ANDOVER, Mass. -- Community Relations (CR) representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been diligently informing Massachusetts disaster victims about the assistance that is available to them through state and federal disaster assistance programs.
CR team members are working in partnership with Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to conduct outreach in affected counties. CR teams visit community gathering places like businesses and churches and have traveled door-to-door to talk with individuals who have suffered damages or losses during the flooding. Teams have reached out to thousands of Massachusetts residents and have done so in seven different languages. Multilingual outreach is an important component of the teams’ work.
Additionally, CR teams meet with town emergency managers to determine the various levels and locations of damage in order to create a strategy for outreach. The teams generally canvas the worst-hit areas first in order to meet the needs of those who likely sustained the most damage.
“Sometimes a visit by a CR representative makes all the difference for people battered by disaster. Having CR teams on the ground is an excellent way to put a human face on disaster assistance and to ensure that we reach everyone in need in order to identify specific or special needs,” said Phil Parr, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for the disaster.
CR teams have found that some Massachusetts’ residents with serious unmet needs thought they were not eligible for assistance because they had insurance. Others just didn’t know they could apply for federal assistance or how to do it. The face-to-face visits helped to address such misunderstandings and break down the barriers to assistance.
Cristine McCombs, state coordinating officer and director of MEMA called the CR teams a vital link-up between disaster agencies and the people affected by disaster. “CR teams have the unique ability to provide a very personal level of outreach and resources to those who may not have had other means of obtaining them,” she said.
FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.