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Lessons from Colorado on Preparing for Wildfires

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Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino visits a home in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. where fire mitigation efforts by the homeowner protected the house from wildfire damage.

While I was in Colorado Springs for the Building Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships conference last week, I also had the honor of meeting with some of the impressive first responders from the state and local level who fought the Waldo Canyon Fire.

The firefighters faced an intense challenge. Sixty-five mile-per-hour winds fanned the flames and pushed the fire up and down mountainsides surrounding the town. More than 32,000 residents were forced to evacuate and the fire consumed more than 18,000 acres.

FEMA worked as part of a team of federal, state and local agencies, supporting the firefighting effort. We first provided Fire Management Assistance Grants so first responders could save lives and property knowing that we had their backs with financial support. On June 28, President Obama declared a major disaster in Colorado resulting from both the Waldo Canyon and High Park Fires, and committed additional federal support.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- In the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo., only the arch remains of home that was destroyed during the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

The Waldo Canyon Fire was the most destructive in the state’s history – 346 homes were lost. But it could have been a lot worse. Without a doubt, mitigation saved many of the homes in the area. In Cedar Heights, mitigation efforts, supported by FEMA grants, brought the wildfire to a halt before it could threaten the neighborhood.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino visits a mitigation project in the Cedar Heights neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. The project protected homes from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

Similarly, individual homeowners took mitigation into their own hands.  I visited one home in an extremely vulnerable location – perched on a hill near a burn area. Thanks to simple mitigation techniques, like creating 10 feet of defensible space around a home and removing all items from above and below a deck, this home was spared.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Rich Serino visits a home in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. where fire mitigation efforts by the homeowner protected the house from wildfire damage.

Wildfires spread quickly. If you live in an area threatened by wildfire, make sure that you’ve taken appropriate measures to protect your property. For an overview of how to prepare for wildfires, visit www.ready.gov/wildfires.

Now that these fires have been contained, the next big threat is flash flooding. Due to intense heat of the fires, much of the soil in burn areas is unable to absorb rainwater, increasing the risk of flash flooding, particularly in low lying areas in canyons. Manitou Springs, near Colorado Springs, is a historic and picturesque town sitting along Fountain Creek. The town is all too familiar with the threat of flash flooding, after a flood swept through the town back in 1999.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- Image of Manitou Springs, Colorado.

The good news is that due to recent changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), residents impacted by these fires could have an exception to the usual 30-day waiting period for NFIP to take effect. That means the chance to protect your property in the event of a disastrous flash flood.

If you live in an area with an increased risk of flooding as a result of these fires, contact your insurance agent to find out if you’re eligible for flood insurance. To learn more about NFIP or to find an insurance agent familiar with flood insurance, visit www.floodsmart.gov.

 

 

Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships

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On July 23 and 24, U.S. Northern Command hosted the 2012 Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference.  More than 300 attendees participated in a variety of topics to include defense, international, youth preparedness, faith-based, as well as access and functional needs as they relate to the private sector.  And the audience was as diverse as the content.  Attendees include 156 from the public sector and 145 from the private sector (81 for-profit companies, 48 non-profit and 16 academia).  U.S. Northern Command should be commended for the outstanding agenda and collaboration.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 23, 2012 -- FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino addresses attendees at the Private-Public Partnership Conference.

Deputy Administrator Rich Serino opened the conference with praise for how far public-private partnerships have come, and called for even stronger coordination into the future.  In just these two days, we saw this partnership grow.  Our latest FEMA Think Tank, led by the Deputy Administrator, took place as part of the conference.  Check out the great discussion we had.

