Thursday, August 7, 2014

A First Impression in Disaster

During their first round, FEMA Corps Blue 5 served on DR-4168, the Washington Flooding and Mudslides, which occurred in Oso, Washington on March 22, 2014.

Driving for two days in a 15-passenger van (aptly named Purgatory), we REALLY just wanted to get there and begin work. We also knew that a disaster had just occurred while we were in our initial training, so we hoped that we would get to be a part of the response efforts.

Debris from the landslide in Oso, WA
Nothing about our first day of work was what we had remotely thought would happen. For starters, we arrived at an underground bunker surrounded with barbed wire fences, concrete barricades, and a security checkpoint. That should have been our first clue right there that we were in for an atypical situation for a freshly-deployed FEMA Corps team. So we jumped right in and got to work…for the next 12 hours, another surprise that we weren't anticipating. The work was sporadic, but monumentally interesting and fast-paced. Since the disaster itself was just ramping up, our jobs hadn’t fully formed yet, adding to our challenge of figuring out what we were supposed to be doing. Blue 5, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

FEMA Corps Blue 5
Working 12 hours days, six days a week, commuting at least two hours a day, physical training three times a week (we didn’t realize PT is suspended if you’re working disaster hours), making food at 10:30 at night, going to sleep at 11:30 p.m., waking up at 5 a.m. the next day was extremely intense living. FEMA staff would ask us how living in the Girl Scout Camp was and our reply was always, “We’re not sure, we haven’t seen in it in daylight.” Those first two weeks were easily the most challenging part of working on an active disaster.

FEMA Corps Blue 5 members working on a project
Despite the adversity, our team remained strong. Learning quickly, we integrated ourselves completely into FEMA External Affairs for the SR530 Slide. So much so that it took everyone around us by surprise. Our efficiency, precision, products, rapid adaption, versatility, drive, and enthusiastic attitudes was far beyond even what we realized we could accomplish under those less than ideal circumstances. Overall, our team considers ourselves to be one of the luckiest.  We not only worked with great people, but we felt that we helped, saw our products within the community, and witnessed first-hand how much FEMA really helps disaster survivors, which, at the end of the day, is what it’s all about. 

If you are interested in learning more about FEMA Corps, or applying to serve, please visit, or contact with questions.

Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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