IAFC Go Team members are given a primary FEMA region to support; our primary assignment is to support FEMA Region II: New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. So it was a complete surprise to be deployed to Atlanta in FEMA Region IV.
This mission required flight arrangements and a little-longer-than-anticipated on-scene arrival times for our two-member team. Being provided the contact information and the initial mission information, the preliminary housing and transportation arrangements were complete.
The mission assignment made us aware of what duties might be assigned to us the next day. This included the possibility of being located at the state emergency-operations center (EOC) or helping at one of several incident command posts established.
Although several counties suffered from tornado damage, our services weren’t to be required for long. But it did provide us an opportunity to learn about the state (GEMA) ESF#4 support systems, which included the FMAC operation.
We also had an opportunity to view the devastation by air. Getting this perspective of the damage was certainly revealing. In some ways, it prepared us for what was to come later when the release from Atlanta was made.
As a Go Team member, flexibility is necessary, and the request for us to head to Tuscaloosa certainly demanded it. Upon notification, flights were cancelled, a rental car was obtained and we arrived in Tuscaloosa that evening.
An inkling of the devastation, eventually observed, was provided by the convoys of Power & Light vehicles and random tornado damage that we passed along the way on the interstate. The next morning revealed a closer look with much, much more still to come.
Many of the local hotels were fully occupied with those needing shelter and relief workers coming into the area, so accommodations were provided for us at Tuscaloosa FRS Station #1. We would be remiss to not mention how much we appreciate the hospitality shown to us by the members of this extremely hardworking organization.
Our assignment was to report to a newly relocated county EOC; the primary one was destroyed. Once there, we provided primary support to the assigned battalion chief. Providing advice became a part of our activities as the support role slowly diminished and the temporary center evolved into a fully functional EOC.
While this deployment revealed the importance of Go Team members acting in a liaison role, it was important to openly discuss activities that needed to be coordinated both within the county EOC and in its interface role with the city. Making recommendations that would improve processes and operations were welcomed as the initial days of this disaster moved into the recovery phase.
Communications is often identified as an area needing improvement during every incident. This would prove to be no different as the operational requests began to be processed in a timely manner, minimizing duplication. As additional Alabama resources were added to the organizational structure, many activities began to be handled in a more cohesive manner.
After consulting with the fire chief, the Go Team was released after four days on scene.
Robert Edwards is an IAFC Go Team member responding to FEMA Region IV.