Throughout the conference, we were able to hear from seasoned professionals on lessons learned and best practices.  We met newcomers to the public-private partnership arena who were eager to learn and offer fresh perspectives.  And we heard stories.  We heard from a young teenager who when faced with the loss of a close friend in a car accident found strength from lessons she learned in preparedness training.  We were inspired by a Colorado family who lost their home in the recent wildfires. Having recovered a family heirloom, they shared how “beauty can come from ashes.”  And we heard from a panelist who challenged us with the oft quoted advice attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

I was inspired to see the courage and resilience of the speakers and attendees.  I was inspired by the many private sector leadership who helped guide us in the right direction.  And yes, I was inspired by U.S. Northern Command and their team, who are always humble and reliable in their role in support of FEMA, state, tribal and local governments. But on these two days, their leadership was clear and all of us benefited.

At every step of emergency management, from preparedness and mitigation, to response and recovery, we do our best when we work together as a team. Today our team is stronger than ever. Through public-private partnerships, we can build resilience and be that change we want to see in the world.

What We’re Watching: 7/27/12

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At the end of each week, we post a "What We’re Watching" blog as we look ahead to the weekend and recap events from the week. We encourage you to share it with your friends and family, and have a safe weekend.

Severe weather outlook

Last night’s severe storms may have an encore today, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service. Portions of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic are at slight risk of severe thunderstorms later today, so those in the potentially affected area should keep up-to-date with their forecast and make sure they are prepared.

Severe storms can bring high winds, heavy rains, lightning, and even the occasional tornado – hazards that are common during summer storms.  Make sure your family’s emergency kit has supplies that could sustain you for at least 72 hours, including a flashlight, extra batteries, canned food, first aid items, and other essentials.

For much of the rest of the country, drought conditions are expected to continue into next week. If there are drought advisories in your area, be sure to listen to local officials for any restrictions on water use. The Obama Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture are assisting farmers and ranchers impacted by the drought, and you can find more details about this assistance at USDA.gov/drought.

For a list of what to do before, during, and after a drought visit Ready.gov/drought.


Tropical Storm Debby recovery continues

Crawfordville, Fla., July 24, 2012 -- Shirley Walthour, Applicant Services program specialist, helps an applicant with her application. FEMA opens Recovery Centers in designated counties so that applicants may get help directly from Individual Assistance Specialists.

Crawfordville, Fla., July 24, 2012 -- Shirley Walthour, Applicant Services program specialist, helps an applicant with her application. FEMA opens Recovery Centers in designated counties so that applicants may get help directly from Individual Assistance Specialists.

In case you missed it, we provided an update earlier this week about the recovery efforts in Florida since Tropical Storm Debby impacted the state over a month ago.  To date, over 3,600 individuals and families have been approved for federal disaster assistance. Gracia Szczech, federal coordinating officer for the disaster, talked about ongoing outreach efforts with the Florida Division of Emergency Management through joint community relations teams and disaster recovery center openings.  You can read her blog post or check out this video for more.

 

Apply now - Individual and Community Preparedness Awards

You can recognize those in your community who champion emergency preparedness by nominating impactful individuals, programs, or organizations for the 2012 Individual and Community Preparedness Awards.  Here is a section from the Citizen Corps website with more info:

These awards recognize outstanding individuals, organizations, Citizen Corps Councils, and programs working to make our communities safer, stronger and better prepared for any disaster or emergency event. Submissions will be accepted April 11 through July 31, 2012 at citizencorps@fema.gov.

To be considered for this year’s Awards, all submissions must be received by July 31, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. EDT and are required to feature program activities taking place during the period of Jan. 1, 2011, and June 1, 2012.  FEMA leadership, and regional and headquarters staff will score all entries and select the finalists.  

SAFER Grants application period open

If you are a member of the firefighting community or know someone who is, we encourage you to spread the word about applying for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants.  SAFER grants provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in local communities.

Applications are being accepted through Aug, 10, so visit the SAFER Grants today for application guides and other tools to help your fire department or organization apply.

With that, have a great weekend and stay safe.

FEMA Think Tank: Building, Sustaining & Envisioning Public-Private Partnerships

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This week, U.S. Northern Command hosted the Building Resilience through Public Private Partnerships Conference.  We held our latest FEMA Think Tank call on the second day of the conference and had a great conversation on how the emergency management community can develop and sustain relationships with the private sector and build these partnerships for the future.  There were about 150 participants in the room and over 220 participants on the phone. 

