By Gordon Williams
When you think about FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — you may think mostly about rescuers rushing to the aid of victims of some large-scale disaster. But as FEMA’s Region 10 social media coordinator Savannah Brehmer points out, the agency has the broader mission of “helping people before, during and after disasters”.
For an example of FEMA being on the job before disaster strikes, check out the agency’s #SafeTravels campaign aimed at making travel safer during the Thanksgiving and Christmas peak holiday travel seasons. FEMA estimates that 54 million Americans travel at least 50 miles from home for Thanksgiving. Christmas travel, by car and plane, should be similarly heavy.
“Safe Travels is our way of getting everyone to their destination safely so we can enjoy the company of friends and family,” says Mike O’Hare, administrator for FEMA Region 10.
You’ll find a comprehensive list of holiday travel tips at www.fema.gov/SafeTravels. There are tips for both highway and air travel, travel with kids and pets, even for travel by students returning home from schools. There is also a Twitter hashtag and a Facebook site.
“Safe Travels is something people normally say to each other at the start of a journey,” Brehmer says, “so it should be an easy site to remember.”
The program runs from November 24-30 for Thanksgiving travel and December 15-21 for Christmas. There is something different for each day of the program. Thus, December 16 is for people traveling with pets, while December 20 is for those whose travel will be by air. You’ll find all the specifics at the Safe Travels website.
Brehmer had several things in mind when she came up with the #SafeTravels theme in 2015. One, of course, was to keep people safe during the hyper-busy holiday travel weeks. But she knew that FEMA does not operate in a vacuum. “It is a coordinating agency,” she explains, meaning that it works with local and national partners to extend its three-pronged mission.
The American Red Cross is one such partner. The Red Cross provides a torrent of preparedness advice on its web site, including advice on how to travel safely under various conditions. The #SafeTravels program provides links to the Red Cross website that offers advice on staying safe on the highway.
The program also links to Monster Guard — a Red Cross app designed to teach preparedness to kids aged 7 to 11. Monster Guard will keep youngsters occupied while on the road, while teaching them valuable lessons about how to cope with emergencies.
The #SafeTravels program gives FEMA a chance to bond with partner agencies before there is a need to work together at a disaster scene. “It is easier for these agencies to work with FEMA when they already know us than to have to get to know us in an emergency situation,” Brehmer says. #SafeTravels opens lines of communication now, in what is called a “steady state” — meaning nothing bad is happening, “Those lines will be in place when we need them most, during an emergency,” Brehmer explains.
“Transportation is crucial to disaster response,” Brehmer says. If transportation breaks down, there is no way to house and feed disaster victims. So transportation partners in Safe Travels also include the departments of transportation in Washington and the other states that make up Region 10, plus the American Automobile Association and the Transportation Safety Administration.