LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Just 15 hours after last week's disaster declaration for Franklin and Johnson counties, teams of Community Relations professionals started going door to door in affected areas.
The mission of these Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams? To reach as many storm survivors as possible, help them register, direct them to disaster centers in the area, and tell them about FEMA programs.
"So many people don't know there could be help for them," said Esther Herrera, one of more than two dozen Community Relations specialists who have been on the ground in Arkansas. "When we see people in the affected areas, we stop to talk and let them know there may be help."
Some folks make false assumptions about their eligibility for assistance, or discount altogether the possibility of help from FEMA, Herrera said.
"Sometimes we reach someone who doesn't even know about FEMA," Herrera said. "We give them the information and they break into tears. It's just the best news, that there may be help."
Community Relations teams first arrived in Arkansas just after the May 2 disaster declaration for the April 14 to June 3 storms, tornadoes and floods. Then, as now, they worked closely with local emergency managers to determine which places had the most pressing needs. Local officials supplied them with maps and other information to help them carry out their mission.
Since arriving, they have visited 12,730 homes in 278 communities and met with more than 10,000 residents and 1,760 businesspeople. They have walked thousands of miles - as a team, up to 200 miles a day - through devastated neighborhoods, all to connect with survivors.
As teams visited homes, schools, businesses, civic groups and faith-based organizations, they educated people about state and federal assistance programs and answered questions about the assistance process. They carried fliers about the state/federal disaster centers that served the public, plus information about registration and other programs. A bereavement specialist helped families who had lost loved ones learn about available benefits.
"We sent these professionals into communities as one more resource to help people start getting back on their feet," said State Coordinating Officer David Maxwell of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. "Some people prefer to talk to someone face to face, and our door-to-door and disaster center outreach filled that need for direct contact."
Although the intense Arkansas heat proved challenging as teams walked mile after mile in affected communities, specialists often found the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors extended to them too.
"Many days, temperatures topped 100 degrees and people kept asking if they could get us some water," Herrera said. "People are appreciative and supportive, and all the walking in the world doesn't matter to us if it means we can help them."
"We're very pleased at the tremendous effort they've made in Arkansas communities," said Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer W. Michael Moore. "Community outreach is a crucial part of our mission, and these professionals have really made a difference."
Visit www.fema.gov or www.adem.arkansas.gov for news and information about this disaster. Follow FEMA tweets about the Arkansas disaster at www.twitter.com/femaregion6. Other online resources include blog.fema.gov, www.facebook.com/fema and www.youtube.com/fema.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability t...