Building and Sustaining Public-Private Relationships through Best Practices

Kicking off the call, we discussed best practices and highlighted the importance of engaging the private sector, including information sharing, engaging trusted partners and building resiliency. Ira Tannenbaum, the Director of Public/Private Initiatives at New York City’s Emergency Management Office, Bryan Strawser, Target’s Senior Group Manager of Global Crisis Management, Jami Haberl, Executive Director of Safeguard Iowa Partnerships, and FEMA’s current Private Sector Representative, Hilary Ward, Global Managed Services of Citi Group all led the panel style discussion.   Each provided a unique perspective, from the insight of a large corporation to that of a nonprofit organization.  The insight each speaker shared truly demonstrated the importance of whole community.

Colorado Springs, Colo., July 24, 2012 -- Dep. Administrator Richard Serino speaks at FEMA's Think Tank held in Colorado Springs on Tues., July 24. Serino was also in Colorado to visit burn areas in the aftermath of the Waldo Fire which was declared a major disaster on June 29, 2012.

Our discussion focused on the coordination of private sector and emergency management resources prior, during and following a disaster. From these discussions, we were able to view real-life examples, which included working with the private sector to create a force multiplier in delivering messages, connecting businesses with regional private sector FEMA liaisons, and leveraging nonprofits to assist in building public/private partnerships. Additionally, we discussed how important it is to build a financial services toolkit to ensure disaster resiliency for businesses and the community at large. These are a only few examples of the critical need to work together before, during and after emergencies.

Envisioning the Future of Public-Private Partnerships

During the second part of the call, we challenged the participants to discuss the future of public-private partnerships.  Joe Donovan, Senior Vice President of Beacon Capital Partners and Preparedness Chair discussed collaborating on a future vision of public private partnerships.  In particular, we talked about developing sustainable private/public partnerships and discovering creative ways to leverage these partnerships, such as educating the community on trusted business sources to utilize after a disaster strikes.  I challenge you all to continue this discussion and discuss the future of public-private partnerships.  Where do we go from here, and how do we get there together?  Post your comments and ideas to the Think Tank Online Forum.

The next Think Tank call will take place on August 17 in Vermont. The theme for that discussion will be the role of faith-based and community organizations in advancing the whole community approach to emergency management. I encourage you to participate in the conversation on the Think Tank Online Forum by sharing and discussing ideas.  A full transcript of the July 24 conference call is available at www.fema.gov/thinktank.

Celebrating Inclusive Emergency Preparedness

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Today is truly a reason to celebrate because it marks the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Twenty two years ago, we reached a turning point in our nation’s history when the civil rights of millions of Americans with disabilities were recognized and protected by law. Today, more than 56 million Americans benefit from this law.

Here at FEMA, we are committed to honoring and upholding the ADA. We are uncompromising in our dedication for the right to equal access before, during and after an emergency. Equal access gives everyone an opportunity to contribute their skills, knowledge and resources to strengthen their community.

Here is my vision of equal access:

  • Equal access means that everyone participates in exercises that test the capability and     procedures of a community in the event of an emergency or disaster.
  • Equal access means that people have accessible transportation during an evacuation; restoring transportation accessibility after a disaster is simply a part of restoring the essential services needed by the whole community.
  • Equal access means that people with disabilities have the tools and resources to maintain their health, safety and independence in a shelter.
  • Because information has to be accessible to be actionable, equal access means that the whole community has access to effective communication including Sign Language interpreters, assistive listening devices, CART, materials in large print or Braille, TTY and video relay services; equal access also means receiving emergency alerts, warnings, and important messages in plain language.
  • Equal access means meeting the accessible housing needs of disaster survivors and addressing the recovery needs of the whole community so that children with disabilities go back to school with their peers and adults with disabilities go back to work along with their co-workers.
  • Equal access means that a career path in emergency management is as accessible to workers with disabilities as it is to workers without disabilities.

