Charlotte, VT, October 16, 2011 -- A mobile hay wagon displays FEMA's disaster assistance information on Route 7 in Charlotte, Vermont. The Vermont Farm Bureau and FEMA are working together to encourage those affected by Tropical Storm Irene to register by the October 31st deadline. Photo by Angela Drexel/FEMA
By James N. Russo, Federal Coordinating Officer
In a state where billboards are banned, FEMA has had to get a little more creative about getting our message to the public.
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.
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 people 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 800-621-3362 printed on them.
Our final challenge is figuring out a way to promote our messages through the bovine community, since Vermont has more cows per capita than any other state. I told my private sector staff that if they could figure a way to get the word out by using cattle as billboards, I would approve it in the name of giving new meaning to the phrase “cattle branding.”