Late April. Following an intense hail storm in Lincoln, Nebraska, the president makes a federal declaration for FEMA to respond.
Rodney McDuffie begins his summer internship at FEMA’s regional office in Kansas City. He is assigned to a Public Assistance Supervisor to assist in addressing the Lincoln emergency. Rodney begins work in the Virtual Field Joint Office, a massive room filled with monitors illustrating the disaster area and twenty work stations. Administrators, attorneys, Regional members pass through. The work is nonstop.
Rodney immediately is involved in the Post-Disaster Assessment, collecting and analyzing data on damage from Nebraska and the federal level. He studies ground reports, photos, and survivor statements to evaluate the destruction of electrical infrastructure and the costs incurred. He sets up conference calls with site inspectors and applicants from the state and local government level who need help in restoring electricity and other basic services to the people. In anticipation of Public Assistance Group’s upcoming movement to Lincoln, Rodney prepares organizational charts that will clearly delineate the roles and command structure of the federal side of the emergency response. At the top is Rodney’s supervisor, who he has grown close to over a short period of time.
Then, over a weekend, Rodney’s supervisor suffers a heart attack and tragically passes away. One day after his funeral, the Public Assistance Group continues to Lincoln. “One man passes,” Rodney says, “and the hard thing is that it doesn’t matter how close you were to him or how vital of a leader he was, the country still has to run. The greatest challenge I faced was understanding that the world couldn’t slow down, even when I felt like it needed to. The disaster didn’t go away and people needed help.”
Rodney gained more than professional skills and experience over the course of his summer at FEMA. This was the value of public service, perpetuating the mission of leaders past their lifetimes to bring dignity and peace to the people. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” President Obama said in his 2008 Campaign speech, “we are the change that we seek.” The world spins on and our responsibility to our mentors is to keep on with it.