The anniversary of the passage of the ADA is a great opportunity to recommit to making sure that people with disabilities are ALWAYS included as a vital part of the planning team, and that the skills and knowledge of people with disabilities are fully recognized as integral to effective response, recovery and mitigation.

We know that when communities integrate the access and functional needs of individuals in all phases of emergency management, they strengthen their ability to prepare for and more quickly recover from natural and man-made disasters. Much progress has been made in the past 22 years, but we still have a long way to go to achieve the full inclusion that is at the heart of the ADA.

At FEMA, we have a growing workforce of disability integration specialists working across the country and a growing toolbox of resources to support states in meeting the disaster-related needs of children and adults with disabilities. Join us as we continue building bridges with disability advocacy and service organizations, engaging with state and local partners, training emergency managers, making improvements in disaster response, and advocating for including people with disabilities in whole community planning.

There are many ways to get involved, especially before a disaster occurs. The whole community can participate in programs and activities to make their families, homes and communities safer from risks and threats. Learn about some promising practices in disability inclusive emergency management from across the country by visiting www.fema.gov/about/odic and how you can get involved by going to FEMA’s Ready website at www.ready.gov/get-involved.

Tropical Storm Debby in Florida: 30 Days After

It’s been a month since Tropical Storm Debby severely impacted Florida and flooded a large part of the state, leaving thousands of Floridians in need of assistance.  Our team – consisting of partners from the Florida Division of Emergency Management, FEMA and voluntary agencies – has been working to serve the people of Florida.

Currently, we are full-speed ahead into the recovery phase of our operation.  As of today, 22 counties have been approved for assistance to individuals and households, while 30 counties have been approved for public assistance, and we are continuing efforts of working with our state, voluntary agencies and federal partners to ensure that our recovery message is heard clearly throughout the state.

After the first month of the federal disaster declaration:

  • More than 3,600 individuals and families have been approved for federal disaster assistance;
  • More than $17 million has been approved for federal disaster assistance;
  • More than 10,600 survivors have contacted FEMA for help or information;
  • We’ve had more than 70 state and community relations specialists covering all the hardest hit areas;    
  • 12 disaster recovery centers are open throughout the state offering people one-on-one support.   
  • The 30 counties designated for the Public Assistance program are moving forward with the applicant briefing meetings.

Through FEMA’s Individual Assistance program, we conduct inspections of damaged homes.  At this 30 day milestone, we have inspected 96 percent of all of our applicants’ residences. This quick response helps Florida survivors move rapidly through the recovery process to access the assistance for which they are eligible.

Additionally, as we move into the second month of our mission, essential programs for Florida’s long-term recovery will kick into high gear.  The Public Assistance program will help local and state government agencies handle disaster-related expenses, such as repairing or rebuilding storm damaged public roads and buildings.  At the same time, the Hazard Mitigation Program will advise survivors on how to rebuild safer, stronger and more resilient communities.

FEMA’s continued commitment to the Florida survivors will keep us here for as long as our services are needed.  As we move along, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and FEMA will continue providing updates on the progress of the recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Debby.          

National Advisory Council Quarterly Meeting

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As you hear us say frequently, FEMA is just part of the team, a team that encompasses the whole community, including partners, from state, local, and tribal governments to non-governmental organizations, to the private sector and voluntary groups. 

A key member of that team is the National Advisory Council. The NAC is comprised of members from state, tribal and local governments, private sector, and non-governmental partners who advise and provide recommendations to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on all aspects of emergency management.

This month, the NAC held their quarterly meeting and reviewed the progress and recommendations of its four subcommittees: Preparedness and Protection, Response and Recovery, Public Engagement and Mission Support, and Federal Insurance and Mitigation. They also met with FEMA leadership to receive briefings on current initiatives.

Alexandria, Va., July 12, 2012 -- Members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) ask Administrator Fugate and Deputy Administrator Serino questions. The NAC incorporates state, tribal, and local governments and private sector input in the development and revision of the national preparedness goal, the national preparedness system, the National Incident Management System, the National Response Plan and other related plans and strategies.

