January 14, 2013

Disaster Recovery

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In wake of the devastation in New York and New Jersey resulting from Hurricane Sandy, an opportunity arose for HUD employees throughout the Nation to rally together in a time of need and assist with the Department’s response, recovery and planning efforts.   During the first two months following the hurricane; HUD Region VIII was able to send a total of 8 staff members to assist in a variety of capacities.

The Staff:

Terry Brey (FPM) was involved in the first wave of HUD staff volunteers in November, lending his expertise to office administration efforts in the Joint Field Office.  He was instrumental in ensuring equipment was properly accounted for and assigned to HUD staff, in addition to trouble shooting a variety of issues on a daily basis.  As Terry’s deployment came to an end 30 days later, Elizabeth Clark (Pres. Mgmt Fellow SF) transitioned into Terry’s position after completing a few days at a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) as well.  Elizabeth also acquired additional key administration duties.

In addition, the following HUD staff served their deployment assignment at various Disaster Recovery Centers located in areas where there was a great need for assistance to the impacted residents.  Anita Short (Public Housing); Pauline Zvonkovic (FPM); Samuel Potter (NPONAP); Edward Vaughan (NPONAP) and; Dan Cline (Public Housing).  These staff members had the privilege of assisting first hand families and individuals visiting the DRCs for assistance from FEMA, HUD, SBA and various other government and city agencies.

I was most impressed with how quickly HUD staff became acclimated to their surroundings and figured out transportation to and from their hotel to the scattered DRCs.  Many DRCs were so far removed that travel time ranged from 1-2 hours and could involve various forms of transportation such as ferries, subways and buses.  Without fail, our HUD staff was present every day at the assigned DRC to fulfill the Department’s mission and assist in the immediate response, with no complaints.

HUD Programs were explained to those in need of assistance and searches for housing in the housing portal were conducted for many who were without internet access. In addition, HUD staff networked with the local agencies and provided information about HUD to help, making our agency a viable partner to the DRCs.

Finally, I was assigned to the JFO, initially as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for Multifamily programs.  Our area was comprised of HUD staff from various HUD Programs and we served as a resource for the HUD volunteer staff at the DRCs.  We were tasked with answering program questions, researching topics and keeping our DRC HUD staff informed of any changes.  Eventually, I transitioned to the Lead for SME and DRC HUD staff.  This involved greater interaction with FEMA, including attending daily meetings and apprising them on HUD programs and answering questions.  I was responsible for the assignment of incoming HUD volunteers to DRCs/JFO and tracking when staff were completing their deployment.

I am most grateful for this opportunity to have assisted even if this small way with the recovery efforts.  Watching all the agencies pull together to organize and assist those in need was impressive.  Hats off to all those that have volunteered or are planning to volunteer with the disaster recovery efforts. It’s an experience you will never forget.

Adela Escalante is a Multifamily Supervisory Project Manager in HUD’s Denver Regional office

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