You know the old joke: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” I have just exited FEMA Land and, while a mysterious and somewhat complicated place, it is a place that was full of help and even a few laughs.
I entered FEMA Land about a month ago. There was paperwork involved. A lot of paperwork. There were numerous site visits to our broken warehouse. Measurements were taken and taken again and rechecked. Various experts arrived to inspect various aspects of the building. There were clipboards involved.
But through it all was my lovely Lila. Lila Sparks-Book, a project specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Lila, who has been living out of a suitcase since May. Lila, who gently led me through every confusing aspect of a mound of paperwork. Lila, who would call me on a Saturday or Sunday to ask for more information about this or that. Apparently, FEMA does not get weekends off.
So Monday I met Lila and Ben Jordan from TEMA at the warehouse on Omohundro. I thought I was just going to sign off on our claims for remediation work (cleansing the Toxic House of Poo). Lila lays out a corpulent pile of paperwork on the trunk of her car. It’s done. All of it. She’s finished the claims for the remediation, the contents of the building, the equipment in the building and the cost to put it back the way it was. She smiles her Lila smile. “Is this O.K. with you?” she says. Yes, of course it is!
“Now, Catherine, we need to make copies of all this paperwork.” Lila, really? We’re standing in a parking lot in front of a building with no power. Actually a building with no nothing inside. I call Yogi, my insurance agent. We can go to his office and use his copier. This is where I snap a photo of Lila and Ben. Lila, who has held my hand all the way through this, and Ben, who will hold my hand going forward. FEMA actually releases the money through TEMA. Isn’t it nice that they rhyme.
We copy the paperwork. Lila and Ben start to leave. As they go down the stairs from Yogi’s office, Lila looks back. “Call me if you need anything,” she says. And I know she means it.
So this is what I want to say about FEMA and all the people who were part of my initiation. To a person, they were helpful and patient and genuinely kind. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the fact that CRC is in the middle of providing flood relief to Nashville. I actually don’t think it did. Certainly there were lessons learned from Katrina. But it has to go beyond that. This was a government agency that was determined to put its best foot forward. “We’re the government and we’re here to help.” Yes. They are and they did.