By Fiora Lizak, Region I External Affairs
CHARLESTON, W. VA –Mark Hall remembers the day, Thursday, Sept. 20, when the call came in from the Disaster Emergency Communications Division. His chief, who had taken the call, directed this Mobile Emergency Response Support telecommunications manager to gather his Thomasville, Ga., detachment and "hit the road" for a mission in West Virginia.
The Mountain State had received word that it was approved for an Individual Assistance declaration for four counties. Residents of Kanawha (home county of the State Capital in Charleston), Fayette County, Nicholas and Raleigh Counties would need Disaster Recovery Centers stood up ASAP and wired for computer and telephone connectivity for an expected rush of several thousand disaster survivors.
Hall quickly marshaled his team of national hazards and communications/logistics specialists and prepared to convoy up to West Virginia. A tractor-trailer loaded with voice and data systems, vans full of administrative and technical supplies and a Mobile Communications Office Vehicle rolled north on U.S. Highway 319 to Atlanta and onto Interstate highways to South Carolina, into North Carolina, across parts of Virginia and into West Virginia, ultimately arriving in Charleston.
The team of 10 technicians worked around the clock to convert the South Charleston Community Center into the first of four DRCs, a space with voice connection and data access to FEMA Operations and to other federal and state agencies, as well as a place where disaster survivors could sit down face-to-face with representatives from FEMA and the Small Business Administration.
Within one day, the first DRC was up and running, but the challenges were far from over, and three more locations awaited the team's skills to move the FEMA mission forward. Two days later – success - and three more DRCs were open and ready for business.
Hall's team had barely finished packing their supplies for the return trip when they received another assignment. The Joint Field Office in Charleston had to be expanded to accommodate of IA staff that needed computers, phones, fax machines and copy machines. And, oh, by the way, a video teleconference was scheduled for the next afternoon, and technical arrangements for that media event had to be completed on schedule.
Three days after Hall answered his cell phone in Thomasville, Ga., his MERS team had met the challenge. They drove 553 miles to West Virginia; laid more than four miles of cable in five buildings, in central and southern West Virginia. In four days they opened four DRCs and expanded the JFO, enabling needy disaster survivors to begin to receive the disaster assistance they qualify for and so richly deserve.