Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Daily Life in FEMA Region 4

Sadly, Summit 5 FEMA Corps is not staying at Alcatraz, but we're content to settle for the less famous Rock. Our forty-five hour work week--bumped up an hour daily to give us a cushion of extra time in case we need sick days--almost invariably takes place in that building's garden-variety office environment. That's mostly why I haven't been writing much of anything about daily life for the past few weeks, because most of it is invariable; we all work ordinary office jobs, occasionally scrounging projects, and dream of a better (read: more work-filled) tomorrow. But it's been two and a half weeks, so what the hell. Here's a bit about life at the FEMA Region 4 Coordination Office. 

 After backing in the van (the NCCC stipulates that when backing up, you have to have one person on the ground directing the driver), we pile out of the vehicle we've christened Hildegard--Hildie for short--and head into the FEMA offices. Almost everyone has moved into the back room that our sister team, Summit 4, used to occupy before they left for greener pastures. It contains the same workstations as outside, but it has a door we can close to create a laughing, fun-filled space that's full of inside jokes. Work still gets done (of course it does, FEMA overlords, what are you talking about?) but it's certainly happier and more collegial in there then when everyone was on their own.

Speaking of work, it can be sporadic. I'm working on a database of FEMA media contacts, reporters and editors that we can turn to in time of trauma to email out press releases and disaster information. It's not glamorous work, but it needs to be done; before Summit 4 co-worker Rhonda and I started hacking away at it, the database resembled a Southern jungle overlaid with kudzu and other damnable climbing, hanging vines. Now it's more like a Japanese formal garden. Each state in the eight-state Region 4 (not to slight the Commonwealth of Kentucky) now has a list each of radio, TV and newspaper contacts; cluttering lists have gone the way of the dodo and everything has been re-formatted. I'm currently working on incorporating media contacts from the last six months into said lists, a task which is almost certain to leave me mad in the way that H.P. Lovecraft's unfortunate academics usually ended up. PRNewswire fthagn!

We've got unusual projects, too. Tomorrow (or this morning, depending on when you read this) is the Great Southeast Shakeout, wherein a handful of East Coast states--plus the West Coast and a few countries worldwide)--will do a simultaneous earthquake drill at 10:18 AM, Eastern time. Summit 5 will be going to a local school that FEMA works with and doing a short session with a few of the kids, explaining what earthquakes are and how they work and what to do when one hits. I'm petrified, but the team seems to like the idea, so I guess it'll be fun. We also scripted Monday and filmed today several clips that outline the do's and don'ts of talking to the media (tip: if buttonholed by a conspiracy theorist, you're supposed to actually treat their question as though the asker was not mental).

But the work is still mostly occasional, dependent on when accommodations can be made for what is essentially a bunch of interns arriving to do random tasks. I've become very fond of the phrase 'to butter the cat's paws' in describing our tasks, but as I mentioned the other day, it is what it is. These are the vegetables of FEMA. Eating them will hopefully pay off, somewhere down the line, when we're walking the streets of a hard-hit town instead of typing numbers into a Dell computer. We're all making our own accommodations with our less-than-sexy jobs.

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