FEMA’s New England COVID-19 response leader prepares for hurricane season

Local News

In the midst of a global pandemic, FEMA is also preparing for what could be a dangerous hurricane season, particularly if COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

Captain Russell Webster, FEMA Region 1 Regional Administrator and Federal Coordinating Officer for FEMA’s COVID-19 response in New England, described how preparations for a second wave of COVID-19 are tied closely with the storm preparation work his staff goes through each year.

“Getting ready for the second wave about two months ago, I challenged my staff with four different scenarios,” Capt. Webster said. “I challenged them with a status quo scenario, a scenario that had a Tropical Storm Irene situation on top of that, I challenged them with a second-wave scenario, and I challenged them with a Black Swan scenario that involved a second-wave and a hurricane.”

Capt. Webster believes a possible second-wave of COVID-19 in New England would be more manageable because there’s data and analytics to inform FEMA’s work, and that information has also been crucial for collaboration between all levels of government.

“The communication between State and Federal agencies has been extraordinary through this,” Capt. Webster said. “The data analytics have not only allowed us to capture the current circumstance, but we’re now forecasting things like personal protective equipment requirements when the schools start to open up.”

In addition to the ongoing work surrounding preparedness for storms and outbreaks, FEMA has been working to identify industries and businesses in need of economic relief by speaking directly with Vermonters about their experiences. Interviews were conducted with residents in Middlebury, Newport and Bennington.

“We’ve conducted up to 90 interviews in these communities’ public and private sector, and what were trying to do is get a feel for what areas have been most impacted in Vermont economically,” Capt. Webster said. “Then, we’re going to find the Federal partners who can help out and resource them in a very finite way to address the data from those 90 different interviews.”

After hearing from economic partners at the State level, there’s been interest in further evaluating how the tourism industry has been affected.

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