Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Summit 5 is Back on the Streets (Mostly)!

Well, I guess it couldn't last forever. We members of FEMA Corps, team Summit 5, are VALs no longer; most of us now tramp the slushy streets as members of Community Relations once more. After scouting, contacting and reporting the location of every house for sale, apartment building, nonprofit, hospital, school, synagogue, church and college on the Rockaway Peninsula (Queens) over the last two weeks, we did our job so well--not to brag--that there was no job left to do. Yeah, I'll be honest: that's a big fat bin of braggadocio I'm serving up here. 

I mean, the job was always attached to a time limit; we were VALs for the purposes of doing this one project, following which we were always going to return to our home specialty. Still and all, though, I enjoyed my time as a VAL. Our POCs, Rich and Tony, had our absolute favorite soft-touch management style: point us at a target and say 'Go'. No micromanaging, no meetings, no nonsense, just sit back and watch us work. And the work was fun; we talked to rabbis and pastors and principals and superintendents, got to see the entirety of the peninsula and walk much of it on foot, and do the rest of it from the comfort of the self-heated van (it was cold last week). 

So what are we doing now? Well, most of the crew is out doing more CR work on the peninsula with various crews of FEMA reservists and local hires. I did that yesterday with Mike, J.J., Joaquin, Janelle, Stefanie, Cindy, Jean-Richard and our own Shingirai Gadsden-Sams. All of them are fun people--I spent a lot of time talking to Mike, whose work history includes politics, journalism, history and education--and canvassing with them was fun. Going back to check on whether everyone has power, hot water or unresolved problems with the FEMA process isn't the sexiest of work, but I guess it still needs to get done, so Summit 5 is doing it. I, however, am not (here's where this post drops the team "we"). Together with Malinda today and Tiffany Chu tomorrow, I'm in the division office working on a Special Project!

The project itself doesn't fit into CR, IA or any of the rest of FEMA Corps's pantheon of roles. I'm working in the Operations/Planning branch of the regular FEMA office, trying to answer some or all of the following set of questions, dubbed "master's thesis" by a coworker: "Are the Rockaways recovering? Where do we look to find out? When you put together all the data, what are the obstacles to long-term recovery, and what are the Rockaways' assets? How can FEMA help the process out? And how do we integrate FEMA's Long-Term Recovery branch--whose job it is to answer all those questions--into the ongoing disaster response, and the Neighborhood Task Force Initiative we just started up, that we're doing right now?"

You probably could write a legitimate masters' thesis on most of those, and my team should know (at least Mike has his master's degree, and Joaquin is on the final semester of his). We're still brainstorming how to tackle 'em, which will likely involve getting in contact with every relevant branch of government, canvassing area businesses, pirating the list of charitable and faith-based organizations that we created as VALs and so forth. Today, I basically just read the National Disaster Recovery Framework cover-to-cover (all 116 pages of it) and took notes, along with going over the relevant orders and reports that come out of our office. 

That's most of what there is to tell about Day One in the new gig. My table-mates seem like fun individuals; Chuck, a Reservist from Denver, has a voice like a radio host, and local hire Seth is in the early running for one of the funniest people I've ever met (after asking in vain after Malinda's and my snack food preferences, he exclaimed "You haven't even given me a state of matter to work with"). Co-worker Ray and boss Monica seem like good police (to borrow from The Wire), and the whole office work structure is something I'll get used to again pretty soon. Early reports from the rest of the team about our work structure are mixed--we're split up as a team, each with different CR or office groups, for the first time ever--so we'll see how that turns out. For now, this is what we're doing, although as usual it could change any day. 

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