During Typhoon Mawar, wind speed in Guam reached approximately 140 mph, leaving behind a trail of damaged and destroyed homes. In response to the survivors’ needs for a safe, sanitary and secure home, FEMA initiated GUAM STRONG (Getting Urgent Assistance Mobilized to Support Typhoon Repairs ON Guam) to assist affected households by undertaking temporary emergency repairs to make homes habitable.
GUAM STRONG brings together the efforts of various agencies and organizations. This includes collaboration with local government offices such as the Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defense and the Mayor’s Council. The program also relies on village mayors to refer their most vulnerable residents.
The program is coordinated by the Voluntary Agency Liaisons (VALs) and led by Region 9 VAL Charles Craig. The VALs utilize relationship building with voluntary, faith-based and community-based organizations, foundations and philanthropic partners, who provide additional humanitarian resources, to assist communities in meeting their needs after a disaster.
These voluntary organizations deploy skilled volunteers to conduct repairs for those survivors, including Adventist Community Services, Heart 9/11, Mennonite Disaster Service, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and United Methodists Committee on Relief (UMCOR). FEMA covers the travel expenses and provides lodging support for the volunteers.
Volunteers from across the country are traveling to Guam to extend their helping hands. Last month, a team of nine UMCOR members traveled from Arizona, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada and Nebraska. Before heading to Guam, the volunteers underwent emergency trainings as early responders with courses in safety, personal health and the use of personal protective equipment, etc.
UMCOR Team Lead Thomas Mattick spoke about the challenges posed by heat, rain and humidity on the island.
“My family lives in the desert of Las Vegas. The temperature there gets to 100 degrees easily, but it doesn’t feel as bad as 90 degrees here in Guam,” he said.
Several volunteers participated in FEMA’s VALOR (Voluntary Agencies Leading and Organizing Repair) program in Saipan. They brought valuable experiences from their previous deployment. Mattick’s skills in electrical work, plumbing and general repairs were basically self-taught.
“I have been learning and practicing as I go,” said Mattick “I had never put on a metal roof before my deployment in Saipan. Now, I’m glad I can put that skill to use here in Guam.”
Other UMCOR members felt the spirit of helping each other is inherent in volunteer work, and GUAM STRONG is no exception. During a short break from removing mold-infested boards, Christy Linsley reflected on the support received when Hurricane Harvey struck her home state.
“People from all corners of the country came to Texas to help us in 2017,” Linsley said. “When learning about Typhoon Mawar in Guam, I knew immediately it was my time to give back. That’s why I am here! Despite not being in the best physical shape, without any hesitation, I submitted the form of interest to GUAM STRONG.”
Drawing on her repair skills from diverse projects, Linsley has participated in repairing four houses in Guam so far.
GUAM STRONG requires volunteers to commit for a minimum of two weeks, and some, including Joe Whiff, have shown a willingness to extend their deployment.
“It is a very rewarding experience,” said Whiff. “I would just be happy to stay longer to help more people.”
Like other volunteers, Whiff put his versatile skills to full use, tackling everything needed, including roofing, carpentry, masonry, electrical work, plumbing, painting and finishing. The time it takes to complete a project varies. The first project Whiff participated in Guam was to install a roof, which took the team seven working days. Some small projects can be done more quickly.
GUAM STRONG engages various FEMA cadres to ensure its success. FEMA Individual Assistance site inspectors collaborate with voluntary organizations to assess home damage and identify the scope of work.
The FEMA Logistics team is actively involved in distributing these essential building materials. Since Aug. 30, 15 members have been coordinating with inspectors to compile a list of necessary materials, checking warehouse inventory and making arrangements for timely deliveries and removing debris from the damaged homes.
The emergency repairs started on Aug. 27. To date, 24 homes have been successfully repaired, with ongoing efforts to repair more.