.

-You've probably heard the Stafford Act mentioned in the Specialist Position descriptions. That is the legal authority for FEMA to do its thing. It lays out the procedure for how FEMA gets involved in a disaster response, which is as follows: Disaster happens. Local government tries to deal with it, realizes it's too big of a disaster, calls in state government. State government does what it can with state resources, realizes it's too big of a disaster, formally requests federal aid. FEMA reviews the request and kicks it up to the President, who says yes or no. If he says yes, then FEMA swings into action. Key point: FEMA cannot help out with a disaster if the state doesn't say so. And once FEMA is called in, they don't "take over" the disaster. Their role is to help the state and get resources to the state.

-Going off that, FEMA has three main programs: individual assistance (IA), public assistance (PA) and hazard mitigation (AKA "mitigation grants"). IA is about helping individuals and households. PA is about fixing/rebuilding public infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools, etc). Hazard mitigation is about making the community better able to resist the next disaster, e.g. making buildings earthquake-proof in an earthquake zone. All three of those involve doling out rather substantial amounts of money to the relevant parties (grants or loans to individuals/households for IA, grants to the state for PA and hazard mitigation). I'll go into much greater detail on IA in a day or two, because that's what I myself am learning about right now. PA people, you'll have to just wait 'till you get here.

-The Whole Community concept: I wrote about this a little while back. Whole Community is basically about engaging everyone in a disaster-hit community (henceforth "community"). It's about engaging everyone who wants to help in the disaster recovery effort. That means not just FEMA, but state and local governments, faith-based charity organizations, nonprofits, businesses, families, people. And it's also about including everybody in a given community, leaving nobody out or behind. There's a whole list in the binder you'll get of people who have a "social vulnerability"--the poor, the elderly, the disabled, non-English speakers, children, people with pets (that's a real problem if people won't leave a flooding home without their dog, for example)--who all have to be included/taken into account when you're responding to a disaster. 

-JFOs and DRCs: If you're like me, you heard the acronyms on the NCCC campus but don't know quite what they mean. A JFO is a Joint Field Office. There's only one per disaster and it's the nerve center of the entire disaster response. The Federal Coordinating Officer, a.k.a. Your Lord and Master, works there. DRCs are Disaster Recovery Centers. There will be at least one (probably) in each county that's been declared an disaster area and eligible for IA. IA people will work there. If FEMA were a video-game enemy, DRCs would be level bosses and the JFO would be the final showdown with Bowser.
-Memorize this number: 1-800-621-3362. That's the FEMA helpline (3362 = FEMA). One way for people to register at the DRCs is for them to call that number, so remember it. 

-They give you a chapter on the FEMA organizational structure, most of which will be way over your head and mine. Basics: the FCO, the State Coordinating Officer (SCO) and various other luminaries are in charge: that's the Unified Coordination Group (UCG). Everyone else, which includes External Affairs, Operations, Planning, Logistics and Finance/Administration (the five main thingees) takes their orders from the UCG. The various IA people, the VALs, the Mass Care people and the PA people are all in Operations. Community Relations are under External Affairs. The Logistics people are obviously in Logistics. We're all still FEMA Corps, but that's where everyone fits in the FEMA hierarchy. (There'll be charts. Again, you'll get boatloads of detail at the CDP; these are basics.)

-One of CR's main missions is Assess, Inform, Report (AIR). This is the "boots on the ground" part of CR that I've mentioned in the past. This is going in right after the disaster and reporting back to the higher-ups. We're also the face of FEMA out in the community, so we have to represent the organization well. 

-Unit 8, "Working the Media", inspired a post all its own. They basically tell you to "stay in your lane" and only talk about the things you know about. This will be frustrating. We gotta deal with it. 

That's everything in my first gigantic binder. The second gigantic binder will be up soon!

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