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FEMA Corps Member Brings Sandy's Lessons to White House

by Greg Tucker

The chance to get in on the ground floor and build something new attracted recent college grad Ben Barron to the FEMA Corps AmeriCorps NCCC unit. Last fall his class went to work with the Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery effort in New York, where he learned a lot about himself and the strength of the human spirit.

Barron was on the path to law school when he learned about the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and FEMA Corps from another student at California State University, Northridge. This idea led to him to join the first FEMA Corps class in July 2012 to begin training as a Team Leader with the new unit.

Change of Plans

Barron's team was on an assignment in New Orleans when Sandy struck the East Coast and altered their plans. Soon, he would be providing disaster assistance to victims of that storm and “sleeping in a hold with 149 of (his) best friends” on a ship docked off Staten Island in New York.

Barron was impressed immediately with the mobilization of people who assembled to provide assistance. As he continued in the recovery effort, Barron was also surprised by the resilience and selflessness he saw as people worked to regain control of their lives.

“I don't know how many times I heard from people who had just lost their homes -- lost pretty much everything they own --say, ‘Can you go down the street and help them because they got hit worse?'” said Barron. “We heard that every day … that sense of camaraderie was the most touching thing.”

Adapting to the Situation

As part of the roving disaster response center, Barron pursued an initiative to use laptops and iPads to register storm survivors for disaster assistance, as well as keep track of the areas that had received aid from other organizations.

Early on, people were borrowing FEMA Corps members' phones to call in and register for assistance because they had no computers or electricity to do so at home. By embracing mobile technology, they were able to make the process more efficient while maintaining face-to-face interactions.

At first, they set up stations at relief centers by tethering laptops to their Blackberry phones to create mobile internet connections. Later they moved to tablet computers.

“The iPads helped streamline the process,” said Barron. “They helped us get people registered in their neighborhood or even at their door.”

Through the program, FEMA reached and documented thousands who may not have received adequate disaster assistance, avoiding redundancy and wasted resources. Barron's efforts brought him to the White House earlier this week to speak at a FEMA Think Tank on innovation in emergency management.

His experience as a FEMA Corps Team Leader has taught Barron about working with a people who have “different personalities, different dialogues, and different objectives.”

“If you are looking for a future in emergency management, FEMA Corps will help you with that,” said Barron. “Where else are you gonna get that opportunity?”

Barron also learned about time management and prioritization, adding that the amount of resolve and the resilience needed to work in disaster relief is something that inspires confidence.

“Don't be afraid to jump in and do something. Being a bystander is not something that's going to get the job done,” he said. “Be ready to be amazed.”

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