We have all heard stories, some good and some bad, about FEMA, our federal emergency management agency. And yet, we in Cimarron County haven’t had many dealings with them. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall them walking into our county until January, 2007, when a blizzard blanketed our world and brought to a standstill our daily way of life.
That brutally cold and sudden encounter with Mother Nature was the beginning of FEMA taking up residence in Oklahoma for fifteen months. After our disaster, eight more ensued during the year. There were ice storms, floods and even an inland hurricane which was produced by a tropical storm centered over landlocked Oklahoma. When 2007 came to an end, our state had suffered the highest number of federally declared disasters in the whole nation! And through them all, FEMA was there – helping communities and individuals get back on their feet.
When I began working for our state emergency management agency (OEM) in July, I had little idea that much of my time between then and now would be spent working in tandem with so many of those FEMA “guys”.
Being a liaison between the applicant (i.e. county, city or rural water district) and FEMA, my job centered around accompanying the guys as they went throughout towns and all around a county assessing damage site by site. Sometimes this entailed stopping and taking measurements of collapsed bridges or surveying places where the culverts had been washed downstream. Or spending the day working with city officials, helping them amass all the necessary paperwork that would qualify them for federal dollars to replace what had been destroyed. After the legwork was accomplished, the guys would then create project work sheets that detailed what had happened, where it happened, and what would be needed to bring the sites back to pre-disaster condition. Then I would make sure the applicant was in agreement and we would each sign the work sheet, shake hands and part company.
When I added them up, I realized that over the past eight months I have worked side by side with twelve FEMA guys in the field, and know at least that many more at the Joint Field Office in Midwest City. And I am happy to report that “to a man” each of my FEMA guys are great human beings! They truly do care about helping people, cities and towns, as well as counties come back from a natural disaster. And they work long hours, sometimes under extreme conditions, and always beneath deadlines and often intense scrutiny.
And now, all my FEMA guys are leaving Oklahoma, and over the past month I’ve been having to say a whole lot of “good-byes” to men who have treated me with great respect and in many cases as their own daughter! I must say I am quite sad to have to part company with each of them. But, their work is done (for now) in our great state.
So, the next time you hear a joke cracked about our federal emergency management agency, or when you think that our money is being wasted and having no effect, I want you to know there are good men out there, good FEMA guys, who work diligently to bring order from chaos. And should Oklahoma need them again, I know they will arrive – tape measure and GPS in hand – along with a willing spirit. And may we appreciate their dedication and our own government when they shake our hand and sincerely say, “Hello! I’m from FEMA, and I’m here to help.”
Lately I have been receiving a higher than usual number of critiques on my column. And I have earnestly considered each word of criticism, knowing that they comefrom hearts who care about what I’m writing and thinking.
After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that I agree – my columns of late have been different, deeper and harder to absorb.
I think the change has happened because I spend so much time driving! There, in my little climate-controlled Jeep, with no interference or diversions, my mind chases after a plethora of thoughts, ideas, opinions and insights! And I am influenced by the lyrics of songs, the passing of time, the scenes beyond the windshield, and the people who come and go in my life.
In the past, before this job and when I rarely left Cimarron County, I could appreciate with clearer mind and eye the simplicity of nature and the beauty of life lived on the open prairie and far from the distractions of the so called “rat race”. And it was easier for me to write of such things – of azure skies and the paths made by the tiny feet of ants crossing a dirt road.
Yes, I still yearn for such things, for such simple moments that strike me with awe! But for this season, I am walking a path that takes me far from my beloved Munson and from those whom I love, and into a realm of thinking and writing that isn’t in step with who I’ve always been.
In time I will return, and I will again write about those dear souls who were and are part of our county. And I will opine of such things as politics, or bring you another update on my quest for health. I will relate to you in detail my latest encounter with God in the shower, and I’ll probably end up embarrassing at least one of my family members with my openness. But above all, I promise that I will retain my heart of thankfulness and a spirit filled with sweet peace and light!
But, for now, please bear with me, dear readers! And heck, even if the subject matter sounds too deep, too weird, or hard to follow, just keep reading. Who knows? Next week’s column just might make sense!