Administrator Fugate and Deputy Administrator Richard Serino briefed the NAC during the public portion of the meeting, highlighting their top priorities and answering questions. Some of the topics discussed by both FEMA leadership and the NAC included:

Administrator Fugate emphasized how important it is for the NAC to continue providing solid recommendations about how national emergency management should be improved and considered.

Alexandria, Va., July 12, 2012 -- FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate answers questions during the National Advisory Council Meeting. The National Advisory Council incorporates state, tribal, and local governments and private sector input in the development and revision of the national preparedness goal, the national preparedness system, the National Incident Management System, the National Response Plan and other related plans and strategies.

Following every quarterly meeting, the NAC provides formal recommendations on current FEMA programs and initiatives. FEMA looks forward to receiving those recommendations and continuing our successful relationship with the Council.

 

It’s here: the new FEMA.gov

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Today, we are proud to unveil the new FEMA.gov. As Administrator Fugate said in his video, this is not just an update to the look and feel of our site – the new fema.gov is completely redesigned from the inside out.

To set the stage for the project, here are a few numbers:

  • Over 3,300 pages were reviewed, updated and migrated to the new site; 
  • Over 300 users across the agency were trained to manage and edit content on the site; 
  • Over 30,000 news releases migrated to the new site; and 
  • Over 17,000 disaster pages migrated to the new site.

We began the overhaul of the FEMA.gov site almost two years ago by conducting focus groups to determine how to reorganize information so it could be best presented to the public. One month ago, we opened the preview site and asked for feedback as we prepared for the final push. The preview was the latest step of how FEMA’s customers - the American public - shaped how we designed, built, and launched the new site. Looking back, our initial goal was to create a site that is more user-friendly, better up-to-date, and easier to navigate than its predecessor.

Now that the new site has launched, here’s a look at a few of the major improvements:

  • Reducing the number of clicks for users - FEMA.gov menus now present key topics and sub-topics that are more relevant to what users are looking for. Users can scroll over topics and see subtopics and descriptions, which more easily guides them to the information they need.
  • Preventing users from getting lost - Given the number of pages I mentioned above and the amount of information available on the FEMA.gov site, navigating the old site could prove to be a challenge. The new FEMA.gov now presents the user with “breadcrumbs”, showing how information is organized. Research has shown that these breadcrumbs enable users to better navigate the site by giving them a trail of where they currently are in the site’s structure.
  • Improving search capabilities – It’s plain and simple: searching on the new FEMA.gov works better than the previous version. In addition to receiving more accurate search results, users can search for the type of information they want such as news releases, general site pages, blog posts, etc. Search results can also be filtered by date, region and disaster type. Using the search bar will also retrieve better information because we removed many outdated legacy pages that were being maintained on the old site. 
  • Focusing on accessibility and usability – FEMA.gov has been designed to be accessible to those with access and functional needs and we will continue to strive to meet or exceed federal Section 508 compliance standards. Multi-lingual capabilities have been added too so that a single piece of content can be made in multiple languages with the goal of having key disaster-related content available in the languages that are used in affected areas. Over time, more languages will be added, but there is an emphasis on Spanish content with the initial launch.

Going forward

The list of major improvements above is exciting – but the most significant enhancements to FEMA’s outreach through our website may be yet to come. Since we’re using the open source, cloud-based Drupal content management system, we have a robust foundation for future higher-level development work. For you “tech-savvy types”, this includes leveraging advanced data visualization, distributed content delivery via application programming interfaces, and other “open government” initiatives.

In the coming months, we will be working hard to update the mobile version of our website (m.fema.gov) as we continue to fix any existing bugs in the newly launched site. Going forward, we encourage you to continue submitting comments and feedback because improving the site is an ongoing process.

So take a few minutes and cruise around the new FEMA.gov, then drop us a comment and let us know what you think. Happy surfing!

