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FEMA in Mississippi Preparing for the Next Disaster
From FEMA   Filed 9/20/07 GCN

A preparedness exercise was held recently for employees from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office (TRO). Senior officials wanted to test the agency’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) and identify strengths and weaknesses in anticipation of future disasters.

“We preach preparedness all the time; this gives us a chance to use our training and recognize the

unique problems we may face as a recovery operation in the midst of a new disaster,” said Sid Melton, TRO director.

A COOP is implemented to maintain essential services at an alternate location when normal operations cannot be maintained.

More than 450 employees work in the TRO and nearly 600 in field offices across the state, some of whom may be required to continue the Hurricane Katrina recovery operation while preparing their own families for a new disaster.

“Another event in Mississippi will have a dramatic impact on our organization, but our focus remains on recovery. That’s our priority,” said Alec Watson, TRO chief of staff. “We have to identify everything we have to do in advance of a storm or other event to the best of our ability. Each department in this agency must support each other to achieve the mission.”

In the event of a COOP execution, equipment and essential staff from FEMA’s Mississippi Gulf Coast offices will temporarily relocate to Purvis to continue Katrina recovery operations. Other personnel will either be released to manage their own families and property and will return to duty once the operation is re-established, or they will relocate to Pearl to assist FEMA’s regional response team in any response effort. While FEMA personnel and resources will be pre-positioned to handle new disasters, the focus for TRO staff will be the Katrina recovery effort.

The exercise gave most employees an opportunity to see how each program interacted in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. It also reinforced some previously identified issues such as the importance of strong communications between local, state and federal emergency management and the need to form an early partnership with local law enforcement.

Officials from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and FEMA encourage Gulf Coast businesses to develop their own contingency plan in the event of a disaster. All businesses need a disaster plan in place, regardless of size. For business disaster preparedness information, visit the SBA Web site at www.sba.gov or visit the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov and click on ‘Business.’

FEMA coordinates the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.

FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA loan officers to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, economic status or retaliation. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, you should call FEMA toll-free at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or contact your State Office of Equal rights. If suspicious of any abuse of FEMA programs, please contact the fraud hotline at 1-800-323-8603.

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