“It’s When a Soldier Stops Complaining That I Begin to Worry”
About the author: Dan Heister has been an on-scene coordinator with Superfund in Region 10 since 2000 and joined EPA 13 years before that. Dan’s responses have ranged from fifty gallon oil spills on a small creek to spending seven weeks in a FEMA trailer helping with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
I did two five-week rotations at the Hurricane Katrina response. I was the Deputy Incident Commander, in Metairie, LA. My second tour ran from Thanksgiving to Christmas of ’05 and staff morale had hit a low. Approximately 300 staff from every office and region were represented. Most folks had never done emergency response. Working seven days a week in the devastation, eating greasy food, sharing FEMA trailers, and being away from home were all taking their toll. The Incident Commander asked me to address the morale issue.
I delivered the top ten list below to an all staff operations briefing. Of all the steps I took to improve morale this was the most immediate and successful. I apologize in advance if any part of the list offends.
Top Ten Positive Aspects of Trailer Life at Metairie:
#10 Realizing I really didn’t want all those pesky hotel points anyway.
#9 Concluding that privacy and personal space are very overrated.
#8 Eliminating the RV lifestyle as an option for my golden years.
#7 Leading a sheltered life, the incident allowed me to sleep with more strangers than I ever imagined.
#6 Learning a man of my advanced years and poor physical condition, can still do yoga, but only when trying to sit on the toilet in my trailer.
#5 Recognizing the vibrations from the adjacent railroad switching yard are reminiscent of “magic fingers” beds at a motel, but without having to pay for it.
#4 Discovering much like electroshock, hitting my head on low hanging cabinets can be very therapeutic.
#3 Appreciating the safety features of my shower stall in that even if I did slip it would be impossible to fall down.
#2 Marveling that the vortex created by my bathroom fan, allows me to continue my doctoral work on the aerodynamics of toilet paper.
#1 Appreciating that my office mate back home, now my trailer mate, keeps his shoes on at the Portland office.
I reminded folks that a year from now they would probably be laughing about the trailers, but in 10 years they would all still be proud of their commitment and sacrifice. I was overwhelmed in the days that followed by the number of people who thanked me for reminding them why we were there.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.
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