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Blue Sky Days, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, and Partnerships

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 "Awesome stuff!"; "Thanks!"; "Thank you! We're glad you're here."; "Outstanding."; "Great work"; "Thank you, Rebuilding Together"; "Much Respect"; "Thank you for your partnership in helping us serve disaster survivors!"; "Thank you for inviting us!"; and "All the best!" The bottom of the poster declares that the event was organized by FEMA's Voluntary Agency Liaisons, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, and the DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
At the First Annual Voluntary Organization Partnership Day event held at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, DC on October 27, 2015, posters were laid out to allow participants and attendees to sign and leave messages of thanks for the voluntary and faith-based organizations that serve communities across the country as they prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

All disasters are local. They begin and end locally. This statement echoed throughout a day full of collaboration and networking known as Partnership Day.

At the end of October, representatives from many of the voluntary agencies and non-profit organizations we work with came together for the first event of this kind in Washington, DC. The event was designed to build, solidify, and highlight many of the connections that make disaster response and recovery successful.

Beth Zimmerman kicked off the day with opening remarks. She is FEMA’s Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery and her comments highlighted the work of our voluntary, faith-based, and community partners, particularly in disasters that aren’t severe enough to require FEMA’s assistance: “Each and every person and organization… comes together to help these communities on a daily basis."

Throughout the day, organizations shared stories about how they work together to help communities across the country, and sometimes even the world. Ideas were shared, business cards swapped, and partnerships that are forged under pressure during disasters had a chance to bloom on a "blue sky day." (In emergency management terms, we call this "steady state.")

The day finished up with a town hall-style panel discussion facilitated by Chris Smith, the Director of FEMA's Individual Assistance Division. The panel featured Bill Driscoll, the Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD), Marcus Coleman, the Special Assistant to the DHS Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, and Mark Millican, the Deputy Director of FEMA's Individual Assistance Division.

When asked about how voluntary agencies at the national level support the state and local response and recovery efforts, Bill Driscoll put it best: "It's all about… leveraging to provide surge capacity so that you can get local folks trained, aware, [and] understanding of how they can deal with their [situation]."

After the panel concluded, I had an opportunity to talk to some of the attendees, including FEMA’s own Chris Smith, who provided some interesting food for thought: "The work [we do] with voluntary agencies is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; it's no good without one or the other. This combination of working with the whole community of voluntary agencies who represent a myriad of who we work and live with – it's how we recover most effectively from a disaster."

Our voluntary and faith-based partner organizations and the communities we all serve are a crucial piece of disaster response and recovery. The skills and expertise they bring to the table can, do, and will continue to make a big difference when the call comes in and they go to work and serve their communities.

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Last Updated: 
06/02/2017 - 09:21