Monday, August 26, 2013

Tulane University Graduate Student Combines Disaster Education with National Service in FEMA Corps

Team Leader Ben McNeil, who just completed a month of Team Leader Training, will welcome his new members Corps members who arrive today at the Southern Region Campus in Vicksburg, MS

Ben at a ropes course training with my fellow Team Leaders.

With my graduate school graduation finally over, I can finally begin focusing on my service as a Team Leader with FEMA Corps Southern Region. I have spent the past two years as a MS Candidate at Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA), taking an inter-disciplinary curriculum on all phases on the disaster cycle and learning first hand the many lessons New Orleans has to offer on preparedness, recovery and resilience (not to mention how to eat well). But after the Dali Lama’s commencement address at the Superdome, I am now ready to step out of academia and begin my career in emergency preparedness and response.

Here I am with two of my fellow graduates, before walking out onto the Superdome floor!

Although I paired my classes at DRLA with work opportunities at the Red Cross and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, I knew I needed to gain much more experience working in and around emergencies. After meeting with Erika Roberts in March and learning more about the FEMA Corps program and Team Leader position, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to put my academic and professional background to the test, and to further strengthen my management and leadership capabilities. The job also aligned with my commitment to public service and wanting to be a part of helping young folks early in their lives – I wish FEMA Corps had existed when I was getting out of high school and undergrad!

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Rapid Response Team meeting with Incident Command at the New Orleans US Coast Guard office before a deployment after a pipeline accident.

I have about a million questions about what life will be like as a Team Leader, but first things first, my concerns are focused on life in Vicksburg. I’m glad to be staying in the South and on the Mississippi River – this region has suited me rather well since moving here two years ago - but I reckon life will be quite different from New Orleans. What should I bring with me: clothes, books, food (I never travel without peanut butter), bicycle, scooter? What sights and sounds, other than battlefield tours, does Vicksburg have to offer? How hot does it really get during a Delta summer?

This is me at ropes course doing a team building
exercise with my Unit Leader Justin Fuller
The few weeks before I arrived at Vicksburg entailed packing boxes, last meals at favorite local restaurants, and far too many goodbyes to dear friends. Then I came back to Mississippi in mid-July for the start of Team Leader Training. It was great to recharge the batteries before facing the responsibilities, challenges and opportunities the next 12 months. I’d be lying if I said I was not nervous about the upcoming year, especially with the recent events in Boston, West and now Moore, OK revealing just how challenging this work can be. But I am eager to put my experience and study of disaster resilience to work as a FEMA Corps Team Leader.
Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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