FEMA VALs COVID-19 Response

By: Richard Morris, Regional VAL

Like our partners, we at FEMA are adapting to life in this pandemic environment. While we may not be able to meet in person right now, the VAL team is committed to supporting our partners in any way possible as you work on the front lines to serve impacted community’s, not just by COVID-19, but from natural disasters as well. We’d like to share with you the story of one of our Region VI VALs, Richard E. Morris, as he adjusts to working remotely.

My name is Richard E. Morris and I have the honor of being a Regional VAL. I’m stationed at FEMA Region VI in Denton, TX where our states are Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

There are 3 words I could use to describe how I am adapting to working in this COVID-19 environment: interesting, challenging and rewarding/humbling. Since March 21, I have been deployed to our RRCC, both virtually and physically. Even before I was deployed to the RRCC, as the virus began sweeping through our states in the region, I found myself busier than normal as State VOADs and other partners began having calls to discuss response and recovery efforts.

For the past few weeks, I have been supporting the RRCC virtually where I have found that coordination and communication have been difficult to adapt to. To make those two things more difficult, we had to almost learn to adapt to them quickly after leadership informed us to start working from home without much notice – but that is what being an emergency manager is all about, being flexible.

For me, the communication and coordination piece has had many moving parts as policies within our own region, the RRCC, and even HQ, can and has changed, where it can be sometimes difficult to keep up with what the most recent guidance is. We hold regional IA Weekly Branch Calls as well as daily team check in calls which has helped me, and our staff stay up to date on where things are.

Adapting to this new work environment has been challenging and interesting due to the size and scope of the event. Where sometimes there might be two disasters within Region 6 that might have disasters going on, all five of our states have been effected by COVID-19. This has made it somewhat difficult as the VAL and Mass Care person working the RRCC as all states have State VOAD and Mass Care/Feeding/ESF #6 Calls. Many of the calls have been either been daily, 3x a week or once per week. Adding other calls from HQ, Region 6, RRCC and beyond have forced me to adapt in being flexible and being “on top of my game.”

Lastly, I would say adapting to this COVID-19 work environment has been rewarding and humbling. I say this because not only has this virus changed the way I work at FEMA, but it has also changed how I (and the general public) go about my daily life. With stay at home orders in place where I live in Dallas, restaurants, movie theaters, sports, etc. have either been cancelled or shut down until more guidance has been given by local officials. It has made me appreciate all the things life had to offer prior to COVID-19. Right now, walking my dog outside in the park, especially after working a 10-hr. day feels like Christmas came early two-fold. I also say it is rewarding and humbling because unlike many others, I am employed and still able to provide for myself financially. To sum it all up, working this COVID-19 event, even with the challenging work environment it can present, being able to assist our States and VOAD Partners with resources, donations and just simply letting them know you are with them every step of the way always puts the biggest smile on my face.