Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stories From the Field

Throughout August, AmeriCorps is reflecting on disaster service. These FEMA Corps members responded to the Arkansas tornadoes earlier this year.

Cassandra Ly

FEMA Corps member Cassandra Ly is
interviewed by a local TV station
Intimidating, rewarding, fast, and exciting. Those are the four most accurate words that can be used to describe my first round in FEMA Corps. Coming into this round I was not sure what to expect, especially after finding out that we would be working on a pilot project (Ready Steady Strong). Before we even began our project, we were already faced with how quickly things can change in FEMA Corps. Rather than heading to Oklahoma City as planned, we had last minute changes that sent us to Denton, TX instead. Although it was our first experience with being “FEMA flexible”, a mere change of location was only the beginning. It was not until our last few weeks of the round that we were truly faced with what it meant to be “FEMA flexible”.

On April 27, 2014, Arkansas was hit with a tornado that required FEMA’s assistance. On April 28, 2014 Alpine Two was requested in Little Rock, AR. Originally we thought we would be heading out the next morning, but within an hour of finding out that we were requested, word was received that plans had changed and we were expected that very night. Within the next three hours we packed up our office, closed out our work and packed up our belongings at the lodging site. It was a fast paced morning and afternoon, but we did manage to be on the road on time. Within the course of a few hours our mission project changed drastically. We would now be doing what we were trained for.

Despite our six days of Disaster Survivor Assistance training, no training could have prepared me for what being in the field was like. Our days were long and tiring, but being able to help out first hand was incredible. The survivors we worked with amazed me with their smiles, patience, resiliency and kindness despite what they had just been put through. The majority of my work consisted of registration intake, updates and inquiries, but I also did some canvassing – providing information door-to-door to disaster survivors. It was through some of FEMA and FEMA Corps’ canvassing efforts that a FEMA staff member and I were presented the opportunity to be shadowed by a local news crew. All in all this was a round to remember. We were moved to three different states, had two project missions, and got an opportunity to work in our FEMA Corps specific role. These last few months are not some that I will be forgetting anytime soon, and I look forward to the upcoming projects and opportunities that I will be presented.

Shardai Perry

FEMA Corps member Shardai Perry
Beginning our first round working from the Region 6 bungalow was quite a way to kick off the first project. Starting with the building itself that we worked from, which was submerged over several feet underground, and then being introduced to FEMA Connect, which later became Ready, Steady, Strong.

I assumed automatically being placed on a Disaster 
Survivor Assistance Team we would be in the field immediately, but DSAT work comes in all colors, shapes and sizes, one of those being disaster preparedness. That’s where Ready, Steady Strong comes in. My teammates and I, as well as our sister team Tundra 3, composed a 45 minute presentation on disaster preparedness that we would later present to the youth of Oklahoma. After much work, it became a huge success amongst FEMA officials; the staff was very pleased with our final product.

The highlight of my time spent in Texas was at the end of a 
presentation, when I and a few other presenters were given a token from Region 6 as appreciation for our dedication and commitment to Ready, Steady Strong.

Damage caused by the
2014 Arkansas tornadoes
We carried that commitment to Oklahoma where we were able to present to different forms of youth. Just weeks after being in Oklahoma, Arkansas was declared for Federal Assistance and we were on our way. Nothing could have prepared me for the things I would encounter in Arkansas - the amount of damage and devastation was unbelievable. At the same time, the spirit of the people and the town was infectious. I learned what community was working in Vilonia, Arkansas. I also saw the work we did and the impact we had. We registered over 70% of registrants, which was a first ever for DSA team. I couldn’t have been more proud of my team, or to have been a part of my team. Overall, I’d say our first spike was quite the adventure, and it only fed my desire to serve even more. I couldn't be more pumped for our second round!  

Zach Trenz

This photo was taken by our team leader Mario, in the Black Oak community in Arkansas where we were working during the tornado relief efforts.  We went out to this community twice to see the damage and register people for federal assistance.  I heard a lot of their stories, and while working in the Multi-Agency Resource Center, I got to know them even more.  Their entire community was destroyed, swept away by the tornado, and the same thing happened to them 3 years before.

Working with the families that had been affected by the disaster was very rewarding.  I felt like I was really helping them out, and they were all very grateful for the assistance we were providing.  It was amazing to see how the community came together to recover and rebuild after the tornado.  Everyone helped one another, and they were all very grateful for the assistance that we could give them through FEMA.  This experience has really changed me for the better, and has shown me how resilient people can be in the face of a disaster.

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