Posted by: James N. Russo, Federal Coordinating Officer, Vermont Tropical Storm Irene
In a state where billboards are banned, FEMA has had to get a little more creative about getting our message to the public.
Much of Vermont was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene in late August and our private sector liaisons and state counterparts have been busy coming up with new and unique ways to let those affected know where they can turn for federal assistance. Normally, we coordinate with the state to display disaster assistance information on digital billboards where it will be seen by as many motorists as possible.
But many Vermonters feel very strongly about keeping the views of their scenic mountains and valleys unobstructed. In 1958, the state was the first to ban billboards, followed by Hawaii, Alaska and Maine. However, the folks here have learned to blend their message into the natural landscape in enterprising and cost-effective ways. When we asked our state counterparts the best way to post a banner with disaster assistance information, they suggested we do the same thing that local farmers do to promote their produce stands: place it on a hay wagon. With the help of the Vermont Farm Bureau, the wagon has already made a stop at a tractor parade and will continue en route throughout the state to be strategically placed at highly-trafficked farm fields.
Another example of how we work with the private sector: Partnering with local coffee shops in each of the 12 federally-declared Vermont counties, each of whom agreed to use recycled cup sleeves with FEMA’s www.disasterassistance.gov web address and FEMA registration number (1-800-621-3362) printed on them.
We may have tackled coffee and hay, but our work isn’t done. Our next challenge is to figure out a way to promote our messages through the bovine community, since Vermont has more cows per capita than any other state. We figure if we can find a way to get the word out by using cattle as billboards, we may have found new meaning to the phrase "cattle branding."
For more on the ongoing recovery efforts in Vermont, visit our disaster page. And as a reminder, the deadline to apply for federal assistance in Vermont is November 15, so if you or someone you know is in an eligible county and was affected by the storm, apply today.
And if you have a great idea about how we can continue to use creative means to communicate with and support survivors here in Vermont, let us know. Leave a comment below.
Editor’s note: FEMA established the Private Sector division in 2007 to improve information sharing and coordination between government and the private sector. This partnership has proven extremely beneficial to the recovery and resilience of a community affected by disaster.