View Full Version : Who Is On Stand-By For Hurricane Gustav & TS Hanna?

Bruce Breedlove
08-30-2008, 12:32 AM
I have done FEMA disaster inspections for PB (Parsons Brinckerhoff) for a number of years. I am currently on stand-by for pre-deployment for Hurricane Gustav. I got the e-mail asking if I am available about mid-day Friday.

Is anyone else on stand-by for Hurricane Gustav or TS Hanna? Is anybody on stand-by for PaRR?

2008 is shaping up to be a very active hurricane season. Two more disturbances are making their way across the Atlantic from Africa so more hurricanes are possible. This could be a long deployment. I hope I am not gone for 13 weeks (Katrina) or 10 weeks (2004 Florida).

I better get back to packing my bags.

Bruce Ramsey
08-30-2008, 12:13 PM
In other posts about FEMA deployment, more information was shared that helped me to better understand that FEMA deployments can be challenging.

I took the PaRR training a few years ago. I was a technical rescue team member for a decade with training in Building Collapse, Trench, and Confined Space rescue. I had deployed with the rescue squad to hurricane flood areas where the rescue squad had to be totally self sufficent for 3 days. I thought that FEMA inspections would be something I had suffuicent background and training and the inspections would be relatively easy.

The PaRR training and the discussions here helped me to understand that leaving my business for a min of 30 days while providing all my own support in a disaster situation was more than I was willing to undertake. I appreciate your efforts and wish you well if called to perform.

James Duffin
08-30-2008, 03:10 PM
I make plenty of money where I am so I'll leave that to the other folks who need the work.

Jerry Peck
08-30-2008, 05:26 PM
I make plenty of money where I am so I'll leave that to the other folks who need the work.


It's not about "making money" when you go, its about being willing to risk your business (i.e., leaving it unattended for a minimum of 30 days) while you go HELP PEOPLE you don't know, just because it is the right thing to do.

Yes, sometimes you make money doing it, sometimes you do not, but either way, you risk your business by not attending to it.

Bruce Breedlove
08-30-2008, 05:47 PM
In other posts about FEMA deployment, more information was shared that helped me to better understand that FEMA deployments can be challenging.

. . .

The PaRR training and the discussions here helped me to understand that leaving my business for a min of 30 days while providing all my own support in a disaster situation was more than I was willing to undertake.


Each of us has our own level of comfort with uncertainty. Some people simply do not want to venture into the unknown. Others look at it as a challenge.

I hope PaRR did not give you the impression that you will be foraging for food and sleeping on the ground for a month when you get deployed. Far from it. What they mean is (or at least my experience with PB has been) you will need to arrange (and pay for) your own transportation and lodging. When you receive your first inspections you will know the area in which you will be working. It is up to you to find your own motel room or other accomodations. (Some inspectors stay with friends or relatives. Others stay for free on cots provided by the FEMA contractor or at a military base. I have heard of inspectors that pool their resources and rent a house together. A few inspectors bring their RVs to stay in.)

Finding a motel room may or may not be difficult depending on where you are assigned. If your work is near 'ground zero' it can be difficult because 1) some motel rooms may have been damaged or destroyed and 2) available rooms may be full of evacuees, emergency services crews (power company line crews, tree trimmers, Red Cross, FEMA, etc.), media, insurance adjusters, roofing contractors, etc. If you are crafty you should be able to find a room (although you may have to drive a few miles). After Katrina I went to New Orleans. (I was in New Orleans two days after the hurricane.) Obviously, there were no rooms in New Orleans but I was able to find a very nice motel room in Houma less than an hour away. There I was even offered a bunk - for free - at a fire station. (I declined.)

In 2004 I arrived in Pensacola two days after Hurricane Ivan. Power was out in most of the city. Trees still blocked many streets. Armed National Guard patrolled neighborhoods. Very few restaurants were open. But I was able to get a motel room. I called it Motel Hell because it was full of tree trimmers who filled the parking lot every night drinking and playing their music incredibly loud. Drunken fights were numerous. (I could not imagine these guys operating chain saws the next day.) And there was no hot water. But it was a room. After a few days I talked my way into a very nice room in a Bed & Breakfast where I stayed the remainder of my time there (several weeks). As the city recovered more restaurants opened and life slowly returned to normal. The difficult period only lasted a short time (for me).

You may be assigned work far away from the devastation where lodging is plentiful. You may even have several motels to choose from.

If you are a new inspector it is more likely that you will be assigned work in those areas away from the devestation where motel rooms may be more plentiful. I would not let this bit of uncertainty stop me from doing this work. But that is me. Others may want a guarantee of a room before they go in the field. I hate to tell you but it ain't gonna happen (unless you want a bunk somewhere).

