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An Innovative Partnership to Strengthen Disaster Response

by Cecilia Muñoz

On a daily basis, the employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) look into the eyes of disaster survivors and convey a calm strength and compassion to assist them on the road to recovery from disasters. Similarly conveying strength and resolve to make our nation stronger are the thousands of Americans who are part of AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

As a way to capitalize on the strength and compassion, on March 13, the Obama Administration opened a new chapter in the history of national service with the launch of FEMA Corps: AmeriCorps in Action, an innovative cost-saving partnership to strengthen our nation's disaster response capabilities, while also expanding career opportunities for young people.

This partnership between FEMA and CNCS goes to the heart of the mission for both of these agencies. Through dedicated community service, young Americans will help communities respond to and recover from disasters by assisting survivors, setting up shelters, assessing damage, coordinating volunteers, and many other activities. These efforts have a huge impact on the lives of families and entire communities trying to recover from the tragedy of a natural disaster.

Ten years ago, after losing friends in the 9/11 attacks, Tracey Connelly joined AmeriCorps as a way give back to her community. After two years of service she found her calling in emergency management. Today she works for the city of Seattle, helping underserved communities prepare for natural disasters.

Paula Hercule joined AmeriCorps just before Hurricane Katrina unleashed a trail of destruction along the Gulf Coast. She was one of the first AmeriCorps members to respond, and the experience on the ground, working alongside FEMA reservists changed her life. Paula now is in medical school, and plans to practice medicine in underserved communities.

Tracey and Paula are among the thousands of young people who have provided critical services to disaster survivors through AmeriCorps and serve as examples to other young people who we hope, through this new partnership, will find their calling in emergency management.

This new partnership establishes a dedicated unit of 1,600 service corps members within AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and builds upon past collaborations between FEMA and NCCC. This dedicated group of young adults will strengthen the area of disaster work between the two agencies in providing “boots on the ground” to communities in their response to natural disasters.

As we have seen on numerous occasions – from the heroic response last year's devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri to the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina to the relief efforts occurring now the Midwest – FEMA and AmeriCorps together in action makes a critical difference to communities facing natural disasters. FEMA Corps will expand this capability by creating a corps that will enhance the entire emergency management workforce.

Finally, FEMA Corps will create pathways to work for young people. We already know that service can expand opportunity and ready people for the workforce. By providing training, experience, and educational opportunity, FEMA Corps will prepare thousands of young people for careers in emergency management and related fields. In this sense, it demonstrates that service is more than a cost-effective governmental program – but a human capital strategy for the country, a platform that can expand opportunities and create pathways for employment for Americans from all walks of life.

National service does more than help people in need - it brings people together. It is a model that breaks down barriers, transcends politics and strengthens communities. The Americans who participate in these programs aren't simply meeting the needs of their neighbors and their communities; they are providing a shining example of our nation at its best.

Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and Craig Fugate is the Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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