By Gianpaolo Ciocco, FEMA Corps member
Last Tuesday, October 29th, marked the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall. On that date, Hurricane Sandy reached the East Coast to devastate lives and landscapes in the along northern Atlantic states.
In the storm’s immediate aftermath, more than 23,000 people sought refuge in temporary shelters, and more than 8.5 million utility customers lost power. The storm flooded numerous roads and tunnels, blocked transportation corridors, and deposited extensive debris along the coastline.
The inaugural class of FEMA Corps members graduated just in time to deploy and assist FEMA in response and recovery efforts. Formed in response to Hurricane Irene, and made possible by a partnership between FEMA and the Corporation for National and Community Service, FEMA Corps was given its first major test during the response to Hurricane Sandy.
During the initial response period, FEMA Corps members – each between 18 and 24 years of age – hit the streets with tablets, knocking on doors to help survivors register for disaster assistance. Others worked in Disaster Recovery Centers, answering questions and helping survivors through the registration process.
Over the following eight-plus months, FEMA Corps members would provide 419,207 hours of Hurricane Sandy-related disaster assistance. In addition, they would distribute over 19,000 preparedness kits and pieces of educational material. Some Corps members even spearheaded “FEMA for Kids” programs in New Jersey schools.
FEMA Corps earned attention and commendation from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino. Speaking earlier this year of the AmeriCorps response to Hurricane Sandy, which has been carried out by FEMA Corps members and members of other AmeriCorps programs, Governor Christie said, “I will tell you from traveling the state that what AmeriCorps volunteers did was not just the work that needed to be done… AmeriCorps volunteers lifted the spirits of the people of our state.”
Much of that work was done by FEMA Corps members. In the words of Deputy Administrator Serino, “These FEMA Corps members have made a real difference in FEMA’s disaster response and recovery efforts. They have brought incredible energy and enthusiasm for community service, directly impacting the lives of disaster survivors and paving a path for future FEMA Corps teams.”
The first class of FEMA Corps members – more than 300 in all – graduated in June at campuses in Iowa and Mississippi after 10 months of service, and the second and third classes are currently following in their footsteps. By helping Individual Assistance and Public Assistance with grant closeouts, supporting Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams deployed in affected communities, and sharing valuable disaster preparedness and mitigation information with the public, Corps members are working to aid FEMA’s emergency management and long-term recovery efforts. After its first large-scale test, FEMA Corps continues to work alongside FEMA.