Click here to demobilize

After 12 long months of being deployed to FEMA Region-1 and covering the COVID ordeal including PPE, testing, vaccinations, and funeral assistance…I am demobilizing.

Phew.

During my deployment, I covered six (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT) states and 10-tribal nations. Whoa, that’s a lot.

Time to take a break!

@rusnivek

DHS Secretary Mayorkas Swears in Deanna Criswell as FEMA Administrator

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas delivered the oath of office to Deanne Criswell today, her first full day as the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Deanne’s career is one of commitment and service to our nation,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “That commitment now rises to the next level of leading the dedicated people of FEMA as they continue working to meet unprecedented challenges. I have full confidence in her ability to lead FEMA with compassion, fairness, integrity, and respect as she works to fulfill the agency’s ever-important mission: helping people before, during, and after disasters. It is my honor to welcome Administrator Criswell to the Department of Homeland Security.”

During the ceremony, Secretary Mayorkas highlighted Ms. Criswell’s extensive career in emergency management and the multiple challenges FEMA faces, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Ms. Criswell was joined by her partner, Patrick Murphy. Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary, David Pekoske, former FEMA Acting Administrator Bob Fenton, and FEMA Acting Deputy Administrator MaryAnn Tierney also attended the ceremony. Secretary Mayorkas thanked former FEMA Acting Administrator Bob Fenton for his service and leadership.

Deanne Criswell was nominated by President Biden on January 15, 2021 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 22, 2021. She is the first woman to lead FEMA since its creation in 1979.

Thousands expected to be vaccinated at equity-focused clinics this weekend

Thousands expected to be vaccinated at equity-focused clinics this weekend

by: Brittany Schaefer, Jacqui Gomersall

Posted: Apr 10, 2021 / 09:50 PM EDT / Updated: Apr 14, 2021 / 08:34 PM EDT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Equity-focused vaccination clinics are being held this weekend in Providence and Woonsocket.

Organizers of Saturday’s clinic at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center said it was a success, leaving hundreds of residents informed, comfortable, and vaccinated.

Claire Chiu described the emotional moment she got her first shot.

“I cried when I was walking down the stairs. It was just an incredible experience,” she said.

The goal — aiming to reduce the racial disparity in vaccination rates in Rhode Island.

“We’ve seen how this pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color so the more people that are vaccinated the better it is for all of us,” Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune said.

Volunteers told 12 News, some people of color are hesitant to get the vaccine, but Saturday’s event made a difference. They said seeing members of the community and medical staff who look like them puts them at ease.

“They feel safe. They feel they will be treated with respect. They feel if they have a concern they will be listened too,” Dr. Katrina Byrd said.

“We just want to provide those facts and make people comfortable,” Exec. Dir. of Black Lives Matter RI Harrison Tuttle said.

Gov. Dan McKee visited the Providence vaccination site. The tour did not allow media inside the facility.

According to the Dept. of Health, just 3 percent of slots were given to the Black community who represent 8 percent of the state. Meanwhile, 9 percent were given to Hispanics who represent 16 percent of residents.

“It clearly is a disparity and that’s why we’re hitting it head on,” Gov. McKee said.

In Providence, interpreters covered several languages. Volunteers greeted residents with conversation and answers to their questions.

“Just kinda relating to them and talking to them about what’s going on in their life and bringing them here today and just making it light,” Direct Action for Rights & Equality’s Managing Director Kiah Bryant said.

“We’re cheerleading here and having fun and making everyone feel welcome, Ineida Rosha said.

For those who missed the event and are interested, the BIPOC vaccine initiative will be back in Providence and Woonsocket on Sunday and next weekend.

“To support the efforts in Providence at this Community Vaccination Center at the Dunk, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has provided extra federal staffing, funding and logistical to support to the ongoing site operations,” Kevin Sur, a spokesperson for FEMA said. “The impacts of our collective work continues to enhance Rhode Island’s safety and against the daily spread of COVID.”

The state hopes to vaccinate 12,000 people in those four days.

At the Dunk: Here’s how FEMA stepped up in RI, ready to give 3,000 COVID vaccines a day

At the Dunk: Here’s how FEMA stepped up in RI, ready to give 3,000 COVID vaccines a day

Mark Reynolds, The Providence Journal

Richard Scott was in Georgia. Other emergency workers like him were scattered across the United States.

But they were just a phone call away in late February as Rhode Island officials analyzed their options for ramping up vaccinations and saving lives one year into the pandemic.

On March 1, they asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deploy a team that would reinforce the legions of local vaccinators who were already on the job.

That’s how Scott, a 73-year-old police instructor from Brunswick, Georgia, ended up on the floor of The Dunk, playing for a team that, as of Tuesday morning, was capable of vaccinating 3,000 people per day.

Scott was among 135 emergency workers deployed to the downtown venue, which more typically hosts rowdier crowds late March as NCAA hockey and basketball teams pursue national championships. Another group, also coordinated by FEMA, staffs a vaccination center in Middletown.

FEMA’s largest-ever disaster relief effort in RI

Overall, FEMA has brought in a force of 201 workers to support Rhode Island’s vaccination effort this month, drafting personnel from more than 20 different federal agencies.

They are in Rhode Island for 45 days, putting a face on FEMA’s largest-ever disaster relief effort in Rhode Island.

“Everyone here that I’m working with is looking to make a difference,” Scott said. “A positive difference. On our end a positive difference is to get as many people through here safely vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can to make the country that much better.

