by Geralyn M. Ryan, Program Liaison Manager, IM CORE
Kathleen Madigan, the Disability Integration Advisor (DIA) for FEMA’s Sandy Recovery Field Office in New York, was recently informed by FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL) Goldie Rosenberg, about a neighborhood in Far Rockaway where Sandy survivors were struggling. Madigan, Rosenberg and Shelba Bradley of FEMA’s Equal Rights Office (ERO) decided to drive out to the area to assess the situation. While walking around the area, they crossed paths with a woman whose family was renting a home that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy but never repaired.
The woman was living in a small apartment while caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease, her son who is blind and a daughter with autism. After visiting the apartment and noticing its damp, spongy carpeting, distinct mildew smell and a window that could not be closed, the FEMA employees told the woman about services she might be eligible for. They advised her to contact a local council representative and a New York State disaster case manager. Working with community leaders, they helped relocate the entire family to safe, sanitary housing.
“People with disabilities and living independently after Hurricane Sandy are intrepid survivors,” Madigan said. “They are capable and fiercely independent but may not know what services are available or where to go if they need help. I try to plug people in to long-term recovery resources.”
Disability Integration Advisors (DIA) are deployed to support states with meeting the needs of survivors during disaster response and recovery. DIAs provide subject matter expertise and guidance so that everyone—including those with disabilities and others with access and functional needs—receive equal access and benefit from all FEMA disaster-related services. DIAs work collaboratively with disability community partners, relevant FEMA programs and other federal and state agencies.
Madigan, formerly co-director of a New York Independent Living Center, began working for FEMA in January 2013. Her background and relationships with the disability community are central to her ability to assist survivors and advise FEMA departments on access and inclusion issues.
“Kathleen is willing to roll up her sleeves and get directly involved,” VAL Group Supervisor Seth Golbey said. “She offers her expertise in service to survivors.”
At the New York Sandy Recovery Field Office and out in the field, Madigan teams up with employees from VAL and the ERO on a regular basis by sharing information, trading resources and collaborating on solutions for recovery. Sometimes they make joint appearances at local community events or recovery fairs. When someone from VAL or ERO encounters a situation involving a person with a disability they often call Madigan for advice or referrals.
The synergy between the departments has reaped benefits for survivors. Madigan credits VAL and ERO with spreading the word about universal accessibility and inclusion to community groups. “The VALs and ERO have helped raise awareness about disability integration,” Madigan says. “Community groups recognize the importance and value of reaching out to everyone, including people with disabilities.”
As the recovery continues, housing remains a central issue for people with access and functional needs. Madigan is one of the FEMA staffers currently working with other organizations on an accessible housing recovery resources guide, and it will contain information about home elevation and accessibility for stakeholders. By developing the guide, Madigan hopes that accessibility will be considered in the planning stages of an elevation project. Going forward, she looks to a future where accessibility is incorporated into a building’s initial design. That is the essence of disability integration.
All FEMA employees and contractors have a responsibility to safeguard sensitive information such as passwords. Sensitive information should not be given to anyone unless they are indeed who they claim to be and they should have access to the information.
What is a social engineering attack?
A social engineering attack uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain information. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person or researcher—even offering credentials to support that identity. By asking questions, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to infiltrate FEMA’s network. If an attacker is not able to gather enough information from one source, he or she may contact another source within the same organization and rely on the information from the first source to add to his or her credibility.
What is a phishing attack?
Phishing is a specific form of social engineering. Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to solicit personal information by posing as a trustworthy organization. For example, an attacker may send email seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts.
Phishing attacks may also appear to come from other types of organizations, such as state, tribal or local partners. Attackers often take advantage of current events and certain times of the year, such as natural disasters and holidays
How does someone avoid being a victim?
- Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.
- Do not reveal personal or financial information or information about your organization in email.
- Do not send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website's security and authenticity. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).
- If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements or records for contact information.
Recognizing these tactics and knowing how to respond can protect you from becoming a victim. Report it to the FEMA Enterprise Service Desk (ESD) at 888-457-3362 or FEMA-Enterprise-Service-Desk@fema.dhs.gov.
Ethical Conduct Resources are available for guidance on how to prevent actions that may create a conflict of interest or violation of Federal ethics:
- FEMA Ethics Office Webpage Link: http://on.fema.net/components/oocc/Pages/OCCEthics.aspx
- FEMA Code of Conduct Link: http://on.fema.net/employee_tools/forms/Directives/1100-1i-120193.pdf
- DHS Standards of Conduct Link: http://dhsconnect.dhs.gov/policies/Instructions/0480.1 Ethics-Standards of Conduct.pdf
In addition, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Hotline can be used to report suspected incidents of fraud, waste and abuse.
- OIG Hotline - Calls can be made anonymously and confidentially: http://www.oig.dhs.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=51&Itemid=133
- Whistleblower Resources: http://www.oig.dhs.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=136&Itemid=146