FEMA Specialists Blanketed Fire Ravaged Areas of California with Help

The day after President Obama issued a major disaster declaration in Calaveras and Lake counties, Calif., FEMA teams were already on the ground and fanned out providing information and helping survivors register for assistance from the disastrous wildfires.

Beginning Sept. 23, more than 61 Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) specialists divided into teams and went door-to-door, store-to-store and into high-traffic areas – wherever survivors might be. DSA specialists provided survivors with information, registered them for disaster assistance on the spot and also referred them to additional resources when needed.

This boots-on-the-ground technique allowed DSA team members to reach survivors in remote mountainous areas, and as a result, DSA specialists registered more than 45 percent of the 3,497 survivors who applied for assistance, a high mark for the FEMA DSA program.

“I’m very proud of the dedicated DSA teams,” said Timothy Scranton, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for the disaster. “DSA provides support to disaster survivors directly in the communities where they live and work. This is a value-added service we can bring after a disaster to expedite the recovery process.”

But these specialists do more than registration. They keep alert to conditions, needs and activity in affected areas and report their findings to the appropriate individuals.

“They become an extra pair of eyes and ears in determining where issues exist,” Scranton added.

At the height of this operation, DSA specialists worked in the two counties, handing out flyers, providing information to people displaced by the wildfires, and followed up with the survivors to check the status of their applications.

The fires wiped out phone service in many areas. DSA specialists allowed survivors to use their FEMA-issued cell phones to check their registration or make other important calls.

“It can be stressful not to be able to pick up the phone and make a call,” said Tony Nguyen, Disaster Survivor Assistance branch director. “Making our cell service available is another way to help survivors recover.”

DSA teams have provided disaster assistance information to survivors in Calaveras and Lake counties since Sept. 23. Here is a snapshot of their efforts:

  • Homes visited – 5,279
  • Survivor interactions – 6,370
  • Survivor registrations – 1,462
  • Referrals to other agencies such as American Red Cross and SBA– 1,209
  • Businesses visited – 600
  • Community locations where DSA help was provided – 165

Survivors can apply for FEMA assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362; TTY 800-462-7585; 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362. The deadline for survivors to register is Nov. 23, 2015.

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