Fire & Drought: A Double Threat for Flooding

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Nature has already made the summer of 2012 historic in several ways: extreme heat and drought continues in many parts of the country. Severe storms and record wildfires have left many residents vulnerable to flooding.   The recent wildfires have sadly impacted many lives, burned homes and structures, and left blackened landscapes in their wake.

The Heightened Risk of Flooding

Wildfires and drought seem to be happening more than usual this summer, and flooding remains the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States.  The aftermath of wildfire and drought can create an increased risk for flooding. Wildfire and drought change landscapes, increasing flood risk in areas where floods are usually rare. Residents living in these areas may find themselves with a higher flood risk than usual – even if they weren’t directly impacted by the original event. In some areas, flash floods can develop in just a few minutes, even if there is no sign of rain.  

Here’s why: the extreme heat caused by a wildfire doesn’t just burn trees and foliage – it chars the soil leaving an oily coating on top which is unable to absorb water like it normally would. Without plants and trees to take up water, and with soil unable to absorb water, even a simple rainstorm can be a recipe for a flooding disaster. In areas of extreme drought, the soil exhibits similar characteristics due to the inability of vegetation to absorb rainfall and reduce runoff.   This creates conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow, as rain water can flow freely and pick up debris and sediment along the way. In areas impacted by wildfire, it could take up to five years for vegetation to grow back - meaning the heightened risk of flooding stays with a community long after the wildfire has been extinguished and drought conditions have passed.  

Few realize how costly damage from flooding can be. For instance:

  • Just a few inches of floodwaters on your property or in your home can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
  • The average flood claim in 2010 was approximately $28,000, and without flood insurance, many must cover the costs to repair or rebuild on their own. 

I want to caution you that if you’re in or near an area recently impacted by wildfire or drought, you’re at a greater risk of flooding and there are steps you can take now to protect yourself, your family, home or business from the devastating impacts of a flood.

What you can do

Here are three things you can start working on now to protect yourself from flooding:

  • Plan ahead: Make a plan on where you’ll go in case of a sudden flash flood – making sure you know two evacuation routes in case one is cut off. Before a flood, conduct a home inventory; itemize and take pictures of possessions so you can document them for insurance purposes Keep important papers in a safe, waterproof place.
  • Get Ready: Gather supplies in case of a storm, strengthen your home against damage, and review your insurance coverage.  Ready.gov/floods are a great place to start for information on getting prepared. 
  • Get Insured: Only flood insurance covers flood damage. Most standard homeowner’s policies do not cover flood damage, so you are probably not covered under your current insurance policy.  However, flood insurance is affordable. An average flood policy costs around $600 a year, and rates start at just $129 a year for homes in moderate- to low-risk areas. Remember, it’s affordable and typically takes 30 days for a new flood insurance policy to go into effect, so get your policy now. To learn about flood risks in your area and for information on flood insurance, contact your insurance agent, and visit www.floodsmart.gov.

 

Selection Process Commences

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This past week we kicked off the paneling processes where Reservist Program Managers and cadre specific Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) pour over the applications, accumulated experience, and training & deployment records. The process is continuing this week and we expect to have selection determinations out to DAEs in August. I have reviewed the business process rules, the proposed workforce structures and the qualifications of those SMEs assigned to performing these tasks. I am confident that upon completion of this Reservist selection process we will have placed the right people, with the right skills into the positions that will benefit both the applicant and the organization.

I am extremely pleased that more than 7,300 DAEs applied for the Reservist Program. Because of your commitment to FEMA, we can rely on your experience and talent to serve disaster impacted communities and families.

Many of you asked great questions about a myriad of topics ranging from: benefits, career progression, FQS, force structure, and future workforce changes. We continue to work on these areas of interest and will convey this information as soon as it is available.

Phase II

The next round of applications for the Reservist Program will target gaps in force structure. In addition to the newly hired Reservist workforce, force structure will include PFT, CORE, FEMA Corps, and the DHS Surge workforce. Phase II applications will be open to all US citizens, including current DAEs and converted CORE and local hires.

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