Washington, DC -- District of Columbia staff and volunteers managed the ice distribution process at Backus Junior High School so efficiently that residents had the option of walking up or driving through to get ice after Hurricane Isabel hurled through the city.
"Many elderly people live in that area of northeast and we wanted to make pick-up as convenient as possible," said George Banks, a Department of Public Works immobilization technician and Backus site supervisor. "We had everything we needed for a smooth ice distribution operation -- plenty of volunteers and an ample number of District employees to direct people and distribute ice, as well as the proper equipment to move the ice."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) positioned more than 1.32 million pounds of ice in the District shortly after the storm passed through the city. The ice was made available to people who lost power, and consequently refrigeration, due to the hurricane. FEMA contracted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who delivered the ice to the city's Department of Public Works for distribution.
Backus Jr. High was one of the busiest of four sites where residents could get ice over a six-day period after the hurricane. Approximately 22,000 people received 751,000 pounds of ice at the four locations.
"Keeping a cooler fresh with ice often made the difference between eating and not," said Scott Wells, federal coordinating officer with FEMA. "It's an old fashioned way to keep food, but it worked."
The massive and extended power outages meant many seniors and children, accustomed to getting breakfast and lunch at school, were not being fed. Pulling together mass feeding plans from other programs, the Department of Human Services (DHS) staff developed a hurricane mass feeding program and were set up to serve meals within 24-hours.
While the District made preparations for hot meals, DHS provided residents with meal vouchers and boxed lunches. Then, through the team effort of voluntary agencies, D.C. employees and volunteers, hot meals were served at up to a dozen sites throughout the city. On the federal side, FEMA oversaw the U.S. Department of Agriculture's donation of food items and technical support from the department's Forest Service staff who are experienced in fire camp mass care. More than 22,000 meals were served to residents.
"Coordinating these feedings with FEMA and volunteers from the city, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Southern Baptists has been an enormous and successful social service," said Peter LaPorte. "Make no mistake, we got the help we needed and sought. Thousands of storm victims were assisted."
An after action evaluation lauded DHS officials for having a good, solid plan following Hurricane Isabel. The evaluation recommended training and exercises so that the participating agencies can become more familiar with the plan and prepare the District for an even better execution during the occurrence of a like disaster.
On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages Citizen Corps, the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.