Politics & Policy

Fema to The Rescue

The essentials prep work.

[On seeing the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, a close friend of mine contacted his local FEMA office to offer his services as a volunteer. He was told to report the following morning for an Orientation Class. All volunteers, he was told, must complete this class before being sent into the disaster area. My friend kindly provided me with a copy of the class schedule. I have reproduced the first two pages of the schedule below.]

Week One: The Volunteer as Citizen

Day 1: Diversity Awareness

The area affected by Hurricane Katrina includes a diverse population of many ethnicities, national origins, immigrations statuses, and faith traditions. In carrying out relief work, it is important that our workers and volunteers exhibit proper sensitivity to relief recipients from all backgrounds. Volunteers will undergo appropriate training, including the “privilege walk,” basic Spanish-language instruction, and brief study of passages from the Q’u’r’a’n, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammachakkappavattana Sutra, and the collected speeches of Marcus Garvey.

Day 2: Harassment Awareness

Volunteers working with FEMA employees come under the scope of federal rules on sexual harassment, as set out in relevant EEOC guidelines. These guidelines will be reviewed and discussed. All volunteers must demonstrate full awareness of sexual harassment issues, both as they apply to other aid workers and volunteers, and as affecting aid recipients. Class events will include a taped lecture by Prof. Anita Hill, class staging of a one-act drama Tailhook Torment, and the ever-popular Packwood Piñata.

Day 3: Profiling Avoidance

Few behaviors give more offense, and few are as inimical to social harmony, as profiling. In our efforts to restore the social environment in the disaster area, we must strenuously avoid all appearance of profiling. All aid recipients must be dealt with on a basis of strict equality. In this workshop, attendees will study and discuss police profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike, airport security screening procedures, and the maligh effects of stereotyping on academic performance. This day’s session also includes a one-hour written test to screen volunteers for Islamophobia.

Day 4: GLBTQA Awareness

Our country has a dark record of oppression and discrimination towards orientational minorities. Because of this, we need to show particular sensitivity towards aid recipients from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, and asexual minorities. This day’s session will involve group case studies led by qualified, credentialed GLBTQA-awareness trainers, including HIV-positive persons. Rubber gloves, condoms, and dental dams will be supplied.

Day 5: Liability Awareness

While the federal government and its agencies are exempt from most liability issues, volunteers who are not federal employees need to be aware of their susceptibility to lawsuits alleging nuisance, negligence, trespass, etc. Experienced courtroom professionals will address the class, and there will be a case study: “Punishing Good Deeds–The Good Samaritan as Defendant.”

Week Two: The Volunteer as Custodian of the Environment

Day 1: Diversity in Nature–Protecting Endangered Species.

When conducting disaster-relief operations, we must bear in mind that the environment exists not only for humans, but for our friends in the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Wetland species are especially vulnerable…

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