FEMA Assistance Operators Share the Grief of Their Callers

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Release date: 
September 15, 2001
Release Number: 
HQ-01-109

Washington, DC -- The 500 specially trained FEMA workers who staff the agency's teleregistration number for disaster victims are finding that keeping their emotions in check are particularly hard with the terrorism attacks in New York City and Pentagon - more so than for the hurricanes, floods and tornadoes of the past. The calls are answered in centers in Maryland, Virginia and Texas.

"I really sympathize with the applicants of the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters," said Chelsa Snider, human services representative, "but I have to remember to stay in control and be the stronger person to make sure the caller receives all the information they need."

Human Services Representative Edward Richardson agreed.

"It is really difficult because many people break down on the phone while giving me information and I feel like joining in, but I know I have a job to complete," he said.

FEMA human service representatives take information to determine the federal and social services programs for which callers may be eligible. Refresher training courses, downtime exercises, pre-shift quizzes and program knowledge tests are part of human service representatives' continuing education process.

FEMA's computer system records vital caller data and electronically transmits the data to the numerous disaster aid providers within minutes after the call is complete. The computer system also helps assure that each caller is mailed important, custom tailored information regarding the types and nearest sources of various forms of disaster aid.

Since the terrorist events are crimes rather than natural disasters, the application process and the type of assistance available is different than typically done by FEMA. Assistance including housing assistance, medical benefits, unemployment, funeral expenses and crisis counseling will be available through FEMA and the Department of Justice. Businesses can seek assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Local and state governments will also work with FEMA for rebuilding.

"FEMA's role in regard to these terrorism events is response, recovery and rebuilding," said Larry Zensinger, director of the recovery division. "Since these losses were because of crime, Department of Justice is in the forefront for providing assistance to individuals and families for this particular crisis."

FEMA has operated the teleregistration system since October 1989. Since that time approximately 5 million calls have been received after more than 100 major disasters.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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