The Department of Homeland Security is opening its Surge Capacity Force to federal employees outside of the department to help with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma relief efforts. The SCF is a voluntary program that deploys non-FEMA employees to support disaster relief efforts.
Elaine Duke, DHS Acting Secretary, sent a memo to cabinet agencies detailing how other departments can recruit volunteers to join the SCF. The memo asks each cabinet agency to designate a “point person” to help spread the word, accept applications, and register them for the SCF with FEMA.
Currently, about 6,500 non-FEMA DHS employees are registered volunteers with the program. DHS has always intended to expand the program. A DHS spokeswoman said, “The interest is there. It’s a formalization of something that was always there, and there’s no time better than the present.”
The agency hopes to deploy at least 2,000 SCF volunteers for Harvey and Irma relief. “The devastation we have seen in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes is extraordinary, and our federal support to the collective recovery effort to these regions needs to be equally extraordinary. There is a unique opportunity at hand for eligible individuals to voluntarily deploy to these disaster regions to work alongside FEMA, state and locals, and countless others,” DHS stated.
Those interested must have an HSPD-12 Personal Identity Verification (PIV) and a government issued travel card to be eligible to join. Further, they must be trained on requirements of using those travel cards and be able to deploy to the field in 48 hours.
SCF volunteers will typically help in areas related to logistics, debris monitoring, individual survivor assistance, public outreach, IT, human resources, finance, external affairs, acquisition, and planning. DHS also wants volunteers to identify any special skills that might be useful to disaster response efforts.
Volunteers will spend a maximum of 45 days in the field. The SCF will only deploy under the secretary’s orders. Congress authorized this program under the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006; designed to help FEMA better respond to disasters.
As of September 25, 2017, almost 2,200 federal employees have volunteered with hundreds more ready to deploy immediately. These surge force volunteers are currently active in areas hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma and some will be sent to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for relief efforts.
Currently, 239 non-DHS federal volunteers are helping with the recovery effort and another 667 are registered and ready for deployment. The surge force will stay open to all federal employees indefinitely.
This hurricane season has pushed the limits of FEMA’s staff. More than 5,300 of almost FEMA employees are currently deployed. Disaster relief is the agency’s primary function; however, employees are still responsible for the day-to-day operations to keep the agency up and running.
Chief Human Capital Officer Corey Coleman said, “Every employee has two different jobs; they have their job they do on a day-to-day basis, but they also have a disaster role. We’re supporting the disaster [relief], but we are getting to the point where we are looking for how to get the appropriate mix.”
The agency is hoping to get at least 2,200 non-DHS volunteers to sign up. Coleman said if the employee can get their agency’s approval, FEMA had a job for them. “Unless we don’t need any more people, I’ve never seen us turn anybody away”, he said.
FEMA is also calling on federal retirees. The Small Business Administration announced they will hire a temporary workforce to help process hurricane-related disaster loan applications from September 1-end of the year.
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association encouraged members to assist the SBA. NARFE Legislative Director Jessica Klement said federal retirees were especially equipped for these types of rapid response efforts because many have previous experience in the area. “Though every individual can contribute to relief efforts, federal retirees may be easiest to find, hire, and train quickly.”