By Kristopher Howard, Program Analyst (Policy), Incident Workforce Management Office
FEMA Deputy Director Rich Serino speaks to volunteers from agencies in the Department of Homeland Security who have come out to help with community relations in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The volunteers are staying on the TS Kennedy ship to lessen the needs of hotel rooms in areas impacted by the storm.
In response to the immense devastation left in the wake of hurricane Sandy, the Department of Homeland Security family has successfully “surged” to meet the challenge. The DHS Surge Capacity Force, an all-volunteer employee cadre activated by the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, for the first time since its inception, has been called upon to act. Comprised of DHS’ diverse workforce, over 1100 Surge Capacity Force volunteers have deployed in three waves to address the pressing needs of those affected by this disaster.
Transportation Security Administration representative Louis Quinones informs Hurricane Sandy survivor and Long Beach, N.Y. resident of how to take advantage of FEMA's services. FEMA, Border Patrol, TSA and ICE visited homes to inform residents of FEMA services as part of the Federal Surge Crisis Response.
On the ground, Surge Capacity Force volunteers work in four main areas: FEMA Community Relations, FEMA Individual Assistance, Public Assistance and Logistics. By distributing information and application forms regarding FEMA disaster assistance benefits available to the public, helping to monitor the removal of debris and other basic assistance offered to the affected community, Surge Capacity Force volunteers are often the first federal response officials that disaster survivors come into contact with.
PICKING UP THE MANTLE IN TIMES OF NEED
The effectiveness of Surge Capacity Force teams cannot be overstated. Due to the efforts of these volunteers, and others, more than 400,000 people in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have registered for FEMA assistance. This translates to the approval of nearly $600 million in FEMA housing and other assistance. One team of volunteers was able to visit 358 homes, conducting 141 interviews, recognizing the need for immediate medical assistance for individuals who may have gone without care if not for the efforts of SCF volunteers. While playing an integral role helping others to get on their feet again is often cited as the primary motivation of volunteering for the SCF, there is another added benefit. Participants receive their standard rate of pay, in addition to any accrued overtime, while deployed to the disaster site.
“It’s been a huge success”, said Surge Capacity Force Chief Ronald Wells. “DHS leadership has been fantastic and has met the demands on the ground as they have been presented.” He continued, “personnel in the field are enthusiastic and have risen to the challenges faced in the aftermath of this disaster. This remarkable response on behalf of the DHS family is a testament to their commitment to respond when necessary to those in need.”