Disaster Response & Federal Allies Institute
In 2005 I was thrust into the world of disaster response in Alabama as an entry level FEMA “Disaster Assistance Employee HQ” from Washington, D.C. there to help about 114,000 in the first 90 days – many were sudden, new residents of Alabama moving out from harm’s way. Many former residents of New Orleans and other coastal areas from Louisiana to Florida simply drove their cars north until they ran out of gas and the gas stations did likewise. At which point they called the FEMA 800 number for help.
Alabama’s disaster headquarters, Joint Field Office, in Montgomery, Alabama was an old Sam’s Club building leased by GSA and converted to office space and filled blue partitioned offices.
During my first week, with vaccinations and on-the-job training, I rose through the ranks of Individual Assistance to work directly for FEMA’s top Coordinating Federal Officer of Alabama and the top Alabama State Coordinating Officer to organize massive public events of resources and evacuees across the state.
Most were planned and implemented within 48-hour notice and as I worked with all the FEMA components, community and church groups, and corporate America, one that stood out was FEMA Logistics. Staffed with can-do spirit and drive, I thought to myself these guys are straight out of the helicopter boat scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. No logistics problem was too big or had a too brief of a time span attached. Thousands of families, massive tents, tables, chairs, psychologists, generators, water, fuel, federal security, computers, disaster recovery centers, housing, blue tarps atop of houses everywhere, people that needed immediate assistance, people too proud to accept assistance, and the list could go on for many pages. At the end, trained in many Disaster courses, I spent my first day at a Disaster Recovery Center as the manager. Besides learning all about disasters, with even more training at Fort McClellan, my experiences with Katrina, engrained in my mind the value of companies coming to the rescue, for example, particularly Walmart with its massive distribution channels and low-key generosity. I don’t ever remember Walmart being acknowledged for all they did.
As my responsibilities grew, I gained many experiences working with a vast network of new colleagues throughout Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Congressional Relations and with FEMA headquarters, such as with FEMA Legal in negotiating housing agreements between FEMA, Department of Agriculture, and Veterans Administration. Upon return to Washington, DC I took part in federal policy meetings and hearings on how to improve the multi-agency response to such a national disaster as Hurricane Katrina. I brought my best ideas.
That brings us to our next Federal Allies Summit at Hogan Lovells, Disaster Response Summit, April 17, 2014. On behalf of Federal Allies Institute, we hope you will come to Washington, D.C. and attend. It will tell you what you need to know. Register online at FederalAllies.org. Members receive a special rate.
David T. Boddie, Executive Director, Federal Allies Institute