The nature of the work precludes the FEMA contractors from finding lodging for all their inspectors. They may have several hundred or a few thousand inspectors in the field scattered over a wide area. The FEMA contractors have enough to do assigning work, reviewing inspections, assisting inspectors, etc. without also looking for lodging for them. They do not have an inside track on lodging, however they (or at least PB) will spread the word when an inspector reports available lodging in difficult areas. You may hear, "Motel Hell in Pensacola had 3 rooms available this moring. The number is 123-555-1212." Or they may report on inspectors looking for roommates. (I've done that before. It's not a bad way of getting a nicer room without breaking the bank.) It also helps to network; I stay in touch with several other inspectors and sometimes one of them will know of an available room. You are not completely on your own but the ultimate responsibility to find lodging falls on the inspector.

The FEMA contractors are looking for inspectors who can take their assignment and get the work done without a lot of hand-holding. They love it when the only time they ever hear from an inspector is when he is asking for more work. Successful FEMA inspectors are very independent and don't need a lot of supervision.

Regarding the 30 day-provision, (and I can only speak for PB) the FEMA contractor pays to get you to the disaster site and back home. They require a minimum commitment so they can recoup these costs. (I think PB requires a 21-day commitment. It used to be 30 days but I think it is now back to 21 days. I could be wrong.) They will lose money on you if they fly you to a disaster and you go home after 2 or 3 days. (If you do that you can rest assured that you will either never be deployed again or you will go to the bottom of the list.)

This work is not for everybody. It can be challenging and difficult. Sometimes the conditions are difficult. But it can also be rewarding. You can make money if you apply yourself. You can help people that need FEMA's assistance. You can be a watchdog for the government's money by identifying and reporting fraud.

Bruce Ramsey
09-01-2008, 06:28 PM

Thanks for the insight from someone who has been there, done that. The impression I got was the first deployment can be difficult for those unaccustomed to disaster scenes and being self reliant.

The drawback for me was the lack of support combined with the tales of long days and few inspections for newbies combined with leaving my business for 3-4 weeks.

I did some math based on the base fee per inspection, best case number of inspections per day, minus the overhead cost of room, food, fuel, cost of debris damage to tires, etc. 3-4 weeks away from family and other obligations vs. the undefinable feeling of helping my fellow man in his time of need. Tough call for me.

After 12+ years as a volunteer public safety responder, I know the feeling of helping those who cannot help themselves. That is one of the appealing components of the deployment.

Know what little I do about the process, I am impressed with those who can and do respond. My hats off to you.

Bruce Breedlove
09-01-2008, 11:24 PM
The impression I got was the first deployment can be difficult for those unaccustomed to disaster scenes and being self reliant.

The drawback for me was the lack of support combined with the tales of long days and few inspections for newbies combined with leaving my business for 3-4 weeks.

In Florida in 2004 I heard of a handful of brand new inspectors who requested to be released after only a few days. They did not like the working conditions. They complained of having to step over debris (outside and inside the house), the stench (rotting food in refrigerators, rotting clothes and maybe dead fish on the ground), the heat and humidity in the houses (without electricity there won't be air conditioning in the damaged homes), etc. I don't know what these guys were expecting a disaster to be when they signed on. So they left and went home with more work than you could shake a stick at out there to be done.

Not all disasters have difficult conditions like a hurricane. I did a sewer backup disaster in Cleveland (your tax dollars at work). The "disaster" was usually an inch or two of water in a basement that may have damaged a washer/dryer, furnace, etc. Driving around town you would never know a disaster had occurred. I could have done that disaster wearing a Tuxedo.

New inspectors have plenty of support. I am not familiar with how PaRR runs things but PB has Team Leaders that help new inspectors get started. (Recently they started calling them 'Field Quality Assessors' but they are still Team Leaders.)

When a brand new inspector gets to the field he (or she) reports to his Team Leader. He will be given 10 or 12 inspections and instructed to go out and do 3 (maybe 4) inspections and report back to the Team Leader for review. The new inspector will sit down with the Team Leader and go over the entire inspection. The Team Leader will point out things that are wrong or missed and have the new inspector correct them. The Team Leader will probably have the new inspector go back out and do one or two (or more) inspections and review them with the inspector. When the Team Leader thinks the new inspector has a good grasp on the inspection and reporting process he will turn the new inspector loose.

Sometimes a Team Leader will do a Ride Along where new inspectors observe as the Teal Leader performs an actual inspection. A Team Leader may also do a Shadow Inspection where the new inspector does an actual inspection with the Team Leader observing (and not interfering unless absolutely necessary) and reviewing the inspection with the new inspector after the inspection is complete.

If an inspector ever has a question he can call the Inspector Helpline. Every inspector calls the Helpline on occassion because we are always running into unusual situations that don't fit the FEMA mold or because the inspection has some element the inspector is not familiar with. You may be working alone in the field but you are not without support. Support is always a phone call away.

