Posted by: Kevin L. Hannes, Federal Coordinating Officer, Texas Wildfires
One month ago this week, drought-stricken Texas’ severe wildfire season turned tragic when fires raged through neighborhoods in Bastrop and dozens of other communities around the state. Even as the fires burned, Texans were out in full force, supporting the neighbors whose homes and lives were in peril and the firefighters who were battling the blazes.
Bastrop, TX, October 1, 2011 --Volunteer assists with the clean-up efforts in Bastrop, TX. Groups from various faith-based programs are removing scrape metal from burned out homes and giving the homeowners the monies from the recycling fees.
In the midst of the fires, and in the weeks since, we have witnessed enormous generosity as Texans and other Americans have donated their time, their skills and their money, as well as food, clothing and household goods, to those whose lives have been shattered.
Volunteers are often the first in and the last to leave when a disaster strikes, and the Texas wildfires have been no exception. The armies of volunteers and organizations that have turned out to assist the Texans in need were here from the start, and many of them will continue to work for the long-term recovery of their communities well into the future.
While FEMA is perhaps better known as the distributor of federal dollars to help survivors get back on their feet after a disaster, we also strongly support volunteer efforts. A partnership agreement in Texas, for example, has brought 30 AmeriCorps member organizations to Bastrop County to help match volunteers with agencies that are serving disaster survivors.
And through our Voluntary Agency Liaisons, we also are working with the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and their partner organizations to meet survivors’ needs that remain after insurance or state, local or federal assistance options have been exhausted.
The entire community working toward recovery
Alongside the volunteers, in many instances, have been Texas businesses that have contributed to the recovery effort with donations of food and other supplies, or that have given employees paid time off to help out.
It takes the whole community to help Texans and their neighborhoods recover from the wildfires, and FEMA is just one member of the team. We do not and cannot work in a vacuum. The team begins at the state and local levels. The businesses and the volunteers who rushed in to help — and who continue to work in fire-affected communities day in and day out — are vital members of the team. They are an essential component of every disaster response and recovery effort.
As FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for the Texas recovery effort, I feel fortunate to have witnessed the generosity and kindness of spirit of the thousands of concerned Texans who are doing their part to help wildfire survivors heal.
For more information on how you can help survivors after a disaster, visit fema.gov/howtohelp. For Texas-specific information, visit TexasVOAD.org.