Editor's note: This was originally posted on the Corporation for National & Community Service blog on August 5, 2014.
Emergency management requires flexibility. You plan for the worst, but also have to make sure your team is ready to tackle unforeseen challenges and unique situations. This is what makes AmeriCorps such an asset to our nation. There’s inherent flexibility in the AmeriCorps program to do community service programs above and beyond what government can do. I have seen this play out again and again in communities across the country.
While I was Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, I had a chance to see AmeriCorps members supporting readiness, response and recovery efforts in local communities. AmeriCorps members in education and literacy programs trained and prepared to provide care in shelters and manage the influx of volunteers after a disaster’s impact. AmeriCorps members from the Florida State Parks program cleared trails with chain saws and covered roofs with blue tarps. AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) members strengthened the homes of low income homeowners against the effects of windstorm damage. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members managed long-term recovery needs, such as housing, for survivors.
AmeriCorps is a catalyst that unites the whole community to engage in response and recovery. The flexibility of AmeriCorps allows members to serve as the bridge among federal, state, tribal, local, and non-government partners to address unmet needs. For example, the AmeriCorps program provided the flexibility to match volunteers up with vulnerable populations so they could remove debris on private property — a task that would have taken longer and required more administrative work if left to government alone.
AmeriCorps members played an important role after Hurricane Dennis in 2005. Dennis impacted many of the same places that were affected by Hurricane Ivan a year earlier – damaging homes that were still in the process of being repaired. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated a program that paid contractors to cover roofs of homes that were partially damaged with tarps (commonly called the “blue roof” program). Because of the flexibility built into the AmeriCorps program, AmeriCorps members, in partnership with Volunteer Florida and other state, community and faith-based organizations laid tarps as FEMA’s contract was being established. This provided disaster survivors with the help they needed to stay in their homes so they could begin the path to recovery.
In each of these examples, AmeriCorps was successful because the members lived in these communities, worked in these communities and knew these communities. More importantly, they share the passion to serve. Successful disaster response and recovery comes from the community up, rather than from the federal government down. AmeriCorps has been able to ingrain their teams in community efforts to help disaster survivors.
At FEMA, I see the value of AmeriCorps every day. Two years ago, FEMA partnered with AmeriCorps to create FEMA Corps – the integration of AmeriCorps volunteers into all areas of our mission. Disaster response and recovery operations are part of what members of FEMA Corps do, but we’re also engaging them in areas like community preparedness and mitigation. In many ways, FEMA Corps members are becoming the face of FEMA as it relates to preparedness. Just a few weeks ago, FEMA Corps members represented FEMA at the Portland Disaster Relief Trials, a community event that showcases how bikes can be used to support community resiliency.
FEMA has benefited from AmeriCorps members’ fresh perspectives and strong desire to serve the community. Combine those two with delivering disaster preparedness, response and recovery programs, and that’s where the true value comes in. We’re proud to partner closely with AmeriCorps at FEMA and recognize the tremendous value the program brings not only to delivering services, but also to helping those in need during times of disaster.