FEMA sets up shop in Forest Hills
by Kathleen Lees
Nov 20, 2012 | 1235 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
FEMA staff at work on the 7th floor of the their work area
FEMA staff at work on the 7th floor of the their work area
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This past week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opened shop at the Forest Hills Tower to help with storm recovery efforts.

Working with such organizations as the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA employees, officials and temporary workers will be busy the next several months organizing stations to help with relief efforts.

“It’s all about getting the word out first,” said Bill Rukeyser, a spokesman for FEMA,

Some staff is spreading the word door to door with multilingual leaflets about information offered through FEMA, while others are getting the message out online.

“Obviously it’s important to get help, but you have to ask for it first,” said Rukeyser, who stressed that often times people who have been through natural disasters are uncertain of where to get help or afraid to ask for it.

Right now, Rukeyser said they are coordinating information for individual assistance that could provide families whose homes had been damaged or destroyed with grants or loans.

FEMA is also overseeing public assistance to damaged bridges, libraries and other areas, and will act as a meeting location for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which will oversee debris clean up in various areas throughout the boroughs.

Referring to FEMA’s location at 118-35 Queens Blvd., which is near both public transportation and several highways, Rukeyser said that “staff tries to find a good work place with good transportation.”

Over the next several months, Rukeyser said staff will be literally “operating out of briefcases” to help prepare and dispatch information for relief efforts.

A resident of California, Rukeyser received a phone call just before the storm set in to make his way out to New York City.

Debra Young, media relations coordinator for FEMA, was also asked to come up from her home in Georgia before the storm struck. “I plan on staying as long as I’m needed,” Young said. “We just want to make sure we get the message out to people.”

Though Rukeyser will likely return home in a few months, he believes the operation could last up to a year or longer.

But at the end of the day, Rukeyser said the job would get done. “At some point, staff will shrink, floors will close, until one day, we can turn off the lights, take down the sign and go home,” he said.

FEMA officials are encouraging those seeking Sandy relief to visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call (800) 621-FEMA.
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