Rhode Island was the first New England state to ask for federal help with the job of vaccinating its population, says Emily Martuscello, a FEMA manager from New Hampshire who has coordinated staffing at both vaccination sites.

“It’s the biggest emergency everyone’s ever been a part of,” she said. “It’s ginormous.”

Scott’s background is in law enforcement. He’s an instructor with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers.

The Surge Capacity Force

His 48 years in police work encompass stints at the New York Police Department serving with the training branch of the FBI.

He is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Surge Capacity Force.

If an emergency exceeds the capacity of FEMA’s disaster workforce, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security activates the surge force to help.

“We have members of the Surge Capacity Force deployed all over this country right now,” says Martuscello “It’s the biggest deployment I think we’ve ever had.”

Scott’s emergency work has taken him to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria.

Now in Rhode Island for his first time, his job is greeting patients as they arrive on the floor of The Dunk and head toward registration.

“As the people come down and once they hit this floor, we try to move them through the process in a timely but safe manner.”

Biolab technicians from the U.S. Department of Agriculture handle vaccine supply.

Two commissioned officers from the U.S. Public Health Service, both of them in combat-style blue fatigues, are on the scene, too.

“We have very rigorous quality control in place to make sure the right person gets the right vaccine at the right time,” says Martuscello.

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics from the U.S. Forestry Service are among the vaccinators.

All of them are licensed and received training from both the National Guard and the Rhode Island Department of Health, says Martuscello. The preparation, she says, included competency tests.

Tom Trask, 32, a U.S. Forest Service Ranger, is wearing his forest ranger uniform under a vest that says vaccinator on the back.

Typically, Trask, of Conway, N.H., inspects timber operations and manages wildland fires.

As an EMT, he has experience with certain types of injections, such as epinephrine for allergic reactions, but this is his first time administering vaccines, he says.

“We’re pretty much an all-hazard resource,” Trask says. “We do anything and everything we can to help people.”

A husband-wife team of U.S. Forest Service workers, Robert and Judy Beanblossum of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, are among staff who watch over people just after they receive the vaccine. They are versed on different signs of allergic reaction to look out for.

In 45 days, the Rhode Island tour of the Beanblossums and others on the team is expected to end, says Martuscello. At that point, an ongoing hiring effort should be ready to fill those jobs with locals.

Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health, says the state had requested “human resources” from FEMA so it would be prepared to administer increased volumes of vaccine.

‘Federally supported, state managed and locally executed’

The state also requested the help “to meet the new federal and state accelerated vaccination timelines” and its request was “encouraged” by FEMA officials, Wendelken said in a statement.

“COVID-19 vaccination saves lives,” he said.

While FEMA has staffed the two sites, the agency does not manage them, which lines up with a comment made by Martuscello: “We have a mantra here at FEMA that things are federally supported, state managed and locally executed.”

The support from FEMA is among “critical pieces” that have made it possible for the state to put resources into tasks such as vaccine outreach, providing geographically dispersed vaccination sites and vaccinating some of the hardest-hit communities. That includes communities of color and people who are homebound, he says.

Tuesday marked a full year since then-President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus to be a disaster in Rhode Island.

As of March 24, FEMA had committed $456 million in disaster-relief aid, according to a FEMA spokesman, Kevin Sur.

That aid works through a reimbursement process.

By last Thursday, FEMA had supplied: 3,710,926 gloves, 586,847 face shields, 220,407 surgical gowns, 586,303 surgical masks, 1,152,600 N95 respirators and 100 ventilators.

Those flows of aid represent another level of support beyond the extra staffing for the vaccination clinics this spring, says Armand Randolph, who heads up the recovery branch of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.

Randolph was struck by the meals that FEMA has provided  — more than 505,000 box meals. Randolph says those meals went to residents, including people who could not leave their homes for medical reasons.

Randolph says that assistance isn’t as valuable as the diverse emergency workers who came to southern New England this month, “willing to deploy from their loved ones to come here and assist with saving the lives of Rhode Islanders.”

By the numbers

Cases in R.I.: 136,765 (346 reported Tuesday)

Negative tests in R.I.: 3,333,621 (12,963 reported Tuesday, 2.7% positive rate)

R.I. COVID-related deaths: 2,618 (5 reported Tuesday)

Rhode Islanders hospitalized with COVID: 123 (15 in intensive care)

Fully vaccinated in R.I.: 214,764 (334,878 at least partially vaccinated)

Cases in Mass.: 631,031

Mass. COVID-related deaths: 17,130

Cases in U.S.: 30,378,955

U.S. COVID-related deaths: 550,727

Which vaccine should you get? #COVID

Lots of discussion of vaccines and people wanting to pick and choose.

Pfizer? Moderna? Johnson & Johnson?

Stop. Please stop.

If you are given the opportunity to receive a COVID vaccine, please take it.

Why? Because any COVID vaccine you are given will better protect you than no vaccine at all.

This isn’t a game of fashion or special interests.

It’s about saving lives.

The faster we can get our state, region, country to this herd immunity, the faster we can get back to our healthy friends and loving families.

@rusnivek

Shuttle Challenger 35 years later

Thank you to all those agencies and individuals who took the time to recognize these heroes lost in 1986.

For those from Hawaii, this @NASA #Space #Shuttle #Challenger tragedy was heartbreaking to say the least. We will always remember Astronaut Ellison Onizuka – Hawaii boy done good.

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of the earth to touch the face of God.” – President Ronald Reagan (01-28-86)

@rusnivek