FEMA's earthquake response shifting focus in Alaska

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A new phase of federal relief is headed to earthquake impacted areas in Southcentral Alaska. After the magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit, over 10,000 Alaskans applied for federal assistance. Thursday was the last day for FEMA hazard, mitigation, and outreach employees before they leave Alaska.

In the weeks after the earthquake ripped through roads and shook homes, these FEMA teams spearheaded efforts to inform the public about how to mitigate damage and prepare for future earthquakes. “We sit down and listen to what the damage was and then provide information on correct ways to rebuild, and things to make them more resilient,” said Kathleen Rhodes, FEMA Hazard, and Outreach Educator.

Rhodes says she’s been helping Alaskans since the earthquake hit and her team has been giving life-saving advice, but now they are returning home and most likely gearing up for or already responding to another natural disaster.

According to FEMA, a total of 479 of its personnel responded to Alaska.

At its peak, it saw 250 FEMA employees at one time and as of Thursday, there were 169 still in Alaska.

“We are now changing focus,” said Jack Heesch, Anchorage's FEMA External Affairs Coordinator. “Now our focus begins to shift a little bit to what we call the public assistance side, the damage that was done to infrastructure.”

Heesch says these long term projects include roads and bridges that may have only received temporary fixes but still need permanent solutions.

“New staffs with different sets of skillsets, these guys are engineers, former DOT people who have dealt with this kind of stuff and understand it. They will work hand-in-hand with state representatives,” said Heesch.

This fresh batch of FEMA personnel could stay in Alaska for months even a year, according to FEMA. “It’s a time-consuming process particularly when you have really big projects like Gruening Middle School,” Heesch added. “Those are very complex.”

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