CRS Lends Its Expertise to FEMA to Help Communities Recover from 2017 Hurricanes
In 2017, the Nation suffered three major, back-to-back hurricanes in the span of just four weeks. First, Hurricane Harvey hit parts of south Texas and Louisiana, followed closely by Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys and other parts of South Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Soon after, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This was the first time in U.S. history that three category 4 or higher hurricanes made landfall during the same period, causing catastrophic damage. In the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated its Surge Capacity Force (SCF), a cadre of federal employee heroes who serve affected communities by supporting FEMA’s urgent response and recovery efforts.
On September 30, 2017, Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relations Service (CRS) Program Specialist Natalia Casella deployed with FEMA to the Glades region of South Florida to support communities affected by Hurricane Irma. There she served as an Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist and met with state officials, state legislators, county/parish officials, mayors, city managers, and city councils. In this capacity, Natalia provided disaster assistance to local governments by coordinating access to resources and facilitating communication between stakeholders and FEMA leads. As communities began to recover from the disaster, Natalia met with local government officials who identified rural areas in the Glades still in need of assistance.
In response, Natalia immediately directed FEMA teams to those areas and collaborated with local governments to conduct FEMA community outreach events in those areas traditionally underserved by the Federal government. In response to the support FEMA received from Natalia in South Florida, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, Willie G. Nunn said, “The DOJ surge team [Natalia Casella] brought a very positive can-do attitude and mission-critical skills to this disaster operation. They helped forge solid relationships with state and local officials, a vital function of Intergovernmental Affairs. The team also understood how important it was to act as our eyes and ears in hurricane-damaged areas. Through their interactions with local officials, we understood situations, needs and the concerns of residents. The DOJ team helped officials understand what assistance is available to begin their recovery. Our efforts in Florida were strengthened by the outstanding contributions of the DOJ team. We’re more than grateful to know we can reach out to DOJ for support in future disaster operations.”
DOJ CRS is proud to support FEMA in its critical work helping communities recover from an unprecedented hurricane season through the SCF program. This interagency effort is a powerful example of the Federal government working across agencies to marshal diverse talent and resources in support of communities with austere conditions in times of crisis.