By Sally MacDowell, Portsmouth, N.H., Joint Field Office
FEMA Corps members who saw the beaches of New Jersey before and after Sandy take with them memories of pain, suffering and the resilience of survivors and communities. The term “FEMA flexible” represents how quickly things change and decisions are made during disasters.
Sporting the familiar blue shirt and wrinkled khakis worn by FEMA Corps members, Wolfe Pestorius reflected on the past three hundred days he’s served as a disaster worker, and how he feels the experience allowed him to grow well beyond his one-year tour. The 19 year-old volunteer saw pain and suffering following Hurricane Sandy’s catastrophic path across New Jersey.
Pestorius said of all of his experiences in the ten months since his team left their FEMA Corps base in Vinton, Iowa, the “before” and “after” of Sandy is forever stamped in his memory.
“We spent an afternoon on the beach in Sea Bright, N.J., days before Sandy made landfall,” Pestorius said. “When we came back to the same spot weeks later, it was totally obliterated. It was incredible how fast things changed and how many people were affected.”
Maxine Dennis, FEMA Corps member, said one of her take a ways is her education on how to be “FEMA flexible.”
“I’ve learned how to handle a lot of changes in a short time: jobs, housing, training,” Dennis said.
Michael DePaolo, chief of staff, Joint Field Office, Portsmouth, said the three FEMA Corps teams that were assigned there rendered a valuable service. They worked alongside FEMA reservists in Planning, Logistics, Environmental and Historic Preservation, External Affairs and Information Technology. They also participated in FEMA Corps projects and took field trips, including a tour of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency facilities in Framingham, Mass., and the FEMA Federal Regional Center in Maynard, Mass.
“These teams leave with a good understanding of the FEMA mission and how it works,” DePaolo said.
Pestorius and Dennis’ team returned to the FEMA Corps center in Vinton, Iowa, where they complete the program in June. All FEMA Corps workers are eligible for up to $5,550 in educational grants on completion of the program. But the real time experience of working during a disaster is priceless.