Thursday, December 13, 2012

TSA Making an Impact with FEMA’s Hurricane Recovery Efforts in New York



 TSA Washington/Reagan Supervisor Lisa Caillet in Far Rockaway, NY
 TSA Washington/Reagan Supervisor Lisa Caillet in Far Rockaway, NY
Over  the past five weeks, thousands of New Yorkers have come in contact with more than 700 TSA officers, inspectors and administrative personnel from 200 airports across the country, men and women who have volunteered for a FEMA-led New York humanitarian recovery and assistance effort in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  But odds are that they never knew it because these TSA employees literally traded in their blue security uniforms, black TSA inspector jackets and TSA badges for a FEMA badge to help residents recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.


These TSA employees are wearing winter coats and wool caps as members of the FEMA Community Relations Teams, going door-to-door in neighborhoods affected by Hurricane Sandy, helping residents sign up for both FEMA and state assistance.  In many cases, these workers returned to check on the status of those applications, and returned again to make “wellness checks” along with members of the National Guard to offer water and food. 


TSA employees also are staffing many of FEMA’s Disaster Recover Centers (DRC) that have been set up in community and recreation centers, schools, and other locations.  At DRC’s, survivors are guided through the recovery process to ensure that they are getting needed aid .  They can also learn about available programs to get heat and electricity restored to their homes and shops – so that their homes can again become inhabitable, and their shops readied for a return to business.


TSA Atlantic City BDO James Weisbecker in Breezy Point, NY
TSA Atlantic City BDO James Weisbecker in Breezy Point, NY
Douglas Estridge, a Master Behavior Detection Officer from Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW), said he was making a follow-up visit to the home of a middle-aged couple and noticed that the husband was leaning awkwardly on the door frame. Shortly before the storm, the man had undergone double-knee surgery but because his car had been flooded,  he had been unable to get to his physical therapy sessions. Esteridge was able to contact his FEMA group leader, and together they arranged transportation for the man to get to his physical therapy appointments.


Mark Siepak, a TSA Officer from Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) in Greensboro, N.C.,  said that early in his FEMA deployment, he was speaking with a woman who was living with her elderly mother – with no heat or electricity.. The mother’s feet would turn blue from the cold and the daughter would rub her mother’s feet several times a day to warm them up. Siepak made what he refers to as “an urgent-need call” and while on the phone it was determined that the women were eligible for funds to cover the cost of housing and that the funds would be transferred the same day. 


TSA Charlotte TSO Dwayne Bishop in Staten Island, NY
TSA Charlotte TSO Dwayne Bishop in Staten Island, NY
“If we get one person registered for assistance, we know we are making a difference. We don’t want anybody to slip through the cracks,” explains Vicki Andrews, a TSA Officer from Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT) in Mississippi, a Hurricane Katrina survivor who knows personally the value of FEMA’s efforts. She was so appreciative of the assistance she and her family and community received post-Katrina that for this disaster, she made the decision to “pay it forward” and came north to help support FEMA’s efforts in New York.


These TSA employees put their lives on hold, packed a bag and waved goodbye to their families because they saw a need to help make a difference in the lives of complete strangers at a time when the need was greatest. They spent Thanksgiving away from loved ones. In the words of FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate – “duty called.”


TSA Amarillo Supervisor Sharon Buckley in Breezy Point, NY.
TSA Amarillo Supervisor Sharon Buckley in Breezy Point, NY.
Like other agencies that fall within the scope of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA employees can volunteer to be members of what is known as the Surge Capacity Force; these volunteers are willing to be deployed to a disaster location to help FEMA with response and recovery support.


Make no mistake, this work is no vacation. Surge Capacity Force members are putting in a minimum of 12- to 14-hour days living on maritime training vessels docked in the waterways of New York, to enable displaced residents to utilize the available hotel rooms. TSA employees are eating in a galley and sleeping in the hulls of ships in large, shared living quarters that feature triple-bunks. “But we are sleeping well knowing that the important work we are doing is making a difference” in improving the lives of their fellow countrymen, says Sharon Buckley, a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (AMA).

Guest Blogger Lisa Farbstein 
TSA Public Affairs Spokesperson, New York/New Jersey

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