OMAHA, Neb. -- Within hours after President Clinton declared a major disaster for three Nebraska counties hit by severe storms and flooding earlier this month residents in Burt, Douglas and Washington began noticing teams of workers, wearing distinctive blue uniform shirts, walking throughout the damage area, knocking on doors, talking to individuals, and distributing informative material.
They are members of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams known as "Community Relations" specialists whose main function is to insure everyone affected by the August 6-9 storms and floods learns how they can get the government help they need to begin to recover from this disaster. They are canvassing communities in the declared counties, offering individuals and small businesses information about available disaster relief programs, including grants to help pay for temporary housing needs, minor home repairs and other disaster-related expenses.
"The teams are a vital link between the community and disaster recovery agencies," Federal Coordinating Officer Charles Biggs said. "They keep the citizens and those of us delivering disaster assistance informed. This exchange of information helps us clear up situations that sometimes get in the way of providing the help people need." Community Relations field officers have been speaking to church, community and other groups, explaining the types of assistance available and how people can apply. In addition, they are distributing information and listening to "people" concerns.
"We recognize that people who have lost so much because of the floods need information on disaster assistance," State Coordinating Officer Maj. Gen. Stanley Heng said. "The people working on these teams have answers, or know where the answers can be found. We rely on the FEMA community relations staff not only to get the word out but also to find out first hand the problems communities and individuals in those communities are facing."
Community Relations teams initially have focused on meeting with government officials, such as mayors and emergency management coordinators. The teams have also been meeting with representatives of organizations that deal with special groups such as the elderly and sight-impaired, as well as church leaders. They remain available to communities for as long as needed to assist people through the long recovery process.The ONLY way to apply for disaster assistance, residents are reminded, is to call the toll-free number at 1-800-462-9029 (TTY: 1-800-462-7585), from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, even if they have already registered with other disaster agencies.