DENVER – Five years after the historic Colorado floods, evidence of recovery can be found across the Centennial State as roads are rebuilt and communities regain their vibrancy. Yet the lasting marks of the floods are not merely evidenced through reconstruction activity, but also in the number of locals who contributed to the response and recovery by FEMA.
Local hires are not just part of FEMA’s mandate to help communities recover. They become an integral part of the Agency, bringing with them new experiences, lessons learned and a unique set of skills honed through disaster work. In Region VIII, local hires from this declaration have become an integral part of the Region, bringing their collective know-how and experience with them to further strengthen the Region and the Agency as a whole.
Carita Ricley had been serving as a FEMA Corps Team Leader when Colorado was inundated. “My team was originally headed for Texas when we got the call to head to the office here in Denver.”
“I graduated FEMA Corps that November, though I knew my time in Colorado and with FEMA wasn’t over… I signed my first lease and proceeded to apply for every local hire position I could. I was hired in January 2014 as an Executive Specialist to the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator.” Since that time, Carita has become a bedrock for the Incident Management Assistance Team, among those first out the door to respond to an incident.
For Sheila Doll, coming to FEMA was a homecoming of sorts. “Within a week, maybe ten days, I felt I had gone back to my days in the military with the hierarchy and plans. It felt like home to me.” But very quickly, Sheila had learned a key distinction. “At first I thought ‘let’s just rebuild or reconstruct.’ But then I learned that you first need to help people get back to the right place for them.”
Understanding the needs of the community is one of the strongest assets local hires bring to FEMA. “Local hires bring a sense of community,” according to Madison Tyler. “Hiring locally gets the community involved and helps FEMA brand themselves as not just a federal agency with rules and regulations but an agency that does care and wants to rebuild not just the infrastructure but the economy of which the disaster occurred.”
Jean Petkovsek concurs. “As a consultant in the private sector, I was comfortable working with clients on their construction projects and communicating with them in a professional manner. As a local hire, I quickly learned that the stress that many applicants were under required more than just a professional approach in dealing with them. While professionalism is still extremely important, it could be perceived as cold and uncaring if it was not balanced with empathy and compassion.”
However, the story of local hires does not end with what they gave to FEMA, but rather what they gained along the way.
“The family you build within FEMA has been the longest lasting aspect of my time here. When I left Colorado, everyone told me ‘see you later’ – I thought they meant ‘goodbye,’” said Doll. “But ever since then, I’ve found that I go to every disaster and greet everyone with hugs. I have made a family in FEMA.”