Regarding long days, as a FEMA Disaster Inspector you are an independent contractor. No one tells you what hours to work or how long to work. You pick your hours. You work as much or as little as you want. The reality is, however, that if you are not working enough the contractor may send you home. (You have to be a real slouch for that to happen.)

Most inspectors try to do as many inspections as they can in a day because they want to make as much money as they can before the work runs out. Make hay while the sun is shining so to speak. At $50 per inspection you should be able to more than cover your expenses with 3 inspections. If you can average 10 inspections per day you will clear $350 a day (before taxes).

I don't understand your comment: ". . . few inspections for newbies". A new inspector is limited to those few inspections until being released by the Team Leader but this process should only last a day or two. After that the new inspector is just like any other inspector. I can't speak for PaRR but PB keeps feeding inspectors as much work as they can handle. If you are doing 8 - 10 inspections a day you can expect to download 8 - 10 inspections every day (as long as the work lasts).

The first couple of weeks of most disaters every inspector should have as much work as he can handle. After that the backlog of inspections may drop so you may see a dip in the new work you download. When that happens PB usually pulls inspectors from the field and either sends them home (usually the newest inspectors or those performing at lower levels) or sends them to other locations with more work.

If you continue to do good work (quantity and quality), and you work well without supervision, you may remain in the field after other inspectors have been released. I worked Katrina in rural Alabama. As other inspectors left I inherited their areas (to keep my workload up). I outlasted every other inspector in the area and I ended up being the only inspector in a huge area (7 counties I think - ~60 E-W and 150 miles N-S). At some point my work became "cleanup work" (reinspections, appeals, corrections for other inspectors, etc.) and I was paid more because of additional driving, fewer available inspections and the nature of the work. I stayed in Pensacola (Hurricne Ivan) doing cleanup work long after most other inspectors had left. In both instances I stayed until I finally requested to be released.

Hurricane Gustav Update

On Sunday I was notified by PB that they would begin deploying inspector on Monday. So I got my bags packed and made sure I could left at a moment's notice. Monday came and went with no word from PB. (Hurry up and wait is pretty common with this work.) Gustav was not as destructive as anticipated so I am assuming FEMA is holding off on having inspectors in the field until the storm has moved out of the area.

Now I'm watching Hurricane Hanna. One track has it hitting Savannah or South Carolina. That's a disaster I would like to work.

Bruce Breedlove
09-03-2008, 10:48 PM
I got the call on Wednesday to deploy for Gustav. I'll go to the disaster field office in Houston for a briefing and to exchange my computer and then head to Louisiana.

I'm still keeping an eye on Hanna. And Ike may have his sights on Florida or the Gulf.

Samuel Munnerley
09-05-2008, 08:05 AM
I am also on standby, presumably for Gustav, but because of the email from PB asking me to hang in there I think I missed the first round of deployments. I am a newbie and I would appreciate any advice about probabilities of deployment. Are 10 and 13 week deployments possible, if not what length of time is more likely? I have converted my van into a mini RV, can you tell me of performance hampering drawbacks if any? Thanks.

Klondike Everheart
09-15-2008, 09:54 PM
I got the email from PARR on Friday, September 5, to come to Kenner, LA by Monday, September 8, for a refresher training session and expedited fingerprinting/background checks. The email said we would be able to go home if we wanted, after the training (3 days). but if we stayed until the background checks were done, those of us still here would be given priority for deployment. We were also asked to travel here at our expense, with the offer to pay us for the return trip...if we get deployed first. No promises were made, but the encouragement was definitely out there.

Supposedly, they had a new outfit doing background checks, with a turn-around of 24-48 hours. Well, the fingerprinting done on Monday was wrong (they didn't have us sign electronically, FEMA wouldn't accept it). So, those of us trainees who did not leave immediately after the session heard largely by word of mouth about the fingerprint problem.Another inspector called me long before a PARR rep to let me know that I needed to return to their location for new prints.

The original email stated that those of us who stayed in the area would be given priority for deployment. Well, I and many others have been here over a week, hanging on the hope of priority deployment. No information about the expected turnaround on the prints has been provided, no advice on whether to stay or go has been given. Actually, no communication since last Thursday. The only news I have gotten has been rumors and word-of-mouth.

I would like to be deployed, but after paying out about $700 for hotel, $200+ for meals and other expenses, and God knows how much in gas, I don't know if I can afford to make the 500 mile return trip, then come back a second time around. I also feel for the folks who dropped everything to come down here for "expedited processing," only to find out after leaving that their fingerprints were not done correctly.

In the meantime, some of us have gone to the PB headquarters and signed up with them as well, in the event that we continue to hear nothing from PARR. I must say, things seemed much more organized there.

In light of what has happened in Texas this weekend, it's amazing that such a big contractor doesn't have it together better and has shown quite a bit of disregard for people who devoted a lot of time and money to get here. Oh, I forgot. Nobody held a gun to our heads...