Judy McAbee has been a Seabrook resident since 2015. She retired early and was looking around to find projects that might interest her when her neighbor suggested she look into possibilities with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) She came across an online description of something called the Hurricane Workface-FEMA Careers. The article stated that when “disasters strike, America looks to FEMA to support survivors and first responders in communities all across the country” and “temporary jobs are available.”
Judy filled in the application and sure enough Hurricane Matthew struck. Judy started traveling to several places to service the needs of those affected by the hurricane. She was away from home for roughly 12 weeks. FEMA pays for a rental car, hotel expenses, and an hourly wage plus a few incidentals. Judy got a good taste of what it was like to face people who had just lost most of their net worth when FEMA put her in the Disaster Recovery Center where she met face to face with people applying for aid. She said their stories were heartbreaking.
This year has been another busy one for Judy. First there was Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which we have almost forgotten by now, then followed by Irma, Maria, and the California fires. This time Judy was put in a call center where she wore headphones and took calls from people who had been affected and were looking for help. Their work hours could be anywhere from 5:45 am until 1 am. No sooner would she finish with one phone call, the next one was waiting for her. All she craved was sleep and maybe a decent meal but she kept working.
Through this experience Judy learned a lot about how FEMA operates. Judy was in the individual and household division of the FEMA operation and learned if you have home or personal property damage as a result of a natural disaster there are steps you must take to get FEMA’s assistance. First, if you have insurance, you must apply for insurance benefits. Based on your finances you may be eligible for either a Small Business Administration (SBA) low interest loan or a FEMA grant to cover non-insured losses. The SBA is a partner with FEMA during a disaster.
By the time I finished the interview, my head was spinning from the many details about how FEMA operates. I asked Judy what she felt had prepared her for this massive operation under national stress. She said: “Oh, didn’t I tell you. I went to Vietnam as a Donut Dolly during the war. I had never been on a plane before. It was quite an adventure”.
-Barbara Burgess, Tidelines Staff Writer