It's not every day that DC policymakers leave the realm of white papers, paté and Beltway buzz to travel to a place of ceremonial drumming, outhouses and mosquito buzz. But Beth Zimmerman, FEMA's new Assistant Administrator for the Disaster Assistance Directorate, recently did just that.
On August 28th and 29th, Beth examined first-hand unique recovery challenges and solutions at DR-1843, the Alaska disaster in which spring floods and ice jams ravaged homes, personal property and public infrastructure in remote villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.
Beth arrived at the Joint Field Office in Anchorage, and met with the State Coordinating Officer, Dave Andrews, and the Federal Coordinating Officer, Doug Mayne. She met and talked with program leads and others, and ended the workday by presenting her perspective on Disaster Assistance at an All Hands meeting.
The next morning she scrunched into the cabin of a small plane to be flown to the Alaska Native village of Tanana (population approximately 260). There she met with community, tribal and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) leaders as well as with the on-site FEMA team, and observed the repairs being made to the many homes damaged by floodwaters.
That afternoon she sky-hopped over to Eagle, the village hit hardest by the disaster. Zimmerman met with community and tribal leaders, residents, and with volunteers who were building and repairing houses. She toured the temporary medical clinic and new Village Public Safety Office funded by State and FEMA Public Assistance programs. Her day in Eagle ended with a fresh salmon cookout.
Beth could have chosen to mull the Alaska recovery efforts from the comfort of her new DC office via teleconference and reports. But maybe she wanted to experience it personally because she worked disasters in Utah, and served as a Recovery Manager in Arizona.
Maybe living in the open spaces of the southwest -- lands where Butch Cassidy and Geronimo once rode -- imprinted her with an individualistic spirit and openness to new vistas.
Perhaps, as she put it, "I want to take back to headquarters in DC a deeper understanding of how our Disaster Assistance program and policies impact and relate to unique disasters such as this."
Or maybe she just prefers salmon to paté.