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Interview with Christopher Smith, Director at FEMA, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

  •  August 14, 2017
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How is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) involved in the humanitarian aid and development sector? 

The mission of the FEMA is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Individual Assistance (IA) Division's mission is to ensure that disaster survivors have timely access to a full range of programs and services to maximize their recovery, through coordination among local, state, federal, Tribal governments, voluntary agencies and the private sector.

IA's roles and responsibilities are to ensure that individuals and families that have been affected by disasters have access to the full range of FEMA programs in a timely manner and that the best possible level of service is provided to applicants in the administration of these programs. The IA Division supports Regional and field IA program implementation through the development of ‘rules and tools,’ and by providing national coordination to support the efficient delivery of Individual Assistance programs. This includes developing and enhancing partnerships with states, voluntary organizations, private sector, and other federal agencies engaged in the delivery of disaster recovery assistance.

Christopher, what does your position at FEMA entail? What are the main priorities for 2017/2018?

I serve as the Director of the Individual Assistance Division in the FEMA Office of Response and Recovery. In the role as Director, I am responsible for the oversight of more than 1200 staff who provide support to individuals and families during disasters through both fixed and field-based service centers. Since joining FEMA in May of 2015, I’ve led the division in preparing for, responding to, and supporting presidentially declared disasters in states, territories, and tribal nations. 

FEMA is engaged in several initiatives, one being a Disaster Housing Initiative. We are examining the ways in which the Federal Government provides disaster housing assistance to individuals. This is a top to bottom review of our authorities, our regulations, policies and most importantly the outcomes we expect to achieve.

Main priorities for this year are:

  • Continue to provide appropriate assistance to survivors in a manner that is efficient, timely and consistent. 
  • Improve technologies that staff / survivors use to interact that improve customer service.
  • Engage an ongoing practice of assessing the customer experience and improving the manner in which FEMA supports those impacted by a disaster

What will your keynote presentation at the Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit address and why is it important for those attending to engage in this topic?

The keynote address will deliver the message of the importance of community when delivering assistance. 

Rebuilding and restoring community is obviously a most important outcome of disaster recovery, however preparing the community for disaster and the recovery process is also critical. 

The keynote will address the importance of Community in the Recovery Process.

What are some of the latest trends and challenges you see in disaster response and disaster resilience? 

Trends – Social Media has helped develop an ever evolving workforce of volunteers who simply want to help address immediate needs that government may not be able to respond to as quickly. How do we improve engagement of this event based crowd sourced workforce to address gaps for survivors?

Challenges – How does government effectively provide immediate or short term disaster housing for displaced citizens? In the United States, there is a process and it is dependent on several factors that include: degree of damage, feasibility of a type of housing unit, amount of time needed to repair damaged/destroyed dwelling, level of insurance, etc. 

What is your impression of the upcoming Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit 2017? Why is it important for FEMA to engage in such events?

My impressions of the Global Disaster Relief & Development Summit are somewhat limited at this time as I have never participated. The background of the speakers is compelling to me to be in a forum that will allow discussion related to how we as citizens of the world work together to find solutions that support those impacted by disaster in the most effect manner. 

It is critical for FEMA to participate in events like these to share our collective experiences, mentor those who are seeking knowledge and learn from those who perform this kind of service around the world.  

Christopher Smith, Director of Individual Assistance, FEMA, United States Department of Homeland Security will deliver a keynote address at 9.05am on 6th September at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Centre in Washington D.C. For more information about the Global Disaster Relief and Development Summit, visit disaster-relief.aidforum.org; for all inquiries, please email Alina O’Keeffe at marketing@aidforum.org

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