By Richard O’Reilly, Research & Writing Specialist, New Jersey JFO
Hickory Five Team Leader Melissa Ridder, Alexandra Bowen, and other FEMA Corps members get ready to assist survivors of Hurricane Sandy to find hotel rooms so they can move out of Oceanport Camp.
When recently inducted FEMA Corps members arrived in New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy was clearing out of the Jersey Shore. Having traveled from many places afar, they arrived to support their first disaster response operation.
“Eight FEMA Corps teams deployed with us,” said Gene Romano, FEMA’s Community Relations manager for sprawling Monmouth County. “They had been trained to help register people by phone or online. They had working cellphones, and after we got internet service back, they also could use their laptop and tablet computers to help survivors register. They’re young and energetic and tech savvy.”
In all, 21 FEMA Corps teams totaling 222 members deployed to the Garden State. On any given day, team members fan out across New Jersey to assist the federal response and recovery effort.
“The first five or six days we helped out at the Mobile Disaster Recovery Center in Union Beach and then helped set up the regular Disaster Recovery Center in the borough hall,” said FEMA Corps team leader Melissa Ridder, from Indianapolis, IN. “Now we’re at the survivor shelter at Monmouth Park Racetrack, helping survivors with their FEMA applications, helping them move their personal belongings from other shelters and helping the Red Cross get supplies to the shelter.”
“I’ve been assisting survivors find hotels and make reservations, setting up cots at shelters, and helping unload clothing and food,” said Alexandra Bowen, a FEMA Corps member from Wrentham, MA. “It was great to get out here and help right away with people affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
Among the other tasks being undertaken by FEMA Corps members in New Jersey are outreach to churches and faith-based organizations and door-to-door outreach in affected areas identified by local emergency management. When they are not in the field, the teams bunk down at Fort Dix U.S. Army base in central New Jersey.
Both Ridder and Bowen – part of the first FEMA Corps graduating class from Vinton, IA – have found their New Jersey experience very rewarding.
“It’s very fulfilling to see the reactions of people to us being here supporting them,” said Bowen. “It’s been a very positive experience.”
“After five years trying to work service into my life, I decided to make it my job,” said Ridder. “I wanted something more hands-on and I’ve always been interested in disaster relief and emergency management. So this is the